We are living in a modern world that often requires us to engage in repetitive movements. Often we may need to adopt long-term fixed positions that impact on human posture and movement capacity. Office employment, manufacturing work, packaging lines, schooling, computer gaming, driving, commuting, long distant flights and many other elements of modern living dictate our fixed bodily positions on a daily basis. As human posture adapts to our modern environment the knock-on effect on our movement capacity can have significant negative implications on physical fitness, movement purity, and even athletic performance. Let’s dig a little deeper into methods to help combat the modern environment and how to perfect your posture.
What is posture?
Posture has been defined as the ‘attitude or position of the body’ which should be able to fulfil three important functions:
- Maintaining the alignment of the body’s segments in any static position: supine, prone, sitting, quadruped, and standing
- Anticipating change that will allow for engagement of voluntary, goal-directed movements such as reaching and stepping
- Reacting quickly to unexpected perturbations or disturbances in balance or centre of gravity
This clearly indicates that the concept of posture includes both a static and an active/dynamic state of being. Maintaining effective posture is vital for balance and control of the body when motionless as well as during a wide variety of different types of human movement. To provide for the long-term health of the spine, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and feet, developing the ability to stay within optimal postural parameters is a desirable goal at all times when holding static positions or moving in three dimensions. This is much easier said than done as habitual postural position is predominantly controlled through subconscious neural controls and is rarely at the forefront of our daily thinking.
The conscious mind is usually preoccupied with goal-oriented movement, rather than the exact positioning and motion required for each specific joint involved in a larger chain reaction of physical movement. Thank goodness for that! Can you imagine trying to apply your conscious mind to control every muscle, joint and body part to synchronize different joint angles, tempo’s, range of movement, joint impact, joint loads, and other biomechanical responses just to perform the basic function of walking? The conscious mind boggles at such complexity in an attempt to perfect your posture. Thankfully our more powerful subconscious brain can manage all of these immensely detailed neural functions without our focused mind needing to be invested in this.
The body has numerous sensory receptors, called proprioceptors, found within the muscles and joints that help to provide neural feedback regarding one’s own limb and spinal position, speed of movement, and the forces passing through the muscles and joints in order to subconsciously control any necessary response. Perhaps the most well known of the primary 6 categories are the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ. All proprioceptors constantly gather vital information on behalf of the nervous system to ensure we are fully aware of and can respond to our own daily movements and the forces that we are subjected to constantly throughout each day.
Where joint or muscular dysfunction has crept in unawares, resulting in posture and movement purity corruption, subconscious human movement may no longer fall within an optimal range. Such adulterated movement will likely lead to a shift in centre of gravity, faulty loading through the muscles and uneven forces passing through the joints (see sway posture example above). If left unchecked the chronic application of such faulty movement can lead to muscular tension, fascial adhesions, joint wear and tear and the gradual breakdown of important structural tissues. These undesirable, dysfunctional outcomes can be managed and reversed if they are identified, and a suitable corrective strategy is introduced and applied in an effort to improve and perfect your posture.
A corrective strategy should involve a carefully planned process of adjustment and relearning of motor control. An effective way to support a client and plan to correct their faulty movement patterns is as follows:
- Carry out a postural assessment and identify any existing faulty positioning
- Carefully assess movement purity and identify any visible restrictions
- Determine the dysfunctional muscles based upon the posture and movement assessment observations
- Mobilise joint and muscle range of motion where limitations exist
- Select relevant activation exercises for any under-active muscles within the kinetic chain
- Apply an appropriate level of intensity within each stage to ensure good position and technique are always paramount
- Gradually progress the physical challenge towards optimal function provided movement purity is maintained
It would be impossible in a simple blog to cover all variations in postural position and movement dysfunction. But here is an example of a common and relatively simple dysfunction to address.
The Flat Back posture
- Thoracic spine in a flexed position – resulting in protracted shoulder girdle
- Cervical spine in an extended position – resulting in forward head carriage
- Pelvis is in a posterior tilted position
- Hips are in an extended position
Overactive, shortened muscles that most likely require stretching:
- Hamstring group
- Rectus abdominis
- Upper trapezius
Underactive, lengthened muscles that most likely need strengthening:
- Mid-trapezius and rhomboids
- Neck flexors
- Lumbar erector spinae
These stretches and exercises may become part of an effective workout preparation strategy for 10-15 minutes before each gym session. They can even be done as part of planned light activity on a rest/recovery day. Committing to the regular application of such a strategy can be a powerful tool in resolving imbalances to help progress and perfect your posture. This will, in turn, improve functional daily movement, which ultimately will lead to better performance in the long term.
Check out our course
We teach similar posture and movement analysis content within our flagship certification, the Nordic Personal Trainer Certificate, within the Consultation, Testing and Programme Design module.