Envision your grandfather — or any older man or woman, for that matter — standing all alone in the living room. His legs are locked out straight, his pelvis is rolled forward, his shoulders are rounded, and his chin is protruding forward.
Generally speaking, an elderly man or woman is forced to embrace this unhealthy posture because of muscular weakness. His or her spine-stabilizing muscles are too weak, so he or she is forced to hang on their ligaments. Prolonged stress on ligaments weakens them, and this results in stiffness, compensation, and pain.
The sad truth is when we see photos of ourselves standing, some of our postural positions mimic elderly individuals who may be 40 or 50 years older than us. Ask your family or friends to secretly snap some side-view photos of you sitting and standing. Those photos will quickly prove the horrors of my previous claim. Let’s change that, shall we?
Your Spine's Buried Secrets
In this era of high-speed instant feedback via our phones, computers, cars, and watches, a key component of our spine remains old school. The insides of our 23 vitally important spinal discs, which function like little shock-absorbing pillows between each of our spinal bones, have no nerve supply. When the intervertebral discs are injured by poor posture or ill-advised activities, they have no nerves to warn us of the damage taking place.
Therefore, it’s our job to protect our spines, rather than waiting for a big, red flashing light on our smartphones to alert us that something is wrong.
Related Link: 9 Ways to Live Like a Modern-Day Spartan Soldier
Standing the Right Way
No one taught us how to stand correctly, and because of our poor posture, we’re putting way too much stress on the wrong parts of our spine.
Here’s an example: Carrying a 30-pound sandbag evenly draped across your shoulders feels very different from carrying that same 30-pound sandbag with your arms in a bear hug.
Why is the latter position so much more difficult?
The answer: With the bag on your shoulder, it is better aligned with the spine and positioned over your body’s base of support — the space between your feet. When the bag is just 12 inches forward, the weight is in front of your base of support, which forces your body to work much harder to balance the spine and move the load.
Sit Like a Spartan: Stop Hanging on Your Ligaments
Anyone can easily balance a vertical baseball bat on one finger. Meanwhile, it takes great effort to hold onto that same baseball bat if it’s leaning to one side. The same is true of the spine. When we slouch, we’re forcing our spinal ligaments to hold up a leaning baseball bat.
Proper sitting posture involves a balanced head, torso, and spine over a stable pelvis. Keys to this optimal sitting posture include a forwardly rolled pelvis, a lordotic (“sway back”) curve of the low back, and shoulder blades pulled back and down. In addition, a backwardly-glided head position keeps the front of the chin behind the plane of the chest.
So, to recap:
- Your pelvis rolls forward.
- Your low back sways back.
- Your shoulder blades pull back and down.
- Your head glides back slightly.
When the spine, torso, and head are properly positioned when sitting, it takes far less effort to maintain that position when compared to a slouched posture.
Sitting and Standing Habits
I worked in the National Football League for 26 years as an athletic trainer and physical therapist. There are few work settings more intense, testosterone-filled, and Type A-dominated than the NFL. One NFL executive I worked with easily logged 100-plus hours each and every week.
Approximately once a week, I forced him to “meet” with me for a “walking meeting” outside our team's three practice fields. At first, he resisted my crazy plan, but he quickly learned to love it. Simply getting him out of his chair — and away from artificial lighting — improving his flexibility, and enhancing his fitness level proved to be just what he needed.
But you don’t have to be an overworked NFL executive to benefit from sitting a little less.
5 Tips to Improve Your Posture
1) Sit Right (or Don’t Sit at All)
Use the sitting tips above to help you properly position your body when sitting. Stop using the backs of chairs when you sit. The chair backs rarely help, and they give us a false sense of security, encouraging our valuable stabilizing muscles to relax.
2) Be a Strong Stander
To stand properly, slightly bend both your knees, tuck your lower butt cheeks under your pelvis, and envision a finger in your navel lifting upward while gliding your shoulder blades back and down. If you can maintain focus and commit to these subtle postural changes, you will engage key muscles and optimize a strong core.
3) Just Move
Get your butt out of the chair and move. Use an elevated (standing) desk, schedule walking meetings, stretch during your phone calls, stand on one foot while brushing your teeth, take the stairs, or dribble a ball during a post-meal walk.
4) Don’t Forget Your Dogs
Get your feet right. Upgrade to better, more supportive shoes or get new inserts. Or, if you’re pain-free, spend more time walking barefoot. Your feet are your true base of support, so they deserve the highest level of care.
5) Encourage Reminders
Self-awareness is not something that changes overnight. Ask your family, friends, and coworkers to give you simple postural reminders for such things as a forward head, a slumped posture, or rounded shoulders. Or, if you’re as immersed in technology as I am, set reminders on your smartphone.
In a world of poor posture, standing up straight is nearly an act of rebellion. Stand like a Spartan: strong, tall, and poised.
Learn More. Dare More. Accomplish More.
Spartan exists to rip millions of people off the couch and teach them that anything is possible with hard work, commitment, and perseverance. Don’t let a simple problem like poor posture put a cap on your potential.