Most people surely know this: You get up in the morning and your neck feels really stiff; or you stand up after sitting for a long time and your shoulders and lower back are aching; or you have been standing for hours and your shoulders, back and pelvis feel very uncomfortable. Can you guess why? Yes, it’s because of incorrect posture.
And these are just the obvious effects of bad posture. But did you know it can also affect other parts of the body? In fact, it can compress the abdominal organs leading to gas, constipation and acid reflux. In addition, it can cause headaches, muscle fatigue and varicose veins. So what’s the correct posture? How can we achieve ideal posture and avoid develop these unpleasant effects of bad posture?
For many people suffering from more severe effects of bad posture, the first point of call is a physiotherapist, chiropractor or an osteopath. However, there is a lot you can do yourself to correct your posture and to maintain it, and Pilates is the ideal exercise regime to help you achieve this. But to know what’s correct for you, you first need to know what postural type you are as this has an impact on the way you use the muscles in your body.
Kyphosis-Lordosis – A Very Common Posture Type
The Kyphosis-Lordosis posture type is very common and often found in very tall people, in office workers who spend many hours sitting at the desk and in larger-breasted women. Most noticeable in this posture type are the rounded shoulders and an excessive upper back curve.
Problems that need to be addressed are: a tilted forward pelvis, shortened lower back muscles, shortened hip flexors, very weak abdominals, tight hamstrings, weak gluteals and slightly hyper-extended knees.
So this means that, to correct the posture, you first need to strengthen the upper back, the lower abs, the glutes, hamstrings and the mid/lower trapezius. On top of that, it’s necessary to lengthen the lower and upper back as well as the hip flexors.
Pilates offers a wide choice of exercises that address these problem areas helping you correct your posture. Some that are very beneficial are: neck rolls, shoulder drops, curl-ups, spine curls, side rolls, sliding down the wall, the dumb waiter, chalk circle, the corkscrew and hamstring stretch.
The Swayback – Often Seen in Teenagers
The swayback posture type is quite common in teenagers who tend to get into the bad habit of slouching. However, it can also be the result of regularly standing for a prolonged period of time with most of the body weight resting on one leg. Most noticeable are the forward-held head, the backward sway of the thoracic spine and the forward sway of the pelvis.
Problems that need to be addressed are: weak neck flexors, weak lower abdominals, reduced and flattened curvature of the lumbar spine, weak hip flexors, weak gluteals and hyper-extended knees.
To correct this posture, you need to strengthen the lower external obliques, the mid/low trapezius and the hip flexors. In addition, it’s necessary to lengthen the pectorals, glutes, upper abdominals and the hamstrings.
Some of the recommended Pilates exercises to correct this posture are: spine curls, curl-ups, side reaches, table-top, the dart, the star, arm openings and hamstring stretch.
The Flatback – Highly Reduced Spine Mobility
The flatback is a typical feature in people with poor core and back stability. It can also be the result of extensive sit-up type exercises and is often seen in boxers. Characteristic of this posture type is, as the name suggests, a flat back with hardly any, or no curvature.
Problems that need to be addressed are: a tight rectus abdominis, tight hamstrings, weak hip flexors, tilted pelvis and rounded upper section of the thoracic area while lower part is straight.
To correct this posture, you need to strengthen the upper abdominals, the hip flexors and the lower back extensors. Also, it is necessary to lengthen the upper back, the lower abdominals, the glutes and the hamstrings.
Recommended Pilates exercises to correct this posture include: roll-downs, spine curls, side-rolls, curl-ups, threading a needle, chalk circle, arm openings and hamstring stretch.
The Ideal Posture – Perfect Balance and Alignment
The ideal posture is characterized by a perfect skeletal alignment and perfectly balanced muscles – a posture where the forces of gravity are evenly distributed through the body so that all joints are in their neutral zone. In other words: Viewed from the front or back, the vertical line of gravity through the body’s center of gravity should, in theory, bisect the body into two equal halves. At the same time, the body weight should be evenly distributed between the two feet.
This means that the head should be in neutral position neither tilted forward nor back; the shoulder blades should lie flat against the torax; the rib cage should not be compressed to allow for efficient breathing; the spine should retain its natural curvature; the pelvis should be in neutral position; the knee joints should be in a line and not locked back; and the lower legs should be vertical and at a right angle to the soles of the feet.
As a result of this ideal posture, there will be minimal wear and tear on the joints while the natural balance and correct length of the muscles is maintained. This means, in return, that the muscles are more efficient and don’t need to work as hard to maintain the body in an erect posture. Last but not least, the abdominal organs won’t be restricted and therefore function better.
Everybody Can Achieve the Correct Posture
We have seen that there are several posture types that are quite common but certainly not ideal for your general well-being. They are not natural postures for your body but some that developed or were influenced by certain factors, such as the type of job you perform, the hobby or sport you pursue, environmental influences, sustained positions, repetitive movements, fashion and culture, injuries and illnesses. All these factors can create misalignment of the spine and muscle imbalances.
Once you have become aware of this misalignment and imbalance and want to correct your posture, you first need to establish which posture type you are, whether you are a Kyphosis-Lordosis posture type, a swayback or a flatback posture type. This is important so you can choose the right exercises that will help you correct your posture.
If you find it hard to work out your posture type, it is a good idea to get advice from an experienced Pilates instructor or from a physiotherapist or chiropractor. You can then select your Pilates exercises and, when done regularly, improve and correct your posture from the comfort of your home.
This is something, everybody can do – unless there are underlying health issues that need professional attention. And the earlier you start correcting your posture, the sooner you will get results and finally achieve your ideal posture with perfect muscle balance and spine alignment.