Last week we talked about the importance of posture. Specifically, we focused on how a negative position of the spine repeated over time can contribute to poor posture and hunching which can lead to a myriad of problems including pain, bad mood, fatigue and decreased productivity. Over the next few weeks we will focus on how an awareness on a healthy spine position can help to improve your posture over time.
Being active and moving your body is one of the easiest ways to overcome the negative effects of the sedentary lifestyle that has become normal in society. Face the facts, we sit… a lot. Movement, any movement, is a critical counterpoint to sitting. Running, jogging, or walking is one of the easiest ways to move because the gear is minimal and membership to a gym is unnecessary unless you love running on a treadmill. I understand there are LOTS of ways to be active and the BEST suggestion is to get and and do SOMETHING you enjoy so you can do it consistently. However, today we will focus on posture as it relates to running to help those increase their awareness of a healthy spine which can then help to improve running form, increase endurance, prevent injury, and most importantly negating the effects of the chronic seated position. Even for non-runners these tips can be applied to an everyday mobility routine to achieve the same benefits.
Posture is so important because the stability of the spine is determined by the balance of the muscles on the front and back of body as well as the balance between two sides. In order to create a healthy balance it is important to address the limitation we have from any chronic repetitive stress, such as sitting. If you are a desk jockey working at a computer screen or a person who enjoys the after-work netflix binge chances are your body has negatively adapted in two of the most common ways; 1. Tight hip flexors 2. Rounded shoulders. With these structural changes there are muscle tension patterns that create muscle weaknesses and imbalances that eventually lead to chronic conditions including pain, discomfort, and alterations in brain activity (like we mentioned in last weeks article). Identifying the problem is the first step in order to create a solution. Since the physical changes start to create muscular tension and joint restriction the positive change will come from stretching and bringing joints through their natural range of motion.
Easy tips for ALL people as it relates to chronic sitting is stretching the chronically stiff muscles. Stretching your hip-flexors and your pectoral muscles is a great place to start. These muscle groups are located on the front of your leg and the front of your chest. Those muscles get stiff when you sit so it makes sense to open them up when you are not sitting. The easiest way to do this is to perform a mirror image of the seated position: stand, arms outstretched in the air as you extend your back and look up to the sky. This will get stimulation into those chronically tight muscles and is a simple starting point to opening up your posture.
Before a run, or any activity, make sure that you are bringing the joints through their full range of motion; especially the hip joints and thoracic spine. Doing this will help to get your spine in a position of strength and balance. The hip joints are intimately related to the appropriate curvature of the low back and the thoracic spine is closely linked to the position of your shoulders and your head. For the hips: 1. Air Squat: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and squat as deeply as you can while maintaining your heels on the ground. Repeat ten times TIP: maintain a slight curve in your low back and open your chest as you squat down to maximize hip motion and stability. As you stand up concentrate on squeezing your sit muscles. 2. Walking lunges: take a big step forward and drop your back knee to the ground. While you stand concentrate, again, on squeezing the sit muscles of the leg that is stepped forward. Take ten steps with each leg. TIP: As you lower your body make sure that the knee of the forward leg does not extend past the toes of the same leg. 3. Side lunge: Standing with your feet shoulder width apart step your left leg out and squat down to your left foot as your right leg extends. Make sure that as you come down your left heel maintains its position on the ground. If the heel starts to come up return to the upright position. Repeat this process by stepping out to the right. Perform ten repetitions to each side. TIP: Maintain a slight curve in your low back and open chest to keep the spine in a position of strength and balance. For the thoracic spine: Bring your arms parallel to the ground and open your chest and look up to the sky. As you extend make sure to keep your abdominal muscles tight so the extension and stretch is going through the thoracic spine. Hold this for a few seconds and then fold forward reaching your hands to the ground. Perform this cycle 10 times. These exercises, performed diligently before exercise and after long hours of sitting will greatly minimize the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time.
For those of you who are visual and auditory learners, stay tuned for the video tutorials.
Enjoy getting out and moving your body. Remember, the more your move the better you feel.