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Stand Tall It's Worth It!

11/02/2015 09:29AM ● Published by Paul Hunter

Posture.  What does it mean to you?  Does it paint a picture in your head of a confident soldier standing at attention, an athlete about to compete, an elderly person with a rounded back, a child lacking self-esteem?  The word posture also suggests “a particular way of dealing with or considering something; an approach or attitude.”  So, is “posture” merely physical or is it mental as well?  Does one affect the other?   Well, it could be both. 


Sometimes, the physical body follows the mental attitude or approach.  Other times the mental attitude or approach follows the physical.  Yes, they are interrelated.


How powerful is posture?  Social psychologist, researcher and Harvard University professor  Amy Cuddy has been able to demonstrate that our body language can change other people’s perceptions and even our own chemistry, simply by changing body positions.  Chemistry?  Yes!  With an open posture (such as chin and chest lifted and arms open) held for just two minutes, testosterone increases 20%, cortisol decreases 25% and the person is 86% more likely to take a risk.  In an opposite closed-posture scenario, testosterone decreases 10%, cortisol increases 15% and only 60% are more likely to take a risk.   These are significant numbers, especially when you factor in that it was only two minutes in either a high-power posture or low-power posture.  So, posture matters.


Structurally, posture can have a positive effect as well.  If you have ever seen a skeleton, you have seen that the spine, vertebrae and shoulder blades help to provide a framework for the entire body.  Of course, that is with no input from outside sources such as gravity and the muscles surrounding each of those joints.  Picture a wooden rope swing with a board hanging at the bottom. 


Let’s quickly cover some very basic anatomy.  The spine consists of 24 vertebrae. From the bottom up they are 5 Lumbar, 12 Thoracic and 7 Cervical. Also included as part of the spine, just below the lumbar spine and where the ilium (hip bones) attach, is the sacrum.  Not part of the spine but still a consideration when looking at posture, the shoulder blades typically ride around the upper thoracic area and are responsible for how the shoulders present themselves.  How many times have you heard “pull your shoulders back” when they are slumped forward?  Poor posture leads to an increased chance of injury and has even been related to some medical ailments such as carpal tunnel disease.  Our spine is designed to have three natural curves that allow the body to have a degree of sick absorption, mobility and stability all in one highly functional package.


Gravity has a tendency to pull the top down and over.  Fighting that constant pull are your muscles which surround each of these joints to perform one of three functions:  to cause motion (to pull your spine upwards when you are sitting or standing), to prevent motion (into the slouching position), and to allow motion to occur (when you need to lean forward or twist).  


Ultimately, it is how well we are able to control the outside forces on our spines that determines the health of it.  Short of suggesting you see a doctor, physical therapist, athletic trainer, massage therapist or personal trainer to help you with any specific problems, I will use the example of an “apparently healthy” person with no injuries, aches or pains who simply desires to strengthen their postural position.  Here are some exercises to assist you with improving and/or maintaining your posture:


(1) Opposition or Bird Dog

Starting position:

On the floor on all fours.  Hips over knees and shoulders over wrists.

Movement:

Extend one leg straight back while extending the opposite arm forward.  You should now be balancing on opposite limbs.  Hold for 1-5 seconds.  Repeat for 10 repetitions, then do the other side.  The alternative is to switch between every rep.

What to look out for:

Keep your back level.  There is a tendency for the spine to twist at the shoulder and hip.  Also, don’t try to lift the leg “up in the air” as this can lead to excessive back arching.  Keep the spine stabilized.  Perform 2 sets.


(2) Plank / Side Plank

Starting position:

On the floor balanced on your toes and either elbows or hands (like in a push-up position).  Spine should be in a straight line.  With clients I use a long pole laid from the heels, across the glutes, between the shoulder blades and the back of the head. 

Movement:

Actually, no movement here.  The goal is to be able to hold this position for a period of time, somewhere between 10 seconds and 2 minutes.  Better yet, can you hold this same alignment while doing push-ups for the same amount of time?  Yes, you are still planking, only now with additional movement.


(3) Poloff Press or “Anti-Rotation”

Starting position:

Using a light to moderate resistance cable or tubing coming from the side and holding the handle at the chest.  

Movement:

Slowly extend the arms out in front maintaining level and resisting any rotation; hold for 2-10 seconds and repeat 10 times.  You will feel tension in the near side leg, hip, arm, chest and far side shoulder and possibly side (oblique) in addition to the abdominal areas.  Perform 2 sets on each side.


(4) One-Legged Kneeling (Lunge Position) Stretch

Starting position:

Kneel down, then place your right leg out in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Put your hands behind your head and push your left hip forward. You will feel the stretch through the front of your left hip and front of the thigh. 

Movement:

Hold for 30 seconds. Don't lean forward, but keep your shoulders over your hips.  Go back to kneeling and repeat on the other side. Try this five times a day.


Posture.  It’s not a sometimes thing.  It’s an all-the-time thing and whether you accept it or not, it affects your attitude and chemistry as well as your physical structure.  Assess yourself regularly and do something good for yourself.  Train for better posture.


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