Your body will adapt to any shape or stress you put it into. If you sit in front of a desk all day, with your shoulders rounded forward and your head reaching forward to better see the screen, your body will conform to this shape. The shoulders will settle in to their rounded position, and the muscles at the front of the body will passively shorten to accommodate this. Your neck will become over taxed and over stretched, as every inch your skull comes forward off of your spinal axis (its perch above your rib cage) adds about 10 extra pounds of force for your neck muscles to deal with. Your head already weights almost 12 pounds, so if you’re completely slumped forward, it could weigh almost 40 pounds!
“Well if I am adapting, then haven’t I adapted to be stronger in this position?”
Yes, your muscle length has changed because of this position, but it doesn’t mean that they are they more efficient. A muscle that is overstretched has a hard time contracting. Think of your overstretched muscle fibers as James Bond hanging off of a bridge by nothing but his finger tips. In this incredibly overstretched position, he’s not able to pull himself up easily anytime soon. The same goes for the opposite, the passively shortened tissue – if it is already at it’s shortest length, how will it contract and get even shorter? Your skeleton does not adapt to poor positions kindly, either. The skeleton adapts by bulging disks, turning bursae and tendons into bursitis and tendonitis, and leaving you pretty wrecked.
If you’re still convinced that you have no problem with your posture because you are still able to run and jump and workout, just think of the last time you were injured. Perhaps it wasn’t that long ago when you bent over to lift something you’ve lifted a million times before only to feel your back give out or your shoulder twinge. A majority of injuries can be prevented by putting yourself into good positioning before adding a load to the system. It is not just about improving your posture when you do yoga or workout, because these are usually the times where someone else is telling us how to place our bodies, but having good posture all of the time. When you are tired and at the end of the workout, or distracted throughout, you are going to default to your posture every time. So make your posture count.
What is good posture?
1. Make sure that your feet are parallel, with the toes pointing forward. Any other positioning of the feet will lead to muscular imbalances in the surrounding tissues.
2. Keep weight equal and balanced over both feet, especially when standing. Standing like a Forever 21 mannequin only will give you uneven muscle length in your low back and hips.
3. Activate the glutes and abdominals to align your spine. Contracting your gluteal muscles will help to bring your pelvis into a more neutral position. Holding some tension through the abdominals will help to bring the rib cage and pelvis into better alignment (which in turn aligns the spinal vertebrae). This doesn’t mean to walk around with your butt squeezed as hard as possible, just about 20% of contraction or effort will do.
4. Keep your head on its axis. Imagine that there is a headrest behind your head that you are attempting to press the back of your skull into. Be sure that you do not let your chin drop towards your sternum or reach up towards the ceiling, but keep it parallel with the floor.
Don’t stress out about getting every aspect of your posture picture perfect on the first try. You have to start somewhere! I recommend working on getting your feet parallel in every situation. While standing, while walking, while sitting in your chair, while practicing yoga, while running, while… well, you get the idea. Resetting your posture takes time and practice. Don’t think that practice makes perfect, because it doesn’t; practice makes permanent. Practice the posture that you want to have, and it will begin to stick!