How to improve your posture

So, you’ve decided that your posture sucks. You’ve probably already put into practice some of the things that people have told you about how to improve it (posture brace, stand up straight, elongate your spine, etc.), but nothing seems to be really helping. As far as I know, there are three major factors at play here:

Three Major Factors

1) What you think you do vs what you actually do

2) How much time and energy is required to maintain good posture throughout the day

3) Your posture’s “baseline” – i.e., where your muscles are most likely to spontaneously return to if they aren’t constantly being conditioned to stay in a certain position or held taut by something like an apparatus or corset

There are probably more factors at play, but those three seem to be the most important. So what’s going on here? Well, first of all, we need some background information on your skeletal system and how it is capable of moving.

I am not an expert in anatomy or kinesiology

I am simply conveying ideas that I have either read about elsewhere or picked up from my anatomy/physiology teachers. Please keep that in mind as you read this post 😉

The skeleton is divided into two main parts

The axial and the appendicular skeletons. The axial skeleton consists of 80 bones and 24 joints and forms the central axis around which the body turns (as opposed to rotating around a point external to itself). The appendicular skeleton consists of 126 bones and 39 joints which allow us to move our limbs relative to the rest of our body. The most important thing to remember here is that, in order for a limb to be able to move, it must stay connected to its point of origin (i.e., the trunk) at all times.

Furthermore, while muscles that are associated with different parts of the same limb can act antagonistically on one another (for example, biceps brachialis flexes an arm at the elbow while triceps brachial extends it), there are no muscles whose actions oppose those of other regions on the same bone or joint – i.e., you cannot extend your elbow joint by your triceps muscles without also flexing it with your biceps muscles. I think this is a very important fact to keep in mind as we discuss good posture and how to improve it, so please consider the previous paragraph as background information that you can choose to accept or reject according to your level of comfort.

                Now, let’s get back to what we were talking about before… There are three major things that affect how well your posture is: the tension from adjacent muscle groups, motor learning, and habitual muscle use. We’ll talk about each of them in order of least complex (i.e., simplest) first.

The amount of tension required

                The amount of tension required for certain movements varies directly with the distance between the origin point and insertion point of whatever muscle is moving the joint. Assuming that the same amount of pull from a muscle will achieve different results at different points along its length, it follows that muscles should be as long as possible without being over-extended or under-extended. In other words, they need to maintain a certain functional baseline level of tension in order to remain strong enough for their role(s) but not so tense that it becomes difficult for them to move the joints associated with their insertions. Here’s a link that talks about motor learning and muscle memory :

The thing I find most interesting

                The thing I find most interesting/useful about this article is how it discusses how long-term training affects your motor skills. Basically, you have to practice something consistently over a period of time (i.e., every day for weeks, months, or years) before you can say that you have truly mastered it. What this means is that your motor skills are habitual by their very nature – i.e., the more time you spend practicing a certain task, the better at it you will become until doing it becomes second nature to you. This holds true regardless of whether the activity in question is beneficial or not – if anything, bad habits are even harder to break than good ones because they require constant work on your part to avoid performing them automatically!

So how does this apply to good/bad posture?

                Well, just as practice strengthens specific parts of your physical being through repetitive motions over long periods of time, mental stimuli similarly affect your mental processes. By “mental stimuli”, I mean anything that is capable of affecting your mind perceptibly – i.e., everything you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or think about.

Here are some ideas for how to use this knowledge to improve your posture:

                1) Remember that the number one most important thing for improving your posture is consistent effort. This means taking every opportunity you have throughout the day to work on your posture – don’t let yourself slip up!

                2) The phrase ” practice makes perfect “, while often used with regard to sports and other physical activities, definitely applies here as well. Similar to motor learning, you will tend not only to improve over time but also to pick up bad habits just by moving your body around. The more you work on your posture, the stronger it will become – this is definitely a benefit worth having!

                3) We all know how much energy can be saved if we do certain things properly (i.e., good posture ) versus improperly (a hunchback !). This knowledge should act as motivation for you to make sure that you are standing correctly every time.

                4) Similar to knowing the functional role of our muscles, it is useful for us to know what exactly our spine does. This way, we can take care not only of its physical components (bones, joints, etc.) but also its “mental” components (nerves, etc.).

                5) When you feel yourself slouching or hunching over, take a step back and relax your muscles. This should give you the opportunity to realign your spine with its proper curves. Also remember that your “head” is on top of your shoulders, not in front of them! Conversely, if someone is looking down at you from above (e.g., during a physical inspection), it will be harder for you to maintain good posture simply because gravity is now pulling down instead of sideways. Remember that people can still see what’s going on even when they aren’t physically present – use this fact as motivation to improve your posture.

Conclusion:

By taking advantage of how our mind works, we can improve our posture by making a habit out of it. This means working on your posture every day and everywhere you go so that it becomes second nature to you – only then will you truly be able to say “I have mastered my body!”

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