From the time we are children through our entire lives we all hear about posture. Whether it’s during those school pictures where we are told to sit sooooo upright we think our shoulders are going into lift-off or at the dinner table during a nice family event when our parents yelled at us for our poor etiquette as we are slouching over our soup bowl (or maybe that was just me… damn Italian Christmas). Whatever the reason we got a lecture on posture was, we’ve still all gotten one at some point. Some of us have learned from these lectures, some of us are part of a Chiropractic family and have heard it so many times our ears bleed so its engrained and has become a habit that we are very grateful to have, and then there are the rest of us… The ones who never learned that lesson. The ones who are going to face a rouuuuugh adulthood if it goes unfixed. The ones who need to never follow Drake’s example of a deadlift. (I still cringe when I see that video -_- like come ooooon man)
Luckily… I am here to save the day!
Or rather Dr. Kelly Starrett is saving you via my ranting heehee. In an effort to progress through some pretty solid goals I have set for myself in my CrossFit journey, I have began reading Dr. Starrett’s AHHHMAZING book. Becoming A Supple Leopard was sent from heaven to teach everyone some really solid techniques and ways to protect your body while optimizing performance. Having a father who is a chiropractor, the sensitivity and impact of the spinal cord is something I am no stranger to learning about. So reading Dr. Starrett’s description about midline stability was intriguing to me and something I felt I have enough experience to understand, judge, contemplate… You get it… I can tell you from where I am sitting he hits the nail on the head and his pointers are fantastically helpful. So without further ado, my sparknotes version of Dr. Kelly Starrett’s “Midline Stabilization and Organization”. In English, spinal mechanics…
Before we even get into how to fix your posture, I want to really quickly run through WHY keeping a proper spinal position in every aspect of your day and your life is so gosh darn important. Let’s address the obvious first, bad posture is a breeding ground for injury! I don’t care if you are deadlifting 200lbs, running a 5k, or sitting at your desk at work. Bad posture becomes habitually. So if you hunch over your keyboard you are more likely to pick up that barbell, or that super heavy box or that tv, with a rounded back. Injuries to your spine or your central nervous system are crippling. As Dr. Starrett puts it, “If you injure your meniscus in your knee, you can still soldier on – you can still run, still fight. It might not be all that pleasurable, but you can go on with your life. If you herniate a disk or injure a facet joint, on the other hand, it’s game over: The whole human mechanical system shuts down… And it is not a minor interruption; potential injuries to your spine are a hard bell to unring.” Basically, the way you take care of your spine affects how you are able to live your life. Anyone that has ever had even a sore low back or any back pains can attest to just how excruciating it is. Nothing you do, no way you move feels good. It is ALL bad.
Another important thing to point out, the reason why back injuries are so devastating to our overall functioning, is that our central nervous system controls every single other thing in our body. That also means that any other pain or tightness or soreness or lack of mobility/range of motion can be traced right back to our bad posture. A couple examples given by Dr. Starrett include tightness in muscles and pain in specific areas. Say your hamstrings are constantly tight and you seriously lack flexibility there. What is your initial reaction? To stretch them out. Did you ever stop to think that perhaps you should make sure you have a stable midline and good spinal position first? Probably not. However, in the words of Dr. S, ” … what often looks like tight muscularity is really just the body protecting the nervous system.” In the same way, how many of you have had, or currently have, shoulder or knee pain? I thought so. I can tell you I have experienced both. Sometimes they still act up and that’s when I know I gotta check myself and my positioning in workouts and lifts. Your ability to stabilize and properly control the movement, power, and functioning in your hips and shoulders is near impossible if your spine isn’t in good position… Leg bone is connected to the knee bone. Knee bone is connected to the thigh bone. Doin the skeleton dance… Stop judging me, you know you all song that shit as a child. Okay. Essentially, everything is connected. We need to remember that pain is not the problem is it the symptom. The problem may very well exist in an area greater than where we have pain. And “if your spine is out of whack you’re never going to fix the problem.”
On to the good stuff…. How do we begin to ensure that we are making the best efforts in keeping our spine in a good position? Dr. Starrett proposes what is referred to as the “bracing sequence”. The toughest part about all of this is that it needs to be a conscious effort for some time. Like anything we need to force ourselves to become more immediately aware of when we are slipping into a bad habit, pull ourselves out of it, and institute a good one in place of it. So it’s not just “stop doing that” it’s “do this instead”. I am going to tell you right off the bat that is was super hard for me at first. When you are used to standing or sitting or doing anything or everything with questionable positioning and posture, the first few days of forcing yourself to try to maintain good posture feels like torture. You feel like you are always in an awkward position. You may even feel like people are looking at you weird. And ya know what they darn well might be. Sadly, most people have less than perfect posture so when they see someone actually standing up straight with their spine braced they are like daaaaaa f*****ckkkk is wrong with them?! That’s their problem, and will be even more so in 20 years, not yours. Dr. Starrett goes into lots of specifics of how to maintain a braced spine and good positions in different movements, a captain morgan pose, a two hand test, breathing mechanics, other faults and tests, and all that jazz. If you want all this super helpful knowledge you can buy his book! (Highly recommend it. Find it cheap on Amazon. 400 pages of pure mind blowingly helpful tips.) For the purposes of this blog post, and because I can only captivate you for so long (a crazy thought I know), I am only going to explain to you his steps for keeping bracing your spine and little tips for keeping this active whether sitting or standing.
Bracing SequenceStep 1:
Squeeze your butt as hard as you can.You need to begin with setting your pelvis in a neutral position. Your glutes were made specifically for your pelvis and spine. So have your feet directly under your hips, plant your feet in the ground, and squeeze your butt.
Pull your ribcage down.Next your pelvis and ribcage need to be aligned. No over-extending and no rounding of the back. Pull your lower ribs in and balance them over your pelvis.
Get your belly tight.Now, keep your pelvis and ribcage in place with your abdominals. While still squeezing your glutes, take a big breath of air and then exhale; engaging your abs as you let the air out.
Set your head in a neutral position and screw your shoulders into a stable position.Last, center your head over your shoulders and gaze forward. Draw your shoulders back, spreading your collarbones, and release them down.
And there you go. You have now fully braced your spine and are in a neutral spinal position! Congrats you are officially on the road to better posture. Of course this may seem awkward at first but the more you make the conscious effort to brace your spine the sooner you will see it just because habitual. Now, whether you are sitting or standing always go through this same sequence.
Of course it is harder to remain in this position over an extended period of standing time because naturally your muscles fatigue. An easy way to relieve this is, while remaining in the same braced position, either prop up your foot on something or, as a last resort, sit down. According to Dr. Starrett, the key to sitting is keeping around 20% tension in your abs. He talks about research that shows it is muscular endurance that dictates a loss of spinal position and therefore leave us liable for injury. Again, the longer you work on this the easy it will get. Similar to running. If you run constantly, eventually you will see that you can last a little longer and go a little further. It is that same the endurance that you need to build in your abs in order to maintain a good braced spinal position constantly.
So take these tips and start working on your posture! You will lessen your possibility for injury ten fold. Plus its soooooo much sexier to be in a good spinal position. 😉