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The Art of Posture: Pilates' Secret Weapon

What does your posture say about you? If you were about to interview 2 people for an important position and their qualifications were exactly the same, would you hire the person that stood erect and looked you in the eye, or would you hire the person who slouched a bit?

To me standing in your true height gives you the appearance of confidence, self-assuredness, and energy to take on the world. Wouldn't you want to project that to others at all times? In a day and age when we can succumb to the nature of gravity on a habitual basis, it can be a very physical effort to sit up tall instead of a natural slouch.

Definition from Google search: The position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting.

I would add to that - you are holding yourself up against gravity. To further break it down:

We can then define the posture as any position that determines the maintenance of balance with maximum stability, minimal energy consumption and minimal stress of the anatomical structures. Pastorelli F, Pasquetti P. Biomechanical analysis and rehabilitation in athletes. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2013;10(2):96.

Before we get into what is good posture, let's do a bit of a physiology dive into muscle fibers. We have 2 types of muscle fibers: fast twitch and slow twitch. The mixture of these muscle fibers in a particular muscle is dependent upon genetics and training. Our fast twitch muscles are the ones that provide our more explosive or power movements, i.e. - jumping, stepping up onto something, etc. Think of Usain Bolt, the former Olympic sprinter. These muscle fibers are found in skeletal muscles such as our chest muscles, biceps, triceps and hamstrings. Our slow twitch muscles are more of an endurance type of muscle fiber, they're in it for the long haul. Think of marathon runners like Frank Shorter (thanks to my hubs for the name!) Our postural muscles fall into the slow twitch category. The problem is this: with the introduction of technology in our world and a more sedentary lifestyle, our postural muscles have lost their endurance, so to speak.

Good news! You can retrain the endurance in your postural muscles, just like you can train for a marathon! The key is start sooner rather than later. As we age, our bones can lose their density and can become wedge shaped over time. When this happens, no matter how hard you work at it, you have a mechanical block to standing up tall. So let's tackle the problem before it begins. How do we tackle that problem you ask? Why, Pilates of course!

What IS good posture:

If you look at the pictures above, if a plumb line is dropped, it should pass through your ear, shoulder joint, mid ribcage, hip joint, knee joint, and ankle. If one of these points is outside that line, gravity will take a larger effect on those areas and then pull it further out of line, which will then cause a cascading effect to accommodate the misalignment. Take a peek at the graphic of how heavy the head becomes when it is out of line of the spine. Don't believe me? Take a 5 pound weight and hold it right next to your shoulder and then hold it out in front of you. Where is it harder to maintain? Closer to your midline! The problem is these postural deviations happen SLOWLY over time so that we don't notice.

OK, so you're like get to the point already! HOW DO I FIX IT?

Shameless plug: Come See Me! I can analyze your posture and give you exercises tailored to you to help correct it. If I feel that you need some work in spinal mobility (our back joints can become stiff), I can refer you to some really good physical therapists. Let's assume, though, that your spine is flexible. Extension, awareness and modifications to your posture are the name of the game. Here are some tips. (I have even included tips for your mini-me's!)

  1. Adjust your work space: Get your monitor at eye height and in front of you (I just changed which monitor I was using to get my head looking forward instead of off to the side!)

  2. If you can get a standing station or a different chair, do it! At my day job (pediatric physical therapist), I bring in a ball chair and I NEVER use the back. By sitting on a more unstable surface, your body will naturally want to come into alignment (i.e. - the statement from above on minimal energy consumption).

  3. Get your alignment, if that means using a ball chair, or a wedge/cushion under your butt, with your butt slightly higher than your knees. By having your butt up higher than your knees, it makes it harder for you to roll back onto your pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt) which then can make you curve your entire spine

  4. Take frequent movement breaks. We were meant to MOVE, not to sit in front of a screen. Set a timer for every 30-60 minutes. Use the excuse that you have to use the restroom (no one is going to deny you that right). While in the bathroom, roll your shoulders, roll down to touch your toes and slowly roll back up, and stretch out your pecs in a doorway stretch

  5. If you can get away from the computer, do shoulder rolls (reach one arm up and then side bend, twist from side to side) and head rolls. These things take less than a minute and gives your back, neck, and shoulders a well-deserved break

  6. Learn to engage your core to support your back. Your inner unit (diaphragm, back muscles (multifidi and erector spinae), pelvic floor, and abdominals (transverse abdominis) are all meant to work together to support your spine and movement.

  7. Practice good posture - yep, practice! If you're not in the habit of holding your spine upright, it WILL get tired. You have to work at it just like anything else.

  8. Go to a movement specialist, myself for example, or if you're not in this neck of the woods, find a local physical therapist or Pilates instructor to help you get back your spinal mobility and postural endurance.

That's a bit harder, and I speak from experience. I can't convince my 20 year old that he needs to work on his posture no matter how hard I try. The best I can do is lead from example, and because I'm his mom, give him gentle (maybe not so gentle - poking him in the back) reminders that he won't always be young.

There is hope though - start YOUNG! When you give that device to your kiddo, or a book, encourage them to lie on their stomach and support themselves on the their forearms (not with their head in their hands as that defeats the purpose). Take a look at the picture of the normally developing infant. That's what you're shooting for - active extension. Your kids will gripe, but find out how badly to they want to watch that show on Nickelodeon (is that still a thing) on their IPad. Play board games on the floor on your belly and everybody wins!

How can Pilates change your posture you ask? Well number one is that you have someone else's eyeballs on you to see if you're in correct alignment.

At Anchor Pilates, I use all of my knowledge of the anatomy of the body and look at the person in front of me. To put it simply, I use the equipment and exercises to strengthen what's weak, lengthen what's tight, and then send you home with a plan to continue reinforcing what you learned in the studio.

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