Bad posture is easy to obtain. This can lead to muscle imbalances, reduced flexibility, and leaves us more susceptible to injury.
Think of the times you lift your arms toward the front of your body. Eating, washing our hair, cleaning the dishes and brushing our teeth, just to name a few. When we continually use the same muscles, we tend to neglect the others. Similarly, if we spend the day driving, watching television, or sitting at a desk lead to tightening of our postural muscles, poor posture, rounding our shoulders, and a pelvic tilt.
Beyond esthetics, a strong back leads to years of health and mobility. Good posture helps decrease the normal wearing of joint surfaces, preventing arthritis. The skeleton, the muscles, ligaments and tendons all contribute to holding us upright against gravity. With improper alignment, our balance is thrown off and certain areas, such as joints and bones, are required to support more weight and work harder. Eventually, strains and injury may result.
Proper posture lessens the stress on the ligaments and holds the spinal joints together. It prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions and uses your back muscles efficiently. Holding the natural curve in the spine without slouching keeps the bones and joints in the correct alignment.
Poor posture can round the shoulders, involving the posterior deltoids. Because most occupations and daily activities require the use of the breast muscle as opposed to the back muscles, our shoulders roll forward causing neck and back pain.
Gravity constantly pulls the shoulders out of normal position and alignment. Tightening of the latissimus dorsi causes a rounding of the upper back known as hunchback or Kyphosis. This can affect your lungs, nerves, and other tissues and organs, causing pain and other problems.
Numbness and/or pain in the legs, neck and back can all result from poor posture and muscle imbalances.
Muscles Involved in Imbalances
Weak Upper and Middle Back- Weak trapezius muscles and the rhomboids. This could be due to lack of exercise or too many chest exercises. Each muscle has an opposing muscle or muscle that works opposite of it. If you do too many chest strengthening exercises, you will cause muscle imbalances. Our pectoral major is our trapezius and rhomboids antagonist.
Tight Hip Flexors- The pelvis rotates anteriorly and is due to sitting for extensive periods. Tight hip flexors do a lot of abdominal work, making your core exercises useless. Weakening of the glutes also occurs as these are the hip flexors opposing muscle. Tight Hamstrings- The hamstrings take over the normal functions of the glutes and hip flexors as the hamstring is the synergistic (helper) muscle to the hip flexors. Sitting shortens the muscles, causing tightness, making gains in the gym near impossible.
How To Correct Posture
We need to engage in postural muscle strength activities. Typically, the exercises we choose are not focused on postural muscle strength. The most common muscle imbalances come from sitting. With prolonged sitting, our muscles become tight and cause a disturbance on the opposing muscle and the entire musculoskeletal system.
Planes of Motion
Focus on balance between the muscle and joints, when choosing an exercise program. Ensure balance throughout the entire body is the focus, along with proper form. Focus on the core, too. We must incorporate stability muscles into our strength training as they are vital for proper joint, tendon, and opposing muscle strength.
The muscle you are working is the agonist. The antagonist is in opposition. Let’s use squats and lunges as examples. The quadriceps is the agonist, the hip flexors are the antagonist and hamstrings become the synergist muscles. When you perform more quadricep dominant exercises, your pelvis tilts, causing pain in the lower back, and knees.
Fix this by adding hip and hamstring dominant exercises to balance it out. As a rule, you should never do more quadricep dominant exercises than hip movements.
Same rule applies for the deltoids and latissimus dorsi muscles, better known as your lats. When you perform a vertical push (such as a shoulder press), incorporating your shoulders (deltoids), you must also add a vertical pull, targeting your lats (such as a lat pulldown).
Chin-ups and pull-ups hit the lats, biceps and stabilizer muscles. Always do the same amount in each plane of motion.
With a horizontal push (bench press), target your chest. Here, incorporate your pectoral muscles, your front deltoids, triceps, trapezius muscles (traps) and your rotator cuff, instead of a horizontal pull, such as rows, that incorporate your traps, rhomboids, rear deltoids and rotator cuff.
(In legitimate workout programs, the back is broken into two different movements: lat pull and a row.)
Perfect posture requires a strong back. The upper back muscles, your trapezius muscles and rhomboids pull your shoulders down and back, and pull the pectoral muscles up. This is key for females.
How to Prevent and/or Correct Imbalances:
• Create balance by incorporating every muscle into your workout with the same amount for each opposing muscle.
• Improve shoulder flexibility by retracting the shoulders during exercise. Keep your upper body lifted and shoulders relaxed.
• Strengthen your core. When you stand with your abdominal muscle disengaged, the top of the pelvis tilts forward, your stomach bulges forward and the lower back arches. Keep your abdominals tight and pelvis tucked.
• Strengthen your gluteus muscles to ensure they dominate while sitting.
• Better your flexibility. The best way to relieve tension is through stretching. *Note- a stretch is opposite of the function of the muscle
• Avoid locking your knees when standing or exercising. • Alternate sitting and standing every 45-60 minutes.
• Tuck a small pillow between the chair and lower back to maintain the natural lower-back curve.
• Sit with knees slightly higher than hips and feet flat on the floor.
• Purchase a firm, supportive mattress for your bed.
In short: sit up keeping the head straight, not forward or to the side. Bring your shoulders back and relax them down. Sit with legs parallel, not turned out, and shoulder width apart. Keep your pelvis aligned by engaging your abdominals. Get up and stretch every hour. Every twenty minutes reach your arms straight, feeling lengthening of the spine. Strengthen your back and core muscles and make sure to maintain balance through all opposing muscles.
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