Spending your days hunched over your computer will (sooner or later) ruin your posture and make you a very poorly functioning human being.
We’re designed to walk, run, jump, push, pull, drag and climb. We’re NOT designed to spend our days sitting in a highly unnatural position.
Maybe in thousands of years we’ll evolve to remain sedentary with no notable deterioration in our health and well-being. Until then, we need to acknowledge our body’s need for movement and learn to re-balance our deteriorating postures…
In today’s blog post we’ll summarise how sub-optimal posture, caused by habitual inactivity and sitting in abnormal positions, impacts your body function and your ability to exercise safely and effectively.
#1: Your Glutes Won’t Work Properly
The glutes (bum) muscles are vital for human functionality and effective exercise performance. When they are working optimally, they help align the pelvis, guide the knee, and provide force for squatting, hip hinge and jumping movement patterns.
When they’re not working properly, you’re not only reducing your potential strength and performance, you’re also setting yourself up for injury.
This highly important muscle group are not designed to be used as cushions to support the rest of our body weight for prolonged periods of time i.e. sitting on our bee-hind all day! It’s this that causes them to ‘go offline’ and function incorrectly.
This ‘switching off’ occurs in large due to tight hip flexors – the opposing ‘partner’ muscles of the glutes. Think about it, you sit with your hips bent up to 90 degrees for extended periods. Those muscles on the front of the legs (quads and hip flexors) will adapt and become short and tight.
When one muscle group is tight and short (in this case, your hip flexors due to sitting all day), the opposite muscle group is forced to lengthen, become weak and lose optimal function.
1) Restore length to the hip flexors and quadricep muscle groups by incorporating a range of hip flexor and quadricep stretches into your daily routine. Exercises like lunges and split squats can also help to improve flexibility in these areas, so it’d be wise to include them in your workout programme.
2) Restore optimal glute function and strengthen the glutes with glute activation exercises such as Bridges, X-Walks and Fire Hydrants.
These stretches and exercises will all contribute to improved functionality, but it’s important you also avoid sitting for long periods when possible otherwise the above solutions will be less effective.
#2: Weakened Shoulder Stability
We spend an extraordinary amount of time sitting with a rounded spine and shoulders.
Whether at a desk, behind the steering wheel of a car, eating dinner or slumped in front of the TV, we’re living life with our upper body in a sub-optimal and highly unnatural position.
Reading this at a desk or on your smartphone? Check your posture. Chances are your spine is curved, your shoulders are rounding forwards and your head is protruding forwards (or downwards if you’re looking at your phone).
Similar to our hip flexors becoming tight by sitting too much, spending too much time hunched forwards will cause tightness in our chest, neck and shoulder muscles.
Over a period of years, this could even cause the spine in our upper back to become rounded (kyphosis) and our head to permanently sit out in front of our body (forward head position). Not good.
Essentially, all the muscles on the front of our upper body become tight, whilst the muscles on the back of our upper body become weak, compounding the forward rounding effect.
This imbalance causes chronic instability in your shoulder girdle and greatly increases the chances of injury when exercising your upper body (particular during pressing movements).
1) Restore length to the chest and shoulder muscles by performing a range of chest and shoulder stretches and incorporating them into your daily routine.
Here’s a video of a mobility exercise – the side-lying windmill – that helps open up tight chest and shoulder muscles, and is great to do throughout the day:
2) Strength the lengthened and weak upper back muscles by performing exercises that strengthen those muscle groups, such as Face Pulls, Reverse Flys, Band Pull Aparts and any form of Rowing exercise. All key exercises to regaining optimised shoulder functionality.
Outside of the gym, paying attention to avoid a slouched forward posture at your desk, and stretching your chest and shoulders a couple of times a day will also contribute to a lowered risk of injury (and heavier bench numbers!)
#3: A Weak & Inactive Core
Your core is designed to work for more than just crunches and planks. It should be active more-or-less all day to keep your body upright and stable whilst standing and moving.
On the other hand, when you’re sitting for long periods (especially in a poor posture position and with back support) the core won’t be doing much at all. Over time that can lead to reduced strength in your core muscles.
Reduced core muscle strength and stability will massively reduce your power output in the gym, as well as increasing the chances of lower back problems. This is because a strong core is vital for optimal performance of nearly every moment in the gym, and everyday life.
Ever hurt your back moving some furniture, or carrying office supplies? Chances are it’s due to your core not doing it’s job properly, therefore leaving your poor lower back with the responsibility of carrying the load.
You can counteract this risk with an intelligently designed core programme alongside functional, compound lifting, instead of excessive crunching and sit-ups.
A great place to start is by learning how to correctly align your pelvis and engage your core muscles as part of the plank exercise. This will help strengthen your core, increase your power output, and reduce your risk of lower back pain.
>> We’ve written an entire blog post on the plank and strengthening your core. You can access it by clicking here.
Oh, and as with every issue caused by excessive sitting and associated poor posture – try and break up your sedentary portions by moving around during the day, instead of resigning yourself to uninterrupted hours behind a desk.
It can also help to practise aligning your pelvis and engaging your glute and core muscles throughout the day, as explained in the blog post we shared above.
#4: Poor Spinal Erector Strength
Your spinal erectors refer to the group of muscles running alongside your spine, responsible for keeping you upright and maintaining a neutral and safe back position during exercise.
Just as sitting with back support all day negatively impacts your core functionality, it also takes a role away from the spinal erectors, causing them to become inefficient and poorly functioning.
Inefficient erector muscles put you at greater risk of back injury, and make certain exercises requiring a neutral spine (such as bent-over rows and dumbbell rows) impossible to perform without risking injury.
So how can you effectively turn this vital muscle group back on?
As with all of the aforementioned postural issues, avoiding prolonged periods of sitting/inactivity, being mindful of your posture and including regular movement into your day are key.
Within training sessions, yoga positions such as the cat-cow pose, and strengthening exercises such as barbell good-mornings under the watchful eye of a trained professional will enhance your erector’s strength effectiveness.
The standard ‘western’ lifestyle is setting yourself up for injury. We’re simply spending too much time sitting in abnormal and awkward positions that are not healthy for your body.
By reading this article you’ll have a greater understanding of how this lifestyle is impacting your posture, function and ability to exercise safely and effectively.
The take-home message is that it’s important to be mindful and aware of your posture throughout the day. No amount of corrective exercise will help if you’re spending the vast majority of your day with poor posture and body position.
By being mindful of your posture, as well as including regular movement and stretching in your day may offset any potential postural problems and associated muscle aches and pains.
If postural problems are already present, stretching and lengthening the tight muscles, and strengthening the opposing lengthened and weak muscles, will begin to correct the problem.
An overview of how to do this has been provided in this article, but we do recommend seeking expert advice for doing so safely and effectively.
Now you’re aware of the issues poor posture causes, it’s time to take action to counteract them. The alternative is to slowly regress until chronic pain and a posture that resembles a cashew nut are your new normal. I know which option I would pick!
Postural assessment and corrective exercises are included in all of our personal training programmes. Sure, we love helping our clients lose weight and improve their health. But we’re equally as passionate about helping our clients become well-functioning and injury-free. There’s no point looking great if your body is out of alignment and painful, right?
If you’re interested in working with our expert team and benefitting from our postural correction techniques, you can find out more about our in-person personal training here (if you’re in Edinburgh) and our online personal training here (if you live elsewhere).