Aside from being a way to look good in family photos, good posture is the way that we distribute our body’s weight onto our tissues so that they can easily and efficiently respond and adapt to that weight. As you can likely guess, this is much more nuanced than simply “standing up straight” like our parents and teachers instructed us to do as kids.
Simply put, good posture means that each of your body parts is in the correct spot, relative to other body parts, and relative to the gravitational pull of the earth. Make sense? Can you do that? Great! Then we are done here. Ha! If only it were that easy.
What is your Good Posture?
When you read the words “good posture” you probably instinctively and immediately assumed your version of “good posture.” If you didn’t, then go ahead and straighten up now. What did you do to improve your posture? Did you thrust your chest up or did you pull your shoulders blades together? Perhaps both? Well, doing that may give the impression of good posture but more accurately all you did was lift your rib cage forward by sheering your vertebra and mashing your shoulder blades together. Doesn’t sound good, does it? When you are slouching forward, simply misaligning your ribs like this does not actually create the movement in your (thoracic) spine in the way that you think or feel that it does. All it does is take that slouching forward curve of your upper spine and tilt it into an upward position. The curve is still there, it is simply pointing in a different direction.
You see, many of us stand at least slightly lazily at all times, trying to conserve energy and feel relaxed. To do that we stand with our neck jutted out, our shoulders slumped, our rib cage collapsed, our weight shifted into one hip or the other (or thrust forward into both), and our feet flared out like a duck. Take a look down at your body, are you standing like that right now?
The problem is that when you stand that way on a regular basis, your body gets very used to that posture and you get stuck like that, or at very least this becomes your default stance.
Not only is this an issue of bad geometry, in combination with gravity, creating unhealthy forces on your bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments but when you hit the gym or engage in your favourite sport in this type of misalignment, you are in real trouble. And this trouble will result in lowered performance, fewer strength gains, and an increased risk of injury.
The Right Way to Stand
The easiest way to create a nicely aligned body is to imagine there is a plumb line (like carpenters use) attached to various parts on your body. If each one of the plumb lines is not heading toward, if not directly to, your mid-foot or heels, you are out of alignment.
A nicely aligned body is a nicely stacked body. Ankles over heels, knees over ankles, hips over knees, ribs over hips, shoulders over ribs, neck straight and tall, and finally your head should be directly over your heels. If any of these are out of place then all the other bits need to realign themselves (incorrectly) to compensate for that one out of place part. And that results in poor posture.
Rib and Pelvis
In my experience of working with athletes, actors, dancers and office workers, the real trouble happens in the ribs and pelvis. So here is a test for you.
Rib & Pelvis Alignment Test
Find a wall and stand with your back against the wall.
Place your heels about six inches (15 centimeters) away from the wall.
Make your pelvis neutral by aligning your anterior superior iliac spine (hip bones) with your pubic bone.
How much space is between your back and the wall? There should be some space between your lower back and the wall, but there should not be space between your ribs and the wall.
To fix that, bring the base of your ribs right flat to the wall. Do this by lightly rolling the front of your ribs down.
Check in and make sure that you haven’t tucked or rolled your pelvis, clenched your butt or flattened out your lower back (there should still be room behind it).
Are you staring at the floor? If you are, this is called kyphosis, and the fact that you don’t always stare at the floor like this is due to the fact that you have become a pro at misalignment. But don't despair! I have a solution.