Welcome to the first part of a short series on good posture. In an effort to keep each individual post bite-size I’ve split this topic up, and in this post I’ll be focusing on head, neck and shoulders.
In my previous career before I moved into the fitness industry, I had a mostly desk-based job which saw me hunched forwards over my keyboard for long periods at a time. As a result, I frequently had neck and shoulder soreness and headaches. Over time my body adapted based on how much time I spent with my head in a forward position (which is commonly known as “poke neck”) and my shoulders and upper back in a rounded position, and it’s taken me some time since changing careers to correct this posture. Even with an increased level of awareness, I still catch myself from time to time with my posture lapsing into these old bad habits. However, this experience places me in an ideal situation to be able to understand and help people with this problem.
I see a high proportion of the people that start training with me bringing similar posture. You don’t have to be in a desk-based job to be susceptible to this posture – many people also have this as a result of looking down at their smartphones or tablets in front of them.
Another potential cause of poor upper body posture, which causes the shoulders to sit forward of their best position, is weight training where you’re doing lots of push exercises (eg push ups and bench presses) without strengthening the opposing muscles in the back with some pull exercises (eg lat pulldowns, chin ups, seated row).
The result of bad posture with shoulders, neck and head in forward position is that the muscles around the neck and shoulders (eg the deep neck flexors and the upper trapezius) tighten up, and as the shoulders slump forwards the chest muscles (the pectorals) also tighten up.
The good news is that you can work towards correcting the forward posture by a combination of the following:
Focusing on head position
A good test for head position is to stand with your back to a wall. The back of the head should touch the wall. Another test is to ask someone nicely to view you from side on when you are standing normally. When seen from side on, for good posture the middle of the ear should be directly above the shoulder. When you focus on moving the head back to good position for either of these tests, at first it may feel as if the head is now positioned too far back when in fact it is in good position. However, once you have the awareness of good position for the head, you will be able to self correct if you notice it has gone into forward position.
Strengthening the back muscles
While forward head posture causes the upper trapezius muscle to be tight, the lower trapezius and the rhomboids will tend to be weak. Strengthening these weaker muscles in your back will help in supporting good posture. In addition, it’s best to balance the amount of pull and push exercises, that you do, so that you do at least as much pull work as pushing. Some ideas for pull exercises: lat pulldowns, seated row or chin ups.
Adhesions and trigger points in the pectorals and trapezius muscles can be helped through massage or foam rolling. Stretching can also help by lengthening the tight muscles, although this won’t correct adhesions or trigger points.
A good personal trainer such as myself can help you to improve your posture which can make a difference to your everyday life, through a posture check, a balanced exercise program, and assisted stretches and foam rolling. If you’d like to know more or to get some assistance, please contact me and I’ll be only too happy to help you make a start.