Home Blog Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 3

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 3

Written on December 3, 2010 at 7:54 am, by Eric Cressey

This is the third installment of my Correcting Bad Posture series.  In case you missed the first two installments, you can check them out here:

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1

Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 2

Today, we pick up with tip #9…

9. It’s not just the strength exercises you perform; it’s how you perform them. Often, people think that they just need to pick a bunch of “posture correction” exercises and they’ll magically be fixed.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, as making corrections takes time, patience, consistency, and perfect technique.  As an example, check out the following video of what some bad rows often look like in someone with a short pec minor, which pulls the coracoid process down and makes it tough to posteriorly tilt and retract the scapula.  The first substitution pattern you’ll see (first three reps) is forward head posture replacing scapular retraction, and the second one (reps 4-6) is humeral (hyper)extension replacing scapular retraction.

Ideally, the chin/neck/head should remain in neutral and the scapula should retract and depress in sync with humeral movement.

Of course, these problems don’t just occur with rowing motions; they may be seen with everything from deadlifts, to push-ups, to chin-ups.  So, be cognizant of how you’re doing these strength exercises; you may just be making bad posture worse!

10. Get regular soft tissue work. I don’t care whether it’s a focal modality like Active Release, a mid-range modality like Graston Technique, or a more diffuse approach like general massage; just make sure that you get some sort of soft tissue work!  A foam roller is a good start and something that you can use between more targeted treatments with a qualified professional.  A lot of people really think that they are “breaking up scar tissue” with these modalities, and they certainly might be, but the truth is that I think more of the benefits come from altering fluid balance in the tissues, stimulating the autonomic nervous system, and “turning on” the sensory receptors in the fascia.

For more thoughts along these lines, check out my recap of a Thomas Myers presentation: The Fascial Knock on Distance Running for Pitchers.

11. Recognize that lower body postural improvements will be a lot more stubborn than upper body postural improvements. Most of this series has been dedicated to improving upper body postural distortions (forward head posture and kyphosis).  The truth is that they are always intimately linked (as the next installment will show) – however, in the upper body, bad posture “comes around” a bit sooner.  Why?

We don’t walk on our hands (well, at least not the majority of the time).

Joking aside, though, the fact that we bear weight on our lower body and core means that it’s going to take a ton of time to see changes in anterior pelvic tilt and overpronation, as we’re talking about fundamentally changing the people have walked for decades by attempting to reposition their center of gravity.  That’s not easy.

So why, then, do a lot of people get relief with “corrective exercises” aimed at bad posture?  Very simply, they’re creating better stability in the range of motion they already have; an example would be strengthening the anterior core (with prone bridges, rollouts, etc.) in someone who has a big anterior pelvic tilt and lordosis.  You’re only realigning the pelvis and spine temporarily, but you’re giving them enough time and stability near their end range to give them some transient changes.  The same would be true of targeted mobility and soft tissue work; it acutely changes ROM and tissue density to make movement easier.

Long-term success, of course, comes when you are consistent with these initiatives and don’t allow yourself to fall into bad posture habits in your daily life.  In fact, I have actually joked that we could probably improve posture the quickest if we just had people lie down between training sessions!

12. Add “fillers” to your weight training program. Mobility drills aimed at correcting bad posture are often viewed as boring, and in today’s busy world, they are often the first thing removed when people need to get in and out of the gym quickly.  To keep folks from skipping these important exercises, I recommend they include them as “fillers.”  Maybe you do a set each of ankle and thoracic spine mobility drills between each set of deadlifts (or any strength exercise, for that matter) – because you’d be resting for a couple of minutes and doing nothing, anyway.  These little additions go a long way in the big picture as long as you’re consistent with them.

I’ll be back next week with Part 4 of the Correcting Bad Posture series.

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  • Peter

    Hey Eric, along the lines of the lying throacic extension/head/neck video from the last part of this series, and your comment here about all-day posture: what do you recommend for sleeping position and pillows? I mean, we spend around 1/3 of our lives in static sleeping positions, and 30 years of a strangly twisted side lying position have caused ridiculous left-right imbalances in my case. Now I sleep on my back, but I’m wondering about the best height/density of a pillow, i.e. elevation of the scull compared to the mattress.

  • In terms of using GISTM, ART, SMR…I could never make much sense of \"breaking up scar tissue\" when the targeted tissue – in this case the myofascia – is a structural component. Eric makes a great point that the end result is an improvement in soft tissue quality, effectiveness and efficiency. Graston is intended to reorganized and realign the fascial fibers to promote more efficient movement. The acute inflammatory process drives macrophage activity to the area of fibrinolysis (poorly organized fibers) which is then followed by a period of fibrinogenesis (new fibrin components). The proteoglycan gel released from the new fibrin will improve the pliability of the surrounding soft tissues.

    That said – the outcome of these techniques is closely related to compliance with the only 11 points EC has made in this series. Alwyn talks about the Principle of Slight Edge – and it directly applies here. Small amounts of daily postural work will go a long way to decreasing mechanical sensitivity and activity intolerance.

  • Peter

    Hey Eric, along the lines of the lying throacic extension/head/neck video from the last part of this series, and your comment here about all-day posture: what do you recommend for sleeping position and pillows? I mean, we spend around 1/3 of our lives in static sleeping positions, and 30 years of a strangly twisted side lying position have caused ridiculous left-right imbalances in my case. Now I sleep on my back, but I\’m wondering about the best height/density of a pillow, i.e. elevation of the skull compared to the mattress. Is a pillow necessary at all? because if the mattress is able to support the spine further down (thoracic kyphosis, lumbar lordosis), why not the cerviel lordsis and the skull itself too? Bridging the gap between skull and mattress as in the side lying position is not an issue here.

  • ERic

    Great point on the importance of actually performing corrective exercises “correctly”.

    For a long time I tried simple performing 2:1 ratio of pulling vs. pushing to correct Kyphosis and nothing changed… I was a classic example of committing the two errors outline in the video above.

    Great post, I have really enjoyed this series on correcting posture!

  • Al Coleman

    Eric,

    I love this series. By chance, have you ever read \"The Stark Reality of Stretching\" by Dr. Steven Stark. It seems his approach implies that you can\’t change the length of tissue, but only \"allow\" it to return to its original resting length.

    Al

  • poh

    Eric, I love your scientific way of teaching, based on anatomy.
    Did you mean “compensation” when you said first substitution and second substitution?
    Just wanting to clarify.
    Thx a million.

  • Brent

    Eric,

    When you say that it’s going to take a ton of time to see changes in anterior pelvic tilt, how much time are we talking here? Take the APT diagram for example, approximately how long would it take to correct Guy A to look like Guy B?

    Thanks for the great series of articles.

  • Eric–really like the contrast teaching example you use–very helpful for clearly identifying what is your focus
    Also nice to see the detail of awareness that people are using now–we could over time consider correcting the forward head from the lower neck area so as to set the activation/stabilization of this thoracic inlet/outlet area also
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge

  • Eric

    Great series Eric… In the spirit of continuing education and having trainees continue along the path of using your advice and articles to further their knowledge and, with time, allowing them to come up with their own programs and periodizing schemes, would be interesting to hear any tips you can provide as to the dos and don’ts of proper use of tip #12… This is obviously based on individual needs but, I’m also quite certain there are no-nos with regards to pairing (like 3-min static stretching of quads between max box squats!!!), reps, and anything along that line! Care to share your general approach/philosophy in dealing with prescription of fillers 🙂

  • Great series, thank you Eric! 🙂

  • Another way to correct bad posture through exercise is to devote some time for practicing some simple, but effective yoga exercises. A lot of guys who are into strength training overlook basic stretching exercises, which can lead to some serious injuries, which they could also avoid through yoga. Not only will they gain more flexibility, they can also start correcting those posture issues that are giving them that bad form when they are working out.

    The Mountain Pose for example, is great for stretching every muscle group, from the toes to the neck, one set at a time. It can be done easily before working with the weights, because you simply start with your feet flat on the floor. Flex your thighs and slowly stretch your spine upwards while pushing down with your muscles. Works out the kinks and starts the burn. Posture

  • Seth

    What about either using a cervical/contoured pillow or none at all? We spend all of this time correcting our posture during the day then undo our work by sleeping all night with forward neck posture.

  • Seth – I think it’s a great idea, and I’m definitely a fan. Anyone who has ever fallen asleep on a plane or in a car and woken up with a painful neck understands all too well!

  • Michael Jordan

    Eric,

    Regarding humeral hyperextension replacing scapular retraction…I was taught at a NASM seminar that to increase ROM during rows was to get people reach out as faaaaar as they can each rep before they pull back for the next rep.

    Through what your saying here cause that mental cue to be counterproductive to creating good posture habits? And then what would be correct ROM at both ends of the exercise?

  • This is a great series, Eric. Almost too much info. Almost. 😉


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