Angela correcting posture and technique in pilates scooter exercise

How to take charge of your posture

Everybody has a posture type. Your posture type is a collection of imbalances through your body and a series of strategies your body takes so that you can look forward. It impacts the way you use the muscles in your body. An ideal posture is where you have, what we call, a neutral spine - where your head and shoulders are stacked directly over your hips and there is a gentle s-curve moving between the different sections of your spine. Neutral is the strongest position for your spine to be in and if your spine is neutral, your muscles are working optimally. When your body moves away from this neutral position into your posture type, certain muscles end up working overtime to support you and doing more work than what they were designed to do. The repeated overuse of these muscles over time can lead to tightness and even pain. 
 
WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW MY POSTURE TYPE?
 
Getting an understanding of what your posture type is will help you understand the series of strategies your body is currently undertaking to enable you to look forward and know exactly what techniques you need to help unwind those strategies and get your body moving optimally. You may already be experiencing pain or discomfort in areas such as your neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back or hips. Getting yourself into a more neutral posture will help alleviate this pain or discomfort. Even if you don’t currently experience any pain or discomfort, the repetitive nature of the way you move, day in, day out, year after year, will eventually lead to tightness and discomfort in the areas that are being overused. 
 
WHAT ARE THE BIOMECHANICS OF POSTURE?
 
I want you to imagine all the beautiful old churches you see around Europe - they are built with a dome shaped ceiling and an arch shaped doorway. The reason they were built this way is because an arch is an incredibly supportive structure with the ability to hold itself up under the force of gravity. The human body is amazing in its design and actually has an arch shape built into it - your pelvis, or hips.
 
The average human head weighs somewhere between 4.5 and 5kg, constituting around 8% of the whole body mass. When your head, shoulders and hips are in alignment and stacked directly on top of one another, your hips provide a strong base of support for the heavy weight above it because of the inherent arch structure. In this neutral position, it is your skeleton which is providing the support and your muscles are able to  stay relatively relaxed. If your head or shoulders move out of alignment, all of a sudden the little muscles that run up and down along your spine are now having to support the heavy weight of your head. If you combine the weight of the human head with the force of gravity, that is a lot of extra weight your muscles are having to carry. They can quickly become overworked, extremely tight and tense, leading to trigger points or knots and pain.  What do your neck muscles feel like? Are they as hard as a rock or soft and cushy? Ideally, they should be soft and cushy. Most likely they feel as hard as a rock!  If your neck muscles do feel hard it is a sign that your head is not in alignment with your shoulders and hips.
 
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT POSTURE TYPES?
 
There are many different ways your body could be out of alignment. Some of the more common alignment issues and posture types are outlined below. 
 
1. SWAY BACK POSTURE

  • A sway back posture is a very common posture type. 
  • You have a sway back posture if your rib cage sits behind your hips. Without the support of your hips, your muscles in your back underneath your rib cage are working overtime to hold your rib cage up.
  • If your neck were to stay in neutral alignment, you would be walking around looking at the sky.  That is not very practical, so your neck must come forward in order for you to look where you are going, moving it into a position that sits in front of your shoulders. Without the support of your shoulders and hips, your neck muscles are working overtime to hold your head up, which weighs around 5kgs multiplied by the force of gravity.
  • So that you don’t fall backwards from the weight of your rib cage pulling you down, your hips must push forward to counter balance this.  Without the support of the hips, the muscles in your lower back are working overtime to hold you upright. 
  • Because your hips are pushed forward, the muscles around your hip joint such as your hip flexor muscles in the front and your glute muscles and hamstrings in the back, are not doing their jobs properly. 
  • Strengthening your glutes, muscles in your upper back and your core muscles such as your pelvic floor, transversus abdominus and the muscles that run up along your spine, plus stretching your hips, lower back muscles and the muscles in your chest, will help to unwind a sway back posture and bring your body into more of a neutral alignment.
2. MILITARY BACK POSTURE

  • You have a military back posture if you stand quite upright and your upper back is really straight.
  • If your neck were to stay in neutral alignment, you would be walking around looking at the ground. That is not very practical, so your neck must come back in order for you to look where you are going, moving it into a position where your cervical spine is also straight, causing your neck muscles to always be switched on.
  • So that you don’t fall forwards from the weight of your rib cage pulling you down, your hips tilt backwards to counter balance this. This brings your lower back into an over-extended position.  Without the support of your hips, your lower back is now working overtime to hold you upright. 
  • Because your hips are tilting backwards, the front and back of your legs are out of balance. The muscles in front of your hips, the hip flexors, are shorter than normal and tight and the muscles in the back, the glutes and hamstrings, are longer than normal and weak. 
  • Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, abdominals and core, plus stretching your hip flexors, lower and upper back muscles and obtaining some mobility through your spine, will help to unwind a military back posture and bring your body towards a neutral alignment. 
3. FLAT BACK POSTURE

  • A flat back posture is where the natural s-curves in your spine have disappeared and the length of your back is straight.
  • If your neck were to stay in neutral alignment, you would be walking around looking at the ground. That is not very practical, so your neck must come back in order for you to look where you are going, moving it into a position where your cervical spine is also straight, causing your neck muscles to always be switched on.
  • So that you don’t fall forwards from the weight of your rib cage pulling you down, your hips tilt forwards to counter balance this. This brings your lower back into a straight, flexed position. The muscles in your lower back are long and weak.
  • With your hips in a compromised position, they are not providing support for your body above it, requiring your back muscles to be working overtime to hold you upright.
  • Because your hips are tilting forwards, the front and back of your legs are out of balance. The muscles in front of your hips, the hip flexors, are longer than normal and weak and the muscles in the back, the glutes and hamstrings, are shorter than normal and tight. 
  • Strengthening your abdominals, hip flexors and core, plus stretching your glutes, hamstrings and upper back muscles, obtaining some mobility through your spine, will help to unwind a flat back posture and bring your body more into balance. 
4. LORDOSIS KYPHOSIS POSTURE

  • A lordosis kyphosis posture is where the curves in the neck, upper back and lower back are all exaggerated. 
  • If your neck were to stay in neutral alignment, you would be walking around looking at the sky.  That is not very practical, so your neck must come forward in order for you to look where you are going, moving it into a position that sits in front of your shoulders. Without the support of your shoulders and hips, your neck muscles are working overtime to hold your head up, which weighs around 5kgs multiplied by the force of gravity.
  • Because the curve in your upper back is exaggerated, your muscles in your back underneath your rib cage are working overtime to hold your rib cage up.
  • So that you don’t fall forwards from the weight of your rib cage pulling you down, your hips tilt backwards to counter balance this. This brings your lower back into an over-extended position.  Without the support of your hips, your lower back is now working overtime to hold you upright.
  • Because your hips are tilting backwards, the front and back of your legs are out of balance. The muscles in front of your hips, the hip flexors, are shorter than normal and tight and the muscles in the back, the glutes and hamstrings, are longer than normal and weak. 
  • Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, upper back, lower abdominals and core, plus stretching your hip flexors, lower back muscles and obtaining some mobility through your spine, will help to unwind a lordosis kyphosis posture and bring your body more towards a neutral alignment. 
5. ROTATED POSTURE

  • If your spine was neutral, from the back it would look like a straight line. A rotated posture is where there is curvature in the spine from left to right.
  • This curvature could occur in the neck, upper or lower back and in one, two or all three sections of the spine.
  • The curvature from left to right can range from minor to extreme. Extreme curvature is known as scoliosis. 
  • The curvature can result in rotation through your rib cage, hips and/or your shoulders sitting with one higher than the other. You might feel tighter on one side of your body and you might find you are stronger on one side of your body.
  • Your hips are two separate bones that join together with the lower back at the sacroiliac joint. You can also have rotation through the hips, with your left or right side sitting higher/lower or forward/back of the other.
  • A rotated posture results in imbalances between your left and right side of your body. Strengthening your weaker side and lengthening your tighter side, whilst challenging your left and right sides individually can help to bring a rotated posture more into balance.
The posture types listed above are general categories, grouping alignment issues that are commonly clustered together. All people with sway back posture are no more alike than all people with brown hair. They have certain postural patterns in common, but they are far from identical in all aspects of their posture or movement. Many people are combinations of the various posture types.
 
Your body, alignment issues and posture type is as unique to you as you are to the world. Having a detailed postural assessment done on your body is a great way to learn where your tight spots are, what muscles might need lengthening and strengthening and the methods you can take to start to bring your body into balance to help you move optimally.  
 
Would you like to learn about your body and what it needs to move optimally? As a member of the Move. Cherish. Love. community you can get a postural assessment done and have access to a library of extensive resources specific to your posture and lifestyle type.  Or you can sign up to the Move. Cherish. Love. online program, where you get a postural assessment, access to the library of extensive resources and also a guided exercise program designed for your body’s specific requirements.
 
 

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