The Basics of Posture
The real reason you’re robbed of muscle growth and increased performance is often your lousy posture.
Trying to get stronger and more muscular when you are in a kyphotic posture with a forward head carriage is nearly impossible. Coupled with semi-permanent hip flexion and we have a recipe for disaster. We all know the people. The ones who have their traps and lats and pecs ‘on’ permanently, making them look like a muscle shark cartoon character.
Kyphotic posture or upper cross syndrome is not something that you want to promote; quite the opposite, in fact. Young gym rats do it to posture amongst their peers and look more powerful, both in and out of the gym. (For more, check out Coach Craig’s article on “show and go” muscles!)
But for a plethora of reasons, physically and mentally, this is not healthy at all.
With the non-gym going and older populations, it’s often a case of sitting and staring at desks and devices. Postural ‘tonic’ muscles tightening through faulty loading patterns. Modern life, in general, is a faulty loading pattern. Staring at the phone or the computer I’m writing this on is a faulty loading pattern, loaded by gravity.
The large fast twitch (phasic) muscles become lengthened and weaker in age. Alongside the decline of stem cell production, hormones and the muscle mass they support. But its a problem we can fight, and good posture is an indicator we are fighting it well.
Kyphotic posture is often an indication that the anterior chain, especially the pecs and lat muscles, are dominating. Stopping the external rotators and retractors, the muscles that pull your shoulders back into a more neutral position, from firing properly.
The internal rotators are the trophy muscles we associate with power and performance, in case you weren’t aware. Coupled with a society of phone gazing individuals, craning their necks forward to take in the screen, we are certainly not in balance. These anterior chain muscles are overworked by people in gyms across the world in a rush to gain muscle, which is often their downfall through injury.
Neck pain, shoulder pain, winged scapula, forward head carriage, nerve damage, impingement, upper and lower back pain, pressure headaches and more can also be a direct result.
The main problem is the approach to exercise selection.
In body-building, you still see upward of 20 working sets, with people often taken their bodies to near or to actual muscular failure. All aimed at one body part. With the chest, as an example, most of the movements are horizontal shoulder adduction (bringing the arms across the chest). You don’t see a lot of movement variation. Even with machines, cables, dumbbells and barbells, the only difference is usually the angle of the bench.
This is a lot of concentrated shortening of muscle fibres and in most cases no stretching at all!
Couple this with a huge deficit in exercises that use the all-important external rotators of the shoulder (supraspinatus, infraspinatus & terrors minor). Nowhere near enough volume targeting the retractors of the shoulder girdle (the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, and to a degree the pec minor). Not enough properly performed iso holds, face pulls, pull apart variations, and properly performed rows to balance out all the endless pressing. And not one pullover variation in sight.
And the fix? I want to fix my posture!
In an attempt to balance pushing with pulling the average gym user heads to the pulling movements they know. Pull-down and chin up variations abound, and badly performed rowing variations with limited ranges of motion and often too much load. The Latissimus Dorsi is another powerful internal rotator of the shoulder. Without the right specialized program, we are now heading deeper into the woods with regards to your posture.
Well, if you have heard of Dr John Rusin, he states that you should pull 2- to 3-times as much as you press and then row twice as much as you pull down from overhead. Well, he’s not daft and certainly, that’s the direction we should be aiming in.
Now I was just as guilty of this when I was in my 20s. And to this day I suffer from shoulder problems and postural issues that I am always addressing. Some people are meant to be bigger and more muscular than others. You know them… Slabs of muscle, often with small waists and tiny joints, and full muscle bellies. They also seem to achieve this with nearly no attention paid to diet. They are Mesomorphic somatypes.
Now, if you are like me, skinny and tall by nature, you are a classic Ectomorph. Or the other end of the extreme is an Endomorph who struggles with a sluggish metabolism and excess body fat. It must dictate the way you train and eat, or you will get lost in the crowd with limited results and performance.
With regards to training, balance is the key. Balance comes from programming, which is one of the essential differences between training and ‘working out’. ‘Working out is when people just turn up and hit a body-part, or just make themselves hot, tired and sweaty without much consideration for anything except feeling exhausted.
Training is a plan of attack that increases performance and brings balance to the body through the correct selection of exercises.
It still amazes me that there are so few men and women who have any goal except for exhaustion.
You should measure your success by progress in one form or another, whichever form is most relevant for you. Remember training, nutrition and lifestyle for each of us should be uniquely different. One size fits nobody.
In your “plan of attack”; posture must be considered with achieving balance being the goal, through correct exercise selection. This implies the right balance of posterior and anterior chain exercises. A solid posture will not only allow you to move better, get stronger and grow more muscle but will put you in a better state of mind.
If you move your head forward by only an inch it adds 10 lbs of pressure to your neck. So lean forward 60 degrees that’s 60 lbs of pressure weighing down on your cervical spine.
Even more interesting is that posture is shaping the person you are. Watch someone who is feeling sad and depressed, often head hung forward and the back rounded, slouched over. When you stand tall it informs not only others but also yourself that you are confident in your mission.
Good posture not only lowers cortisol but raises testosterone. This is huge. Add in some deep nasal breaths, it takes only 60 slow breaths to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, from fight or flight down to rest and digest.
Stand tall and take 4 minutes out of your day it can have a profound effect on mindset.
Just the process of thinking that your posture can affect life in a positive manner will have you correcting the way you stand.
Check out this excellent TED talk by Amy Cuddy, for more on this subject.
So, where do we start?
Well, let’s look at 2 simple steps to start opening up a kyphotic posture and changing the way we look, move and feel forever.
Step One – Standing Right.
There is no perfect posture. We just need to centralise the head in the middle of the shoulders, looking straight forward, chin untucked. You don’t need to pin the shoulders back, but the chest should sit proudly in the middle of your shoulders and directly over the hips, not in front or trailing behind. We don’t want to be flexed at the knees and hips unless our movement pattern demands it.
Core engaged and aware of our glutes.
Neutral spine is not something that we have at every waking moment, it is a position that we create, especially in exercise and movement. Even seated. Think of someone sitting in the lotus position in meditation, are they slouched? No. Meditation and breathing would not be nearly as effective without the upright posture. Spend more time sitting and standing tall, and breathing deeply to redirect your day.
Step Two – Breathing.
When I learnt how to box breathe (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds) and just spent more time taking fuller and deeper breaths in through my nose – it was a game changer. The mouth is for eating, drinking and communicating and the nose is for breathing. A filter for toxins.
It takes patience and practice. But once you are used to this, it will help you with the management of stress and reduction of cortisol. Not to mention a higher state of consciousness which will benefit us in endless ways.
Next week we start with the first phase of basic self-myofascial release, mobility and stretching protocols to help ease us into better posture, possibly a better hormone profile, improved performance and muscle mass and a healthier you.
Author - Fletcher Dalrymple - Personal Trainer & Mentor
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