Functional Fitness to Improve Posture
We are almost all guilty of being chronic sitters. In fact we spend on average 8.9 hours a day sat down in the UK. The result is slumped shoulders, arched backs and poor posture, but functional training can fix that. Knowing the right corrective exercises can help you to improve and even correct your posture.
Effects of poor posture
Posture helps stabilise the spine and prevents back pain and fatigue. When the back is straight, the spine is supported by stabilising muscles. As you slouch or practice other methods of poor posture, your spine no longer has the support it needs to stay balanced which can lead to health problems.
Poor posture causes aches and pains. In an ideal world your spine is in neutral alignment and your muscles support your frame, however as we fall away from this alignment, the muscles have to over extend or contract to try and keep the spine stable and protected. This then leads to tightness and fatigue. The major muscles which suffer the effects of this are the Rectus Abdominus, Internal and External Obliques, Erector Spinae, Splenius and the Multifidus. This is why aches are not limited to the lower back, but can also be felt in the neck and shoulders.
Curvature of the Spine
A more serious effect of poor posture is the development of a spinal curve. Naturally your spine should resemble a soft “s” shape, however poor posture can cause this to become exaggerated. When bad posture becomes a habit, pressure on the spine builds and slowly but surely, the curves in the spine change position. Once its position has changed, the spine's ability to achieve what it’s designed to do - absorb shock and keep you balanced, is significantly reduced.
A change in the spinal curve can cause subluxations. A subluxation is a partial misalignment of the vertebra which can become a major issue. One affected vertebrae can then affect the integrity of the entire spinal column. The knock on result of this is that spinal nerves can then become stressed and irritated.
Blood Vessel Constriction
Poor posture changes the alignment of your spine, the resulting movement and subluxations can cause problems with blood vessel constriction. The constriction of the blood vessels around the spine can cut off blood supply to the cells of the muscles, which can then affect their nutrient and oxygen supply. Blood vessel constriction can also raise your chances of clot formation and deep vein thrombosis.
One of the most common side effects of bad posture is nerve constriction. As the spine changes in shape, the resulting movements or subluxations can put pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves. The nerves that connect to the spine come from all over the body and when pinched can not only cause neck and back pain but may also cause pain in other unrelated areas of the body.
How can you fix your posture?
Tight hip flexors often occur as a result of extended periods of sitting and can cause shortening of the muscles. Tight hips can also lead to a restricted range of motion and discomfort around the lower back muscles, joints and legs.
Functional corrective exercises: Corrective exercises for tight hip flexors would include lots of dynamic movements to strengthen the hips, making sure to mobilise this normally static muscle group. Tight hip flexors will restrict your range of motion for a good squat, so try warm up exercises to activate the hips before you step into a squat rack.
Exercises may include:
- Standing donkey kicks
- Cross body leg swings (these could be banded or performed with a cable attachment)
- Yoga moves such as the “Open Lizard Stretch” or “Pigeon” or “Butterfly” stretch
Internally Rotated Shoulders
Typically it’s those with office jobs who tend to suffer from internally rotated shoulders the most. This is because you’re sat leaning over a computer and extending the arms to type. This causes a craning of the neck and pain around the top of the neck and shoulders and can also result in weak chest muscles. In order to correct this, we need to strengthen the chest and perform exercises which retract the shoulders.
Exercises may include:
- Cable flyes - Always opt for standing over seated when trying to train functionally. Sitting is not functional. Strengthening the chest will help to push your shoulders back and improve your posture, as the chest muscles are reactivated.
- Rotator cuff exercises such as a lawn mower pull - A lawn mower pull requires you to pull a band or cable from the ground, across the body and up to the shoulder joint, retracting your shoulder.
This is caused by... wait for it… you guess it, too much sitting! Sitting completely deactivates our largest muscle group and can cause weak, tight glutes. This can often lead to sway back and an overextended pelvis.
Exercises may include:
- Deep sumo squats - These will activate the glutes and fire up the hip flexors, taking a wide (sumo) stance also enables you to get lower into the squat, activating more of the glutes and training the abductors.
- Multidirectional lunges - Multidirectional lunges are great for reactivating tired glutes as you fire up the muscles in multiple planes of motion, you should complete a lunge on each leg at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock.
As well as targeting areas which have suffered the effects of too much sitting, we can also stretch to prevent these tight zones in the first place or be more active throughout the day. A great way of doing this is EHOH, an initiative designed to prevent the dangers of sitting, where every hour on the hour, you get up and do a mini workout routine, stretch your legs and move your body about to prevent the dangers of sitting.