Sunday, December 14, 2014

Improving Posture

Which do you prefer?
Posture is both very important and very hard to change. While some dangers of poor posture, such as causing back pain, have not been supported by research, the influence of posture on self image and the perceptions formed by others is. A tall, upright posture promotes and conveys confidence and strength. Poor posture can interfere with movement and functionality by placing the joints in positions where they can not function normally. The difficulty in changing posture is that it depends on three factors, and most approaches ignore at least one.

These factors are tightness, laxity, and habit. When the body is chronically kept in one position, the muscles and connective tissues will attempt to make adaptions to this condition, shortening or lengthening, and becoming over- or under- actively stimulated to work by the nervous system. In massage and yoga, the muscles that need to be 'released' for postural problems are taught. In personal training, it is the muscles that need to be strengthened. Both approaches help, but the most important change is to make the posture you desire automatic.

Stretch • Strengthen • Make Habitual

Perhaps most importantly, new patterns of muscle use, or motor control, need to become habitual. A stronger and more flexible body commanded to slouch by the brain will slouch. Strengthening and loosening make it easier to change this, but the body needs to constantly maintain good posture- it won't just go there once the right exercises are done.

Note that good posture is not a static, rigid position. Movement is essential to a healthy body, in all directions and joint angles, as often as possible. Good posture should be thought of as the default position from which movement occurs- normally sitting, standing, and walking.

The most common posture problem, at least that I see, is the upper back and and shoulders rounding forward. Computer use seems to be a prime culprit, so is cycling. The article Improving a Rounded Upper Back specifically addresses this pattern with stretches and strength building exercises that will help with the physical part of the problem.

To help with the neurological part, creating a new habit and motor pattern, there are two bits of technology that will help. First is configuring a simple reminder app, such as is Hourly chime(Android), or your calendar, to give frequent reminders to align yourself. Besides being reminded to adjust your posture, also consider a quick stretch break such as Quick Sitting Stretch Break.

Tracker and magnetic clasp
Far more helpful, and less of a chore, is using one of the coolest bits of recent fitness technology, the Lumo Lift Posture and Activity Tracker. The Lift is a wearable fitness tracker with the unique feature of tracking and giving instant feedback about posture. As soon as you slouch, a gentle(but insistent) vibration cues you to straighten up. With the immediate notifications and continuous(while enabled) monitoring creating a new habitual, default good posture becomes much easier to learn. The Lift links wirelessly with iOS devices(Android soon) and PC's.

Lumo Lift being worn

By combining the continuous posture tracking, with appropriate and mindful stretching and strength building. lasting change in your upper body posture can be possible. Good coaching helps too- locals
to Palo Alto can get personal training from Steven Rice Fitness. Existing years of habit and physical adaptation do not change easily, but the improvement in appearance, attitude, and function makes it work the effort.