I spent much of the last installment discussing the role of the thoracic spine and glenohumeral joint in distorting upper body posture. However, the truth is that it goes much further down than this, in many cases, and isn’t quite as predictable. As the picture below shows, a posteriorly rotated pelvis (swayback posture – third from left)) can kick off a nasty thoracic kyphosis, but an excessively lordotic posture (second from left) can do the exact same thing; it really just comes down to where folks compensate.
In the swayback posture, we see more flexion-based back pain (in addition to the classic upper body injuries/conditions), whereas the lordotic posture kicks off extension-based back pain. Stretching the hip flexors a ton will help the lordotic folks, but usually have minimal effect for the swayback folks. So, you really have to assess the hips individually and contemplate how they impact what goes on further up.
Likewise, you can look even further down the chain. Overpronation at the foot and ankle kicks on excessive tibial and femoral internal rotation, which encourages more anterior pelvic tilt – which goes hand-in-hand with a lordotic posture. Further up, we may compensate for this lordosis by getting more kyphotic to reposition our center of mass and remain “functional” and looking straight ahead.
14. Get ergonomic…conservatively.
While some ergonomic adjustments to your work station can be extremely valuable, simple modifications often yield the quickest and most profound results. I’ve known folks who have gotten symptomatic relief by going to a standing or kneeling desk to get away from extended periods of time in hip flexion – and by getting the computer screen up to eye level.
Likewise, I always remind people that the best posture is the one that is constantly changing. So, regardless of how “correct’ your posture may be, it should always be a transient thing.
If you’re doing the program, chance are that you’ve noticed that there are quite a few unilateral upper body strength exercises – often one in each upper body training session. The reason is pretty simple; you train thoracic rotation and scapular protraction/retraction on each and every rep.
If we are doing thoracic mobility work and lower trap/serratus anterior activation drills in our warm-ups, this is a perfect opportunity to create stability within that new ROM and solidify the neural patterns we’ve hoping to establish (and get an added core training benefit). You simply can’t get this with bilateral exercise, particularly in a supine (bench presses) or prone (chest-supported rows) position.
16. Add range of motion – not just load – to your weight training program.
This note is one that anyone with a decent power of observation could make. Walk in to any gym, and notice the people with the absolute worse posture as they go through their workout routines. What do they do?
They move as little as possible on every single rep. They squat high, don’t go anywhere near the chest on bench presses, or just make up “strength exercises” that amount to violent spasms. And that’s just the ignorant folks.
Among advanced lifters, you’ll see a lot of folks with terrible shoulder mobility and posture sticking with board presses and floor presses (which are certainly justified in limited volumes at specific training times), and doing rows with crazy heavy weights that force them to substitute forward head posture in place of anything even remotely close to scapular retraction.
In short, these folks keep working to add load, when they really should be maintaining or even lowering the load while adding range of motion to their weight training programs.
Hopefully, this series brought to light some concepts that you can put into action right away. Down the road, I may “reincarnate” this series as I think up some more strategies – or based on reader feedback. Are there other areas you’d like covered? If so, post in the comments section and there may be a Part 5 afterall!
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