By Iain Hennessy
What’s the first thing you do in almost every Les Mills class? As instructors what do we need to consider before lifting a weight, taking a step or even before starting the music? We always find our set position, a process to set up great posture before putting our body to work, for instance in Les Mills BODYPUMP® you may start with “roll your shoulders up, back and down, gently drawing the shoulder blades in towards the spine, lift you chest and then lightly engage your abdominals to help stabilize the torso”. Posture plays a very important roll in the ability of our muscles and joints to work through a functional range of motion and in an efficient manner so that we can both maximize our workout and avoid injuries.
Great, so when you’re working out, be it teaching or participating in your favorite Les Mills class, you become aware of and set up great posture, then with the help of a few friendly reminders through the class, do your best to maintain it. So that’s Great posture for an hour out of your day……… what about the other 23 hours? Lets get even more specific and ask how is your posture for the 8-10 hours you spend every day at work? Office workers especially!
Take a minute to consider what good posture looks like. If you get a friend to stand with their normal posture, and you observe them from side on, you should see that their ear sits directly above their shoulder, which is above their hip and ankle. There should be a slight lordosis (concave backwards) in the low back and the neck and a slight kyphosis (convex backwards) through the thoracic spine. Is that what you see?
Too often we see a posture where the head sits forward of the shoulders, the shoulders are rounded and also sitting forward creating an exaggerated hump of the thoracic area and a flattening through the low back. This common ‘Slouched” posture leads to considerably increased loads and over stretching on the muscles supporting the head, neck, and upper back, as well as increased compressive load through the vertebra, spinal joints and discs of the entire spine.
This ‘Slouched’ posture is commonly a result of spending long periods of time in a chair often in front of a computer screen. Likely candidates include Office workers, those of us watching too much TV or playing computer games for long periods of time.
This ‘Slouched’ posture often lead to tension, aches and pains between the shoulder blades, top of the shoulders, into the neck and often leads on to headaches. That’s the day to day consequences, two individual studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in 2004 showed in one that increased kyphosis is linked to mortality in the elderly and the other study linked postural changes to decreased lung capacity and dyspnea or labored breathing.
Could your posture be a silent killer?
Based on these studies……… YES!
The good news is, it’s not too late to correct your posture now and forever, and the answer is simple, it only takes a few minutes of your day.
Here is the trick, to simply ‘Stand Up Straight’ won’t do, because the slouched posture has taken hold and the bodies new biomechanics have taken over. The Slouched posture leads to short, tight and inflexible pectoral muscles constantly pulling the shoulders forward, meanwhile the trapezius and rhomboid muscles have become chronically overstretched and weak so they no longer hold the shoulder blades back where they should be.
One set of muscles is short and tight, the other set of muscles are long and weak…… What do you think needs to happen make the change?
You guessed it! (I hope……)
You need to stretch the pectoral muscles and strengthen the traps and rhomboids. Off to the gym then? No it doesn’t have to be that hard.
Here is a simple, quick and very effective stretch/exercise that will get your posture headed in the right direction. You can do it anywhere, it takes less than a minute and deals with the stretching and strengthening elements of poor posture all at once.
It’s called the Y.W.T.L.
Simply follow these instructions, holding each position for around 10-15 seconds, and repeat 4-5 times a day.
- Lift your arms up above your head keeping the elbows straight
- Aiming to reach high, with the arms pointing out at a slight angle
- The key is to keep your shoulders down away from your ears
- Feel your shoulder blades squeezing down and together
- From the “Y” position simply bend at the elbows to lower the arms into a “W” position
- Trying to keep the elbows behind the line of your body
- The emphasis is on squeezing the shoulder blades down and together
- You should also feel a slight stretch across the front of your chest
- From the “W” position straighten the arms again, this time pointing straight out to the sides to form a “T”
- The fingers should be pointing to the sides, palms up and thumbs pointing backwards
- Maintain the squeeze between the shoulder blades and feel the increased stretch across the chest
L (at least an L on one side….)
- From the “T” position lower the elbows to your sides and bend the elbows to 90o to form an “L” with your arms
- The emphasis is on pulling the elbows down, whilst also squeezing them tight into your sides
Try it and see how you feel as you relax after doing just one YWTL stretch. Imagine how great you will feel and how much better your posture will be if you follow this simple routine 4-5 times every day.
Iain is a Chiropractor and National Trainer for Les Mills RPMTM.
Based in Perth, WA, Iain owns and runs two Chiropractic practices, Vivify Health & Chiropractic, 2/590 Hay St Subiaco WA, and Back Country Chiropractic in country WA.