Everyone always hears about how they should sit up straight and have better posture.
But what exactly does “good” posture mean? And why should we give a s%*&?
It’s more than just sitting up “straight” and standing up tall. If you don’t start with a clear understanding of what the correct form looks like, and the physiological reasoning for that form, then you can actually do some damage while trying to fix it.
The #1 goal of your posture should be to return your body to its more natural positioning – the way that our bodies evolved to behave over the last few hundred thousand years.
Once you understand that, then it all starts to make sense.
The environment that we find ourselves in is extremely new from an evolutionary point of view.
In the past, we’d be walking barefoot for long distances searching for food, sleeping on the ground, squatting to rest and eat, climbing trees, etc, etc.
Nowadays, if you’re like most people reading this, your typical day looks something like this:
“Wake up and drive your car to work, sit at your desk, staring at a screen all day, drive home, microwave your dinner, stare at a larger screen while sitting on your comfy couch, then go to sleep on your pillow top bed until you wake up to do it again tomorrow.”
Not exactly much natural movement in there. Even if you are more active than most and you spend a little bit of time in the gym – it’s not enough.
It’s no wonder our bodies are looking deformed. No wonder that we’re seeing more and more illnesses and injuries like back pain, bone spurs, degenerative disk disease, osteoarthritis, pelvic floor disorders, etc. It’s all an effect of less than good posture.
One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms and over 80% of us will experience a back problem at some point in our lives. 1/3 of people over the age of 45 face osteoarthritis.
These are caused by our modern-day 1st world habits.
Not only do the poor habits that we’ve developed have major health consequences, but they have a real impact on other important aspects of our lives. If you have poor posture it affects the way that other people perceive you, it affects the way we perceive ourselves and wrecks our confidence. Ultimately it leads to less success in all areas of our lives.
Let’s look at posture and its role in a major part of our lives – our jobs.
How Posture Affects Your Confidence & Your Career
If you’re looking to grow in your career and get promoted or get a new job – poor posture can hurt you. If you’re looking to build a startup and need to conduct sales meetings or convince backers to invest in you it can have an impact there too.
Like it or not, people base a lot of their decisions on first impressions.
If you slink into a conference room with your head hanging down and you’re barely able to maintain eye contact – then people associate that with a lack of confidence and a lack of ability.
They can smell it on you.
And sure, when they tell you why things didn’t work out they’ll come up with all kinds of honest sounding reasons. It’s probably even how they justify it to themselves.
But… the truth is, things just didn’t “feel” right. Something in their lower-level lizard brain told them that you weren’t the kind of person that would be right for the job or a maybe you wouldn’t be a good leader.
The same goes for dating and trying to meet women.
Also, it can actually have an impact on our own biochemistry. There is a very popular TED talk given by Amy Cuddy, which goes over the psychological impacts our poor posture can have. Even just a few minutes spent in so-called “power poses” can affect certain hormone levels in your body and change your behavior and the way you’re perceived.
If That’s Not Enough – What about your health?
This is the only body you’ve got. At least until science gets their ass in gear and figures out how to clone us or download our brains into robot bodies.
I for one want to make sure that I stick around long enough for them to get that stuff working.
So… I’m always looking for that edge that will let me improve my body and maintain it for the long haul.
Poor posture and biomechanics create an environment where our body continues to be damaged slowly each day by default.
Here’s a list of just a few problems related to it.
1) Poor Circulation
Each and every one of the trillions of cells in our body requires a few things to function properly – oxygen, water, nutrients, etc. They also need to expel the waste that they generate during cellular processes.
The way that our body provides these things to cells is through our circulatory systems – blood, nerves, and lymph.
When we position ourselves in ways that aren’t aligned with the way that our bodies have evolved, we prevent these circulatory systems from working correctly. Limiting blood flow to a certain muscle group, pinching a nerve, not breathing correctly so that our blood isn’t oxygenated enough, etc. This all causes problems.
We’ve developed redundancies and the ability to adapt. But those are only short-term solutions.
2) Chronic Pain
We develop pain because our nervous system is trying to tell us something.
“Hey a$$hole, you’re not doing something right. Fix it!”
However, because we’re living in unnatural environments we’ve shut off a lot of our innate ability to read these signals. Also, because we’re never taught anything useful about this stuff in school we just don’t know how to address these problems ourselves until it’s too painful.
Then we end up seeking the help of doctors and surgeons.
Those guys are obviously looking out for our well-being, the vast majority of them truly do care about their patients.
But… when you’re a hammer everything starts to look like a nail. And when you’ve spent a decade in schools learning how to cut people open, you usually tend to want to cut people open as the first course of action.
It would be a much safer and more prudent tactic to first try to fix your alignment and return to natural movement & good posture – at least before it gets too bad that you need medical treatment.
3) Cell Degeneration
Once we’ve ignored our pain signals for long enough and starved the cells in our body past their breaking points they tend to give up and die out. Here’s where you start to see problems like degenerative disk disease.
Queue the surgeries and artificial implants – and a long road ahead that will only continue to get worse.
Where are those scientists with my new body? Someone tell them to get busy!
How about we get to work and make sure that we have the best possible chances to avoid these types of problems?
1) How to Stand
When standing we’re looking to get closer to our natural positioning, the way that we would have stood thousands of years ago.
The best way to think about it is to consider where you’d want the weight of your body distributed – directly stacked on top of itself – so that you don’t introduce any unnecessary stress on joints or direct load onto anybody structures that weren’t intended to carry them.
While standing your lower body should look like this:
This is me, with a plumb line hanging down from my hip bone. (it’s my little girl’s jump rope… don’t judge me). Find something like this to follow along. Hanging a plumb line like this illustrates a great point.
This is important because our bodies are under the same forces that everything else around us is, no matter how smart we are – we aren’t immune to gravity.
If you’re like most people, you’ll see that the plumb line lands forward of your heel, near the middle of your foot. This means that your weight is leaning towards your toes putting additional shear & stress on your knees, shins, and the arch of your feet, which is a sign of poor posture.
To correct this, when standing your weight should be distributed directly down through your legs and into your heels. This limits the number of shear forces on areas that weren’t designed for them. It also allows for a healthy arch and flexible toes. See the first picture.
Next, to maintain this position and ensure that you don’t hyper-extend and lock your knees, you should use a small amount of external rotation which engages your hips and thigh muscles.
This is a bit tricky to explain to someone, but once you feel it you’ll feel why it’s such a good way to be standing.
This picture should help:
Imagine you’re trying to screw your legs down into the ground below you, but don’t move your feet, keep them planted.
Once you get it right you’ll feel it and you’ll know. It’s a pretty incredible feeling of stability and control. That’s exactly what good posture should feel like.
Do it with bare feet though. Most shoes, even men’s shoes have an elevated heel. Adding something under your heel changes our natural alignment and pushes our weight forward. The fact that we wear shoes so often has forced all of our bodies to adjust. That’s why we have such a hard time finding our natural center of gravity.
Stop reading this right now and try it.
Now that we have our lower body under control, we’ll try to develop a feeling of how our upper body, back, shoulders and neck should be stacked.
The thing that most people think about when they’re looking to fix their posture is this:
It’s called forward head posture, or computer guy syndrome. Where your head is resting far in front of your spine and your shoulders are slumped, rounded downwards.
It’s because we’ve spent most of our lives hunched over a keyboard staring at a screen.
As with a lot of the other solutions I’m providing in this post – fixing it has a lot to do with becoming aware of what the correct position looks and feels like.
When you’re comfortable standing with your arms down resting – where do they land?
Do they fall in front of your waist something like this?
If so, this is indicative of your chest muscles being too tight, drawing your shoulders down and in front of where they should be.
To get a feel for proper shoulder position. Try resting your arms at your sides, kind of like someone in the military standing at attention, like this:
Just getting this positioning of your shoulders corrected should also help a bit with the position of your forward head.
How to Sit (Good Seated Posture)
Stop sitting on your back
Because we’re often sitting in fluffy, comfortable chairs, we seem to default to this position:
This is the worst possible way to sit and here’s why:
When you’re sitting like this, your weight isn’t properly stacked where it should be. Instead of it being aligned and resting on top of your pelvis, it’s resting on top of your lower back and spine. Roughly half your weight – around 70-100 pounds – is slowly crushing the most sensitive and important areas of your skeleton and nervous system.
Please stop doing this immediately.
Get to know your pelvis
Also, most people while they are sitting are putting their pelvis into a tucked forward position.
What does that mean?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of us aren’t even fully aware of how we are positioning our pelvis. So many years of poor posture and positioning have killed our ability to understand how we’re moving these vital areas of our bodies – because we don’t think about them anymore they fall into a default pattern or habit – and it’s a bad one.
A tucked pelvis looks like this
The hips and pelvis represent our core, our most important muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones that manage our stability, balance and are our primary engines of movement. There are dozens of muscles that play a role in this core stability and they connected up through our back and abdominals, as well as down through our thighs and hamstrings.
Spending too much time in this unnatural tucked position creates imbalances and additional strains on areas of the body that weren’t meant to manage them.
When you’re sitting down, you should be looking to untuck your pelvis and keep it in a neutral position – not too far forward not too far backward. You should be sitting directly on top of the bony parts in your butt – they call them your sit bones. Sitting in this position you should feel that the weight of your abdomen and head is resting directly on top of your spine which is properly stacked onto your butt.
Sit on something that isn’t too padded, something more like a dining room chair or a bar stool. That helps you feel grounded and keeps you from leaning backward and falling back into the habit of sitting on your lower back.
Don’t strain too hard to keep a “straight” back. There should be a slight wave in your lower back which is natural and created by your well-positioned pelvis.
Once you figure this out and start to sit correctly it should feel much more comfortable – if it hurts then you’re probably trying a little too hard and straining something. At that point, the hardest part is to prevent yourself from falling into your old habits and default position. Whenever you notice it, just correct yourself and realize that it’s a work in progress. We’re all trying to unwind decades of bad positioning. It’ll take time.
Stop Sitting So Much
Ok, I gave you some ways to sit better. That’s great. We all have to sit down sometime.
But the truth is, we all just need to stop sitting so damn much.
In the car, at the office, at school, in front of the TV on the couch. It’s just too much, we aren’t meant to be doing it.
Find ways to change some of those things where you can.
If you can alter your desk so that you can stand while you work on the computer – at least part of the time – that’s great. Just make sure you are standing correctly and things are set up in the right place and the right height so that you aren’t sacrificing proper positioning. Your monitor should be at eye level so you don’t have to lean forward, your keyboard right about where your elbows are so you can keep your arms at a 90-degree angle. Stand actively, only your heels, preferably barefoot or in minimalist shoes. Move around regularly and take breaks often.
If you got something out of this, please post a comment below. Doing that might help make sure someone else also gives the advice in this article a shot. And… if you think about this stuff more regularly – you should start to see at least a little improvement in your posture in just a week or two. When you do, make sure you come back, find this post, and post a comment reporting your progress.
If you’ve found this information valuable, also please share it with your friends and coworkers using all that fun social media shiz.
Having more people in your life involved will give you even more reason to keep at it.
James writes about posture, alignment and biomechanics from a hacker’s perspective. Check out more of his posts and sign up for his free 14 day email mini course at his website below. Jameshollister.com