Use it or you lose it – not only does this apply to academic pursuits or athletic skills, but also to the posture tips you pick up at the gym.
Alongside fat loss, fixing postural issues is a common reason that people keep up with an exercise regime. Unfortunately, one other all-too-common thing is seeing people walking out of the gym and defaulting back to lazy habits: shoulders start to round again, lower backs sway excessively forward, necks strain from always looking down at phones and keyboards.
Yes, you’ve spent a hard-earned hour activating the right muscles and getting the big compound movements in but let’s be real here, the time you spent in the gym was still one or two hours out of your entire day. Just like you would want to practise speaking a language outside of that single hour of language class that you might take two or three times a week, it’s definitely a good idea to reinforce your postural fixes throughout the day. Here are some suggestions on just how you can do that.
Idle in Neutral
If you’ve been going to the gym for a while, you should have picked up your postural compensations by now – the case is usually kyphosis or lordosis from a weak core or glutes. As you go about your day, keep in mind whatever your weaknesses are and give yourself conscious reminders throughout the day to check in, readjust, and maintain a neutral posture.
If you’re not sure what is contributing to bad posture, or even what bad posture is, check in with a knowledgeable professional. Otherwise, here is a good reference point to begin with for what it means to stand in a neutral position:
A major contribution to poor posture is the inability to find where your neutral pelvic position is, which in turn forces your spine to compensate with excessive arching through the lower back (lumbar spine) or rounding from the upper back (thoracic spine). Do a few pelvic tilts with the back of your head, shoulders, butt and heels against the wall and find a point where you can keep all of those touching while holding a pen between your mid-back and the wall like the video above suggests. Then keep this neutral stance in mind and give yourself a few resets throughout the day to maintain it.
Stand (or Sit) Proud
Another habit that you should take out of the gym with you is staying upright and not slouching throughout the day, whether sitting or standing. But take a second and rethink your first reaction to that – the common tendency is to overextend your lower back in response to when someone says ‘stand/sit straight!’, which is just another form of bad posture since you are stressing the lumbar spine and having it take on more load than it was meant to. Instead, turn your attention a little bit higher and try to engage through your upper back.
The way to combat rounded shoulders is by keeping your chest open and engaging your scapula, just like you would with any back exercises, such as weighted rows or pull ups. Set yourself into your neutral position, then think of pinching shoulder blades down and back, especially when sitting or walking around with a bag on your shoulders. Along with promoting better posture, this will really help with the tightness you feel in your traps at the end of a long day.
Don’t Be A Lazy Walker
Our modern sedentary lifestyles means that our bodies spend more time sitting than walking. As we know, the human body is quick to adapt to its environment, which in this case means being more efficient at sitting and forgetting what efficient walking entails.
You’re probably thinking: Come on, how hard can walking be? I had the same thought, but Katy Bowman’s ‘Move Your DNA’ helped to change my mind on the importance of paying attention to your walking (or jogging/sprinting) gait.
“[M]ost people walk so inefficiently that their very gait pattern is contributing to their spine, knee, or bone problems. […] For years, walking has been described as controlled falling. And I agree that that describes how most people are walking around the planet. The muscular leverages created via chronic sitting (hip flexion) and positive-heeled footwear (plantarflexion) have robbed our muscles of the ability to produce enough force to facilitate stable movement.”
Take a look at these two clips and see whether you can spot the difference between falling into your steps and actively propelling yourself forward off the ground:
Once the lightbulb moment comes and you can feel the difference between active and lazy walking, it’s pretty interesting to look around at how other people tend to walk, maybe during rush hour at the train station or next time you are strolling around a shopping mall. You’ll notice that most people tend to lift from their knees and fall onto their foot instead of extendinig through the hip and pushing back on the ground.
Some good cues I’ve come across (yes, cues for walking) are to think of that ice skating motion, or of how oars move while rowing. This is also why single leg deadlifts are a good functional exercise to add to your routine if you don’t already have them – you want to use the same muscles and movement while you are walking.
The last point is always the most important: just get out of your seat! Even if you’ve clocked in your workout of the day, it’s a good idea to get moving throughout your day as well.
Being static for long periods of time (and this includes standing in one position as well as sitting) cause imbalances in your muscles by immobilizing them in unnaturally shortened or lengthened states, which gives you that feeling of being tight, especially in the chest, hamstrings and neck muscles. Being static so much also slows down your metabolism and blood circulation throughout your body, which affects a range of things from weight gain to nutrient absorption and energy levels.
The best remedy is the simplest: just take movement breaks every one or two hours. Set an alarm reminder on your phone if you have to and use your water breaks as an excuse for a stroll, or even try doing some movement and stretches in the stairwell behind your office if you’re shy about judgmental eyes!