One can see all kinds of different riding and skiing styles on the mountain. The low hunched flapper is a snowboarder that rides at top speed over bumps bent well forward at the waist and with a curved thoracic spine, arms outstretched, flapping like an injured bird. The Quasimodo skier stands upright at the waist but hunches forward from the mid back at high speeds. Sometimes it makes me wonder if these styles are created to increase performance or are just down to poor posture.
As a physio working in Tokyo, most of my clients are expatriate desk jockeys working long hours in front of computers. I often find myself talking about posture. But posture is a simple word that I fear has been blighted as uncool, some might even say daggy. ‘Deportment’ perhaps? Sheesh even daggier! While it may not be cool, posture is important. I wish I could preface this article with a tale of my 4th class teacher, Mrs Kristovski warbling incessantly in a slightly eastern European accent about the importance of posture, while making us walk around the room with thick arithmetic books on our heads. Unfortunately it never happened to me, and I want to know why not! We have all seen the grainy newsreels from the 30s and 40s when the school children seemed to spend more time with their books on their heads than they did with their heads in the books, but these days posture hardly rates a mention.
Posture is worth putting some effort into. We’ve only been walking on two legs for a fraction of our history, so from an evolutionary point we’re still kind of getting the hang of this upright thing. There’s a lot of upside to having good posture. As well as preventing injuries and pain, having good posture makes you appear more distinguished, more professional and even more appealing to the opposite sex. Aside from finding a lot of lost change on the ground there really isn’t much upside to having poor posture.
So what to do if you want to improve your posture? Certainly genetics and upbringing have led us down one path by the time we are adults, however this is not to say this can’t be changed for the worse or the better. To improve posture, the combination is as simple as awareness and exercises. Try to be aware of your own posture throughout the day. If you dropped a plum-bob from the point of your shoulder where would the weight end up? If your answer is 10cm in front of your pelvis, you’ve got some work to do. The first step is to ensure you have a good curve in your lower back (called lordosis). Then try to arch back from the mid spine (thoracic spine) and pull your shoulders back, down and together. Finally, as my father was always fond of saying to me, ‘pull your head in!’ – or get your head back over your body where it belongs, instead of having it poked out in front. Pulling your head back in will take a lot of strain from your muscles that are holding your head up against gravity.
To help your postural awareness, try standing up straight and closing your eyes. Imagine you have a chain coming from the top of your head and someone is pulling it upwards, so that you are being elongated just before your feet lift of the ground. Hold this for around 10 seconds, and open your eyes. You’ll be amazed that you are actually taller! You can also try it while sitting. Once you’ve done all that, you should have a spine shaped like a gentle ‘S’ not like a ‘C’, and you’ll be on your way to better posture.
If you were from a family which emphasised posture, you should consider yourself lucky. If you have children, don’t be afraid to give them regular feedback on their posture, they won’t get it at school and they will thank you for it in the future.
To sum up
Performing regular postural exercises are essential for making and maintaining postural improvements. Performing these regularly will assist you in maintaining a better posture naturally, without needing to think about it. Although it is difficult to recommend exercises that are suitable for everyone, the following are a few basic postural exercises which should help.
Stand with legs shoulder-width apart and hold a pole or a long belt in front of your body. Lift it up and over your head, keeping your elbows locked. If you need to bend your elbows you need to move your hands wider apart. Once they’re as close as possible, measure between the hands. 90cm is a good result. 15-20 reps one to two times daily are a good amount. You’ll be surprised how good you feel after a set and how quickly you improve.
The mother of all neck exercises. Especially good for people with a protruded head. With your palm on your sternum and index finger on your chin, pull your neck back and away from the finger, keeping your face in the same plane (imagine your body is like a filing cabinet and your head is the extended top drawer, which you pull back in). Pull back as far as possible hold for a split second and repeat 10 times. Do this regularly throughout the day, particularly if you have a neck ache.
Pull your shoulders back and down and squeeze for three seconds. Try not to lead with your elbows but use the muscles between the bottom part of your shoulder blades. Try to do about 30 of these a day.