We talk about posture all the time. Many people know that they have sub-par posture because random things start to hurt in the middle of the day that shouldn’t be hurting. Why does somebody’s low back hurt while they are washing dishes? Why is sitting in a chair so hard on people’s back? These issues are all related to how somebody holds posture. So, what is posture and what can you can do to improve your posture?
What is posture?
I would simply describe posture as the reflection of the positions of the body one tends to hold. Whether that be sitting, standing, lifting weights, lying down, etc. Whatever position your body is in while you are reading this article is your posture at this time. One’s posture tends to change depending on what one is doing, but there are typical positions and patterns of movement that one tends to predominantly hold.
Low back hurt much?
One of these positions is over extension of the lower back. If you take a close look at yourself and those around you, you will see that this is very common. We have been told that there is a natural curve to the back, which is true, but not to the extent of what we actually hold.
What you can see from the photo above is over extension of the low back. The low back is elevated off of the floor and the rib cage is flared out. This is the over extended position most people tend to hold.
What this position does is shorten the lower back muscles causing them to hold muscle tension and it also compresses part of the discs of the lower back. There is a jelly like fluid in between each vertebral disc in the back so when you compress one side the jelly like fluid rushes to the other side like you’re squeezing the jelly out of a jelly filled donut. When we are constantly holding this position, over time we might experience pain or some sort of general frustrating sensation at or around the lower back. This can be said for other positions of the body if excess muscle tension is constantly held, but I will focus solely on the lower back in this article as it is the one area most people have problems with.
We often hear “my lower back feels tight” and you can probably even relate. This is most likely due to the excessive muscle tension the lower back has to hold because the muscles are in a shortened position. Muscle tension isn’t always bad, but when we hold the same positions and muscle tension 99% of our day this can lead to some aggravating effects. So, what can we do?
The not-so simple fix
How do we fix pain caused from the excess holding of positions? We simply change and alter positions. This encompasses a lot of what we do at Force Barbell. We constantly coach people on the positions they need to hold. So if my lower back is always tight and we think that may be because we are always stuck in an extended posture, then we fix positions and get ourselves into a more neutral or flexed posture of the lower back. The position of the lower back is mainly held and altered by the position of the pelvis and the rib cage. If we are super arched (extension) in our lower back that means our rib cage is flared out and our pelvis is tilted forward (picture above). To get in a more neutral position that will decrease some muscle tone and let our lower back muscles “relax” a bit we need to posteriorly tilt our pelvis (up and back) and internally rotate our rib cage (bring ribs down). (See “Pelvic Tilt Breathing” video below).
Is the job done?
Once we change positions is the job done? No. Hence why I said it was the not-so simple fix. Changing positions is the easy part. The hard part is to hold those same positions. I mentioned earlier that we tend to hold the same posture 99% of the time. It would be nice if just a swift change of positions would fix all of our postural issues but that isn’t how it goes. If we want better posture we simply have to hold better posture more. If our low backs are bothering us from spending too much time in an extended position we need to spend a lot more time in a neutral position. So once we are aware of our posture and our positions, and we know what good positions are, we have to have the conscious intention of holding ourselves accountable to that better posture.
Posture is all about positions of the body and the better position one tends to hold the better their posture will be.
A few exercises that can help “reset” you into good positions
Below are a few breathing exercises that help restore posture into a more neutral position.
Below is a more progressed version of some of the breathing exercises above.