Power up your posture
Although Nick Scott has been a personal trainer in Melbourne for 15 years, completed the Ironman Triathlon twice and holds multiple certifications in fitness and education, teaching people about the importance of posture remains one of his greatest challenges.
Stand up straight! Shoulders back! No slouching at the table! These commands are the catchcry of mothers worldwide, and hunching over iPhones or spending 50-hour weeks at a desk isn’t helping. Poor posture isn’t a problem; it’s an epidemic! But before you can understand good posture, you must consider bad posture. The latter is any deviation from the body being properly aligned. Bones, muscles and organs should be correctly supported, which in turn helps the body function effectively and efficiently.
“Think of a stick,” says Melbourne based personal trainer, Nick Scott. “If you apply pressure directly downwards, it usually holds pretty strong, but if you bend it from another angle, it will snap.”This ‘snap’ is a sign that the damage has already been done. By the time the average person visits their doctor or physiotherapist because they’re in pain, it’s often too late. “You might ‘do your back’, but in reality it’s probably been tight for 20 years. You just haven’t noticed because people alter their movements to compensate for tightness,” explains Nick.
A good example is when it’s more comfortable to cross one leg over than the other, or to turn your head a certain direction when sleeping on your stomach. On both occasions, the muscles have loosened to accommodate an imbalance – in other words, the body is not properly aligned. When at a desk, it’s best to sit up straight in a supportive, ergonomic chair with both feet flat on the ground. In bed, lie on your back or on one side. If you catch yourself falling into old habits, make an effort to counteract them. For example, a Matrix-style back bend will remind your body that slumping forward at a desk all day isn’t healthy.
“Over time, if you’re spending 40 to 50 hours a week in that position over five to 10 years, you’re not going to be able to straighten your spine up,” says Nick. “It will affect your lifestyle; you won’t be able to do normal day-to-day stuff with any form of fluency – even little things like playing with your kids.”
Any sportsperson will tell you that maintaining good posture goes beyond basic health and comfort, as it can also affect mobility, strength and endurance. “If your body isn’t aligned, say you have a tight chest or a tight lower back, it just finds another muscle to get the job done,” says Nick. “You see runners all the time who look like they’re in so much pain. They’ll finish their run, but at great expense. Knee braces and compression socks just mask issues that could have been avoided if they’d addressed the imbalance in the first place.”
Tightness is the body’s way of communicating a restricted muscle or joint, and when it’s restricted, so is ability. But when the body is supported by optimal posture, you can run faster, hit harder and go further. Next time you’re watching a football game, have a look at the players’ posture – you won’t see anyone slouching.
Nick suggests actively analysing your body before you train. “Take a step back and acknowledge your restrictions so that you can train smarter,” he says. “Don’t smash out a chest press if you’ve got a tight chest. Strengthen your back instead so you can perform.” If you’re not guilty of training inefficiently, chances are you’re guilty of slumping on the sofa – maintaining good posture is easier said than done. The key is to acknowledge that posture is a critical factor in both health and performance and remain aware of it in your daily routine. Nick has kindly shared some exercises to minimise aches, improve mobility and put you on the path to perfect posture.
For more tips from Nick Scott, search for Performance 101 on Facebook or go to australianunity.com.au/nickscottvideos for more exercise routines.
Exercise 1: Kneeling Side Flexion
Target: lateral spine flexors
1. Kneel on a mat with your knees slightly apart. Place hands gently behind your head or ears.
2. Lengthen your spine as much as possible and then proceed to side flex your spine, bringing your ribs towards your hips with a straight back, before continuing over to the other side. You should feel it in the obliques and back.
3. Repeat 20 to 30 times or until loose.
Exercise 2: Lower Back Mobility
Target: hips and lower back
1. Lying on your back, spread your arms out wide, palms facing down, and lift one leg to 90 degrees.
2. Sweep the leg across the body, aiming to keep both shoulders firmly on the ground.
3. Repeat 10 times on each side or until loose.
Exercise 3: Upper Clam
Target: thoracic spine, chest and shoulders
1. Lie on your side with your bottom leg stretched out and your top leg at 90 degrees.
2. Open your top arm to a 45 degree angle, rotating the spine until your top hand meets the floor. You should feel it in your chest and/or upper back and shoulder blades.
3. Repeat the movement 15 to 20 times, or until loose.
Exercise 4: Pigeon Pose
Target: deep hip external rotators and glutes
1. Position yourself on all fours on a mat or soft surface. Put one leg straight behind you with the thigh at 90 degrees to the hip, and the other in front so that your heel is in front of your outstretched back leg.
2. Press the thigh down firmly into the mat until you feel a moderate stretch in the hip/glute, leaning forward with a straight spine for a deeper stretch.
3. Take a deep breath and deepen the stretch, holding until loose.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.