The Perfect Posture Experiment

By: Jocelyn Jay - May. 09, 2012

Posture today seems to be a thing of the past.  As swimmers, the excuse is our chest muscles are much more over-developped then our back muscles, but is that really reasonable?  Much like changing a stroke for the benefits to your swimming & speed, working on your posture not only benefits your body NOW, but your swimming and your body as you age. If you inherit poor posture from your daily life it can really affect how your muscles work when in the pool. 

THE BETTER POSTURE EXPERIMENT - ONE SMALL CHANGE
By Joe Kita
 
The idea was simple: Spend one month doing everything possible to perfect my posture. Granted, it wasn’t as sexy a goal as getting washboard abs or bigger biceps, but poor posture is often the overlooked cause of
chronic pain, nagging injury, and lackluster performance. Plus, it fits the theme of this blog: One small change that could make a big difference.

So for the last 30 days I’ve been diligently following the Better Posture Workout designed by Sue Falsone, PT, CSCS, director of performance physical therapy for Athletes’ Performance. I’ve also made lots of little changes in my life like raising my car’s rearview and putting a mirror atop my computer monitor to help me to sit taller. And at Falsone’s prompting, I even duct-taped myself into my ideal posture and went about my day, letting the tug of the tape remind me to stand up straight. Through it all, I’ve learned a few lessons about posture and whether the effort to improve is really worth it:

1. Posture is dynamic. For proof, assume what the yogis call “mountain pose.” Stand straight with your feet together and arms at your sides then close your eyes. After a few seconds, you’ll feel your body gently swaying. It’s not an illusion; it’s evidence that you’re continually making subconscious micro-adjustments to maintain balance. Realizing that posture is a dynamic process that you can affect rather than a predetermined, static state-of-affairs was a revelation to me and the first step to committing to change. (There’s even evidence that working to maintain good posture burns calories through a process called “nonexercise activity thermogenesis.” It’s like fidgeting in a way.)

2. You have to exercise in the gym of life. The Better Posture Workout Falsone designed was great. But as she warned beforehand, postural muscles are endurance muscles that need to be exercised more than a few minutes daily. Indeed, continually sitting taller in my desk chair or driver’s seat proved to be a constant battle I have yet to win. Thirty days is only the beginning, not the end.

3. Water can make you taller. I always knew that proper hydration was key to health and performance, but I never suspected it had any connection to better posture. “Dehydration causes fatigue, and fatigue causes poor posture,” says Falsone. “So drinking and eating often to maintain your energy level is important.”

4. Posture affects more than you imagine. As I waded through the vast amount of posture research during my month-long experiment, I was continually entertained and amazed by the myriad ways it apparently impacts our lives. Posture is vital body language that affects how we’re perceived and even think. Here are two of the most fascinating findings:

  • Researchers at Princeton University recently correlated posture with political beliefs, finding that study subjects who leaned to the left while sitting were more likely to agree with Democratic views while those who leaned to the right preferred Republican ideals.
  • Experts at Ohio State University discovered that study participants wrote more confidently when told to sit up straight in front of a computer than those who were allowed to slouch. Evidently, the confidence that good posture imparts comes across in the task being performed.

5. Posture should be a first-line treatment. If you’re experiencing chronic pain or are continually disappointed in your performance even after focused training, have a physical therapist or other expert evaluate your posture. Few athletes think to do it, but it should be foundational. I recently went for a professional bike fitting, something I’d foolishly never had done in 30 years of cycling. The adjustments to my riding posture have made a noticeable performance and comfort difference. Ever think to video yourself while walking or running? The possibilities are endless.

6. Better posture means a new you. Unfortunately, I can’t say that after all this effort I’m even a quarter-inch taller or are fielding compliments about how “different” I look. But, like I said, this is a lifelong pursuit not a “See Results in 30 Days” infomercial. However, when I remind myself to stand or sit taller, I do feel instantly more confident and capable, stronger and younger, even leaner and fitter. Try it. The next time the day is wearing you down, a meeting is droning interminably on, or an attractive person walks by at the gym, straighten your spine, pull back your shoulders, pick up your chin and see if your world doesn’t shift. If a simple smile has the power to brighten people’s lives, then adjusting your posture might be the inner grin you need to win.

The Better Posture Workout may be too much, too time consuming or equipment may be an issue, so what about these daily drills that you can work on within a single moment.  It has to be important!!!

DAILY DRILLS

Falsone points out that postural muscles are endurance muscles, so you’ll need more than these short workouts to counteract 8+ hours of sitting poorly at your desk or in your car. So she recommends doing these little drills periodically throughout the day:

Rearview Mirror Lifts – The next time you slide into the driver’s seat, imagine someone put an ice cube down your back. Now adjust your rearview mirror to that straight-spine position. Whenever you check to see who’s on your tail, you’ll be reminded to sit up straighter.

Computer Eye Gazes – Take a small mirror and duct-tape it to the top of your computer screen. Then sit up straight in your chair and adjust the mirror so you can see your eyes. Whenever you look in the mirror and don’t see yourself staring back, you’ll know you’re slouching.

Lumbar Rolls – Roll up a towel and put it at the base of your spine when you’re sitting at dinner or in front of the TV. It’ll support the low back and help promote good posture.

Breathe Rights – Poor posture pinches the diaphragm and restricts breathing, which directly impacts performance. Train yourself to breathe more fully by occasionally placing the palms of your hands below your rib cage. Practice inhaling as if you were inflating an inner tube encircling that area. Instead of feeling the breath go up and down, feel it go around.

“If all these little exercises feel tiring, it’s because you have poor posture,” says Falsone. “The only way to win is to constantly work at it.”

WHY IS YOUR POSTURE IMPORTANT?
Three major reasons:

1) Having better posture keeps you straighter in the water, particularly your arm extension forwards. This means you'll expend less energy travelling down the pool. Being straighter will also avoid cross-overs, which ruin your catch technique and lead to shoulder injury.

2) Better posture helps develop good body roll. Good body roll gives you a longer more powerful stroke.

3) Having a strong upper core helps attach your arm stroke to your body. This means you start to use the whole of your body and your body roll to drive the stroke rather than just your shoulder muscles. This is a much more powerful swimming technique.