Unlock Your Full Potential With Better Posture
Proper alignment can make you more comfortable and powerful in and out of the gym. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.
Not to be your mom here, but you should really sit up straight.
Improving your posture can help you avoid discomfort and pain, as you likely already know. But experts say it can also improve your athletic performance — in more ways than one.
The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
Having good posture means keeping your body in its natural, intended alignment, dictated mostly by your spine. It looks like this: shoulders back, chest up, spine long, pelvis neutral, and ears in line with the top of your shoulders (in other words, no slouching), says R. Alexandra Duma, DACBSP, a sports chiropractor at FICS, a fitness recovery and wellness facility in New York City. It may sound like a laundry list, but by correcting one or two form issues, the others tend to fall in line. After all, your body is one big marionette; pull one string, and it moves another.
But thanks to all the sitting and staring at devices people tend to do these days, this natural, intended alignment has evolved into poor posture, where the muscles that should be activating — namely, your deep neck flexors — are lax, so your shoulders and neck roll forward, creating tension in the delicate muscles there that aren’t meant to bear that weight, says Duma. In fact, if your head tilts forward even 15 degrees, your 10- to 12-pound head suddenly feels like 27 pounds for your cervical spine, or neck region, she says. “These stresses build up over time and wear down our bones, joints and ligaments,” explains Duma.
And slouching, even if it feels better in the moment, actually requires more energy. Your body has to work extra hard to keep you in a position it was never intended to be in for extended periods of time, which can cause you to become fatigued faster, no matter what you’re doing, says Duma, who works with Team USA athletes. Better posture sets you up to be more efficient with your movement, so everyday activity and training take less work, says Dan Giordano, a doctor of physical therapy and the CMO of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy.
“Slouching, even if it feels better in the moment, actually requires more energy. Your body has to work extra hard to keep you in a position it was never intended to be in for extended periods of time, which can cause you to become fatigued faster.”
R. Alexandra Duma
DACBSP, Sports Chiropractor at FICS, a fitness recovery and wellness facility in New York City
The Posture-Performance Relationship
Unsurprisingly, all of this can affect your mechanics, says Giordano. That’s because limiting your mobility in one area of the body causes the lesser-equipped surrounding muscles and joints to pick up the slack, increasing your risk of injury and harming your performance.
For example, if you play an overhead sport, like volleyball, or even just lift weights, poor posture can gradually increase the internal and upward rotation of your shoulder blades during serves and presses. This results in a higher risk of impingements and other shoulder injuries, says Giordano.
Crappy posture could also limit the mobility of your thoracic spine (the spinal area from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage), says Giordano, which could restrict you from rotating your trunk to generate power. Boxers, golfers and tennis players, take note.
This isn’t a PSA just for weightlifters and high-impact athletes. Runners can also put themselves at risk of getting sidelined, particularly if their pelvis is out of alignment with the natural curve of their spine, which puts more strain on their back and knees rather than their glutes, says Duma. And for any active person, slouching can cause you to breathe less efficiently as you perform — fix your form and you could theoretically go harder and longer, says Duma.
So…ready to straighten up to power your workouts? Here’s how.
- Work smarter.
If you have a desk job, you likely spend a lot of time hunched over. Set your computer monitor to eye level and allow your elbows to rest at a 90-degree angle, says Giordano. (That may mean you invest in a monitor for your laptop if you don’t have one.) Stand if possible, but if you can’t, sit with your butt back in your chair, feet flat on the floor, hips slightly higher than your knees. Your chair should support your mid back (as well as your head, ideally).
- Walk often.
Instead of sitting for extended periods, set an alarm to go off every 45 minutes, advises Giordano. When it does, check in with your posture, then get up for a five-minute walk (be sure to walk tall). “This will also help improve your circulation and give your brain a rest,” he says.
Sitting on a chair, place your hands on your thighs and slowly draw your shoulders down and back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for five to 10 seconds, three to five times throughout the day. “This helps reset the slouched position, open up the chest, enable full inhalation and exhalation, and allow the diaphragm to be the primary muscle of breathing, so you can conserve energy, slow your heart rate, and boost circulation,” says Duma.
You could also try a take on the forearm plank to help strengthen your core and the postural muscles around your rotator cuffs and shoulder blades, says Giordano. To do it, get into a forearm plank with a mini resistance band looped around your wrists, and push your elbows into the floor while maintaining tension in the band, holding for 15 to 30 seconds. Aim for three to five reps per day.
Putting It All Together
There isn’t a quick fix for rewiring your posture. You need consistency to train your brain to habitually get your body in line. “Once your motor nerves recognize the repetitive pattern, your posture will improve,” says Giordano. You may have to do the above exercises at least three times per week for about four to six weeks to create real change.
When your mom used to tell you to sit up straight, you probably didn’t listen. Start now…and don’t forget to thank her later.