2 Tips for Better Posture – One AM/One PM

There are some things we all do that aren’t good for us.

And usually this relates to things that we do so frequently that it becomes second nature and we hardly give it  second thought.

But the problem is that because we do these things so often that we become unaware of the damage we are doing to our bodies.

We gradually accomodate to the stress or strain of these actions that pretty soon we are totally unaware of their effects. Consider the two examples below.

The first is something we do during the day and includes almost everyone. To understand what I’m talking about imagine standing in a line somewhere. Maybe at the bank. Or the post office. Or at Starbucks.

Now most of you are relatively active and healthy people. You understand the importance of proper posture. You know to how to establish a neutral optimally aligned position.

But then we get into line and we get lazy.

We push our hips to one side. We bend the knee on the opposite side and lock out the knee on the same side that we pushed our hips towards.

And because our legs and hips are out of alignment we bend through the torso laterally in order to adjust to the deviations below.

Take a look the picture below.

Can you see all of these things happening?

Looks pretty bad when you examine it closely and compare it to what proper posture should look like.

But no one bats an eye when the see something like this. Partly because we all do it. And partly because we do it so frequently.

Let’s look at another example. This one is during the night.

In this picture the person is sleeping on his stomach.

To accomodate this position the ankles need to be plantar flexed (toes pointed), the pelvis will be anteriorly tilted, the low wil be arched, the neck will be extended and the head turned to the side.

If you were awake you probably wouldn’t last more than 5 minutes in this position. But when you’re asleep you can go hours this way and wonder why everything hurts in the morning.

Take home message

The truth is we get the best results from the things we do most often.

If I’m active 6 days a week and relax one day I should get good results.

If I follow my meal plan 90% of the time and enjoy cheat foods 10% of the time I’ll probably be happy with my progress.

But sleeping can account for 33% of the total week’s hours (assuming I get 8 hours a night).

And how often do think about our posture when standing? Ever?

Can you see how quickly we can undermine our own efforts for proper posture and alignment? Can you see how besides the 3-10 hours a week you spend in the gym there are still 158+ hours to undue and reverse all of your efforts at pain-free quality movement.

Keep these two tips in mind this week. When you find yourself standing in a line check your alignment. Is your weight balanced between both feet? Are your hips and trunk level? Is your chest tall? Are your shoulders down and back? Is your head neutral?

And if you’re a stomach sleeper wear the spikiest belt you can find inside out before you go to sleep.

Well on second thought don’t do that but do try and get out of the habit of sleeping on your stomach.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                              okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

A Quick Test to Check Your Posture and Core Stability

Quick question…what’s one part of the body you want to ensure has optimal alignment with every movement you do?

You could say the feet but this doesn’t matter too much for supine or seated movements.

You could also answer with the arms but again this doesn’t have a lot of impact on lower body specific movements. Think of riding the bike or doing leg raises on your back. The position of your arms won’t really impact the bike or the leg raise.

But what about if you answered the head?

Let’s look at both lower and upper body movements.

If we drop the chin to the chest what happens through the rest of the body? As the head tilts down the chest falls and the shoulders round forward.

Through the lower body we will notice the femur and tibia internally rotate while the foot goes into pronation. Stand up and give this a try. I’ll wait.

Did you notice those things happening as you dropped your head?

Now what about if we extend the neck and look straight up?

This time we see the chest lift and the shoulders move down and back.

And through the lower body we see the femur and tibia externally rotate and the feet go into supination.

So we can quickly see how the position of the head influences both the upper and lower body. (actually the opposite example could be used for the feet as well)

And what do you think has one of the strongest influences on the proper functioning of our core?

Your posture.

And do you think it’s possible to maintain proper posture without a neutral head position? Absolutely not.

Something else that has a large influence on our core and posture is pain. When we are in pain we go into flexion.

Imagine touching a hot stove top element and quickly pulling your hand away. Or imagine walking barefoot in the garage and stepping on a tack. Both are examples of the body experiencing pain and going into flexion as a result. I might do a more in depth blog post on this in the future.

Ok so another quick question…what area of the body could you watch to see if the technique, alignment and posture are optimal during an exercise?

The head.

Whenever we look at someone’s posture we should see stackable joints from the side. In other words the ankles, knees, hips, shoulder and ears should all line up when viewed from the side.

In the picture below notice how the dowel sits in contact with the glutes, shoulders and head. There are no mountains or valleys at the low back. Everything looks aligned.

Compare this to the picture below of the guy performing a suspension push up.

Don’t worry so much about the lower body but pay attention from the hips and up.

Is there a nice neutral spine?

Is there optimal posture?

Could you place a dowel against the glutes, shoulders and head?

Definitely not.

And unfortunately this is not uncommon.

When most people move from a static plank to a moving exercise there are increased demands on the core. If either the load or the range of motion exceeds what the core can stabilize you will the see the body compensate in order to get from A –> B.

And in this case the compensation is a loss of posture, the head drops, the spine shortens and the lever is reduced. This makes it easier to perform this movement.

Grab a friend or use a video camera and see how your posture stands up to the plank and push up test.

The tell me what you found in the comments section below.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

How Mis-firing Your Glutes Hurts Your Back & Knees

This is the third part of a series on learning proper body position and alignment. Please see below for Parts I and II.

At the end of Part II I mentioned the importance of body awareness and how we know when we are in or out of alignment. Because sometimes the clues as to being in or out of alignment are a little more subtle. We don’t necessarily have to be in excrutiating pain in order to recognize something is wrong.

And so I gave you three ways to work towards proper alignment.

1. We need to understand what the muscle we are trying to contract is doing.

2. We need to know what the opposite muscle is doing.

3. We need to recognize when both of these change and step back at that point, recuperate and try again fresh.

Consider something as simple as being in a half kneeling position.

What does the ideal position for half kneeling look like? Well it should resemble the following:

Straight lines and 90 degree angles.

From the front the foot, knee, hip and shoulder should all face straight forward.

From the side the there should a 90 degree angle at the knee and hip of the forward leg. And the trail leg should have the knee under the hip which is under the shoulder. The chest should be up, shoulders down and back, with a neutral head position.

Take a look at the following picture.

From the side the front leg has a 90 degree at the knee and the hip. And the left knee is under the hip and the shoulders stack up nicely over both of these.

If you notice my arms hang a little bit in front of the body and you can see more of my pinkie than my thumb. This gives a clue that I am slightly internally rotated on the left side of my upper body.

Now imagine a coach were to tell me to contract my left glute to get my hip under my torso and provide more stability.

Can you see what happens?

The obvious outcome is that because I don’t have very good glute control I rock forward on my left knee. I confuse contracting my glute with tilting the pelvis and arching my back.  This tilts the pelvis anteriorly. As well you’ll notice the increased arch (extension) in my low back.

What about my front knee?

Do you see how I’m driving the knee forward? This adds more force to this joint.

As well notice how:

I got shorter.

My head migrated forward.

My arms moved further forward.

My arms turned more inward.

All this because I didn’t have the neuromuscular control to fire my left glute. And now I’ll add stress to my low back and knee.

And this is without load.

In a fairly static controlled environment.

For one rep.

What do you think happens with load, volume and repetition when we don’t set proper body position or have very good neuromuscular control?

We put strain on tissues, such as the low back and knees in this example.

We recover more slowly from activity.

Our body resists the changes we are trying to impose upon it (i.e. weight loss, rehab, performance) as it hangs on for dear life to prevent us from exceeding the tolerance of our tissues to maintain posture and alignment.

So what is the solution?

1. Work with someone who is qualified and has a strong background in functional anatomy. If you don’t know of someone feel free to give me a call to see if an assessment would be appropriate for you.

2. Get as much feedback as you can of your posture. Use cameras, both still and video. Sometimes what we think our bodies are doing is not actually what is going on. Until you see what is going on you may have difficulty understanding how to fix any issues.

3. Know what is putting you out of alignment. Do you drive a vehicle for multiple hours? Are you at a desk each day? In an airplane? In a fixed position for hours on end? Knowing the answers to these will help you figure you where you are falling out of alignment.

Have a great weekend.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                    okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

Lessons Learned from Mike Robertson – Part II

In the last post I introduced a discussion about body awareness. And what I meant by this was understanding which muscles were firing, when they are firing and how they are firing. The reason this is so important is that many of us having compensations or deficiencies of some type.

Think about it. The aches and pains that we get from time to time are partly due to the strain we put our body under when it is out of alignment. And when we live with these aches and pains for long enough we can sometimes become a little bit desensitized to the feedback our body is trying to give us.

For example if you’ve had a chronic low back problem you may not think about it all the time. But if someone asks you how it is and you stop and think about it for a second you’ll realize it simply hasn’t corrected itself but instead you learned to block it out somewhat in order to get through the day. And you aren’t consciously thinking about it until someone asks you about it or it gets worse.

So let’s jump ahead and assume that someone was able to point out where it is that you’re out of alignment and how to correct this alignment issue. Perhaps it’s a lack of frontal plane (think side to side) glute activity and by firing this muscle helps to restore your alignment and take stress off your joints that were ‘picking up the slack’. As well, you were also made aware of how you will alter your body position to cheat when your glutes get tired and you don’t want them to work anymore.

This would all be very useful info to you. So how do you make sure to ingrain this process and ensure that you can repeat it at will? I believe there are 3 aspects to mastering this.

1. First you need to understand and feel what it is like to fire the appropriate muscles. While there is benefit to using a mirror to notice your posture and appearance there may also be some benefit to closing your eyes and paying attention to what you feel. Where do you feel the contraction? Is it deep or superficial? Is it localized to a specific area or general and covering a larger area? Does it fatigue quickly or feel like it could last for a while?

2. In addition to the muscles that are being activated think about other areas of the body. Particularly think about the opposite side of the body and determine if there is a stretch. Where do you notice this stretch? How is this stretch influenced by increasing the force and or duration of the contraction?

3. Lastly you need to be very aware of when this activation or stretch changes. Do you feel your body position change? Do you feel new muscles helping take on some of the load? Do you notice any type of strain develop over time? At the point when you notice these things happening it is important to pause, come out of the position you were attempting to maintain, rest and then resume from a new position once again.

In the next post I’ll give you an example of a drill you can try to test this out.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

Lessons Learned from Mike Robertson

The next few posts are based on what I learned at a weekend seminar with Mike Roberton. Mike is the president of IFAST and one the top performance coaches anywhere.

If there’s one thing I really enjoy about what I do it’s that the job is so dynamic. And I don’t necessarily mean this in the sense of running, jumping and bounding etc but more in the sense that the information is contantly being refined and new discoveries are being made.  For example in last week’s posts I wrote about things you should avoid doing in the gym. These weren’t hard and fast rules that every knows as soon as they step foot in a gym.

Instead these were things that had to be learned through education, through trial and error and sometimes unfortunately by injury.  And there were a few things in those posts that I’m sure you were guilty of doing and now hopefully were aware to not do them anymore and the reasons why. As I admitted in the last post I was guilty of making all of the mistakes at some point in my training and later in my coaching career.

But now and I know better. And so do you.

But there is a small but key difference here that is vital to your health and performance. And that difference is body awareness.

What I mean by body awareness is understanding what your body is doing, why it is doing it and how to correct it. Whew! That’s kind of a tall order, Chris! How can you expect that of us?

Well, you’re right. Because if I said to you that are contantly weight bearing on your right leg and shifting away from your left would you know this? Maybe if you stopped to think about it you would. But let’s go a step further.

Would you know which muscles you’re favouring when you shift in this way? Or which ones you are shifting away from? Another way of looking at that would be to try and answer the question ‘which muscles do you need to engage and activate to pick up their share of the weight bearing load and which ones do  you need tone down to bring yourself back into alignmnet?’

Ok now that gets a whole lot more complicated, doesn’t it? And if you have access to me I can point these things out and help you correct them.

But what about if we don’t see each that often. How do you go about correcting these dificiencies?

Well it starts with an assessment to figure out where you’re out of alignment. From there it’s a matter of teaching you how to find a neutral body position. Toes pointed straight ahead. Normal arches under the feet. Knees pointed straight ahead. The belt line of the pants parallel with the floor. Slight curve in the low back. Shoulders over the hips and ears over the shoulders. There are other descriptions for proper posture as well but you get the point.

One way Mike described it this weekend was as ‘joints stacked on top of each other’. We want to always strive for maintaining this optimal alignment and posture. In the next post I’m going to go into some more detail as to how you can monitor and check your own body position.

Have a great week,

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’