Your posture is important when you exercise

The Straits Times

How often have you seen a guy pounding on the treadmill with shoulders slumped?

Or someone arching his back while doing lat pulls?

Having bad posture can be detrimental to your fitness goals and takes a serious toll on the spine, knees, hips and shoulders.

It leads to a cascade of structural flaws causing joint pains, tight muscles and increased injuries.

Posture can tell a lot about a person.

An exhausted, depressed, unhappy, low-confidence person usually slouches forward with rounded shoulders and head hung down.

In fact, if you look around urban areas, most adults tend to walk with their shoulders slumped, staring at the ground.

Poor posture can also result in a range of health problems, including decreased lung capacity and digestion issues.

Postural faults may lead to limited range of motion and cause headaches or increased low back pain from excess curvature of the spine.

In addition, body mechanics will be affected, leading to potential gait and walking issues.

A happy individual is energetic and positive, holds his head up high, walks with an erect spine and shoulders rolled back.

Straightening up literally exudes confidence, vitality and joy.

As a tall kid who wanted to blend in with other shorter beauties, I used to hunch because I hated having my head stick out above the pack.

While seated, I'd also stoop over, hoping the teacher wouldn't notice me.

Observing my awkwardness over my rapid vertical growth, my mother forced me to walk along the hallway with a book on my head.

It'd set me straight, she said.

With no one to walk beside me for comparison, I had no problems.

But once I was back in school, I'd start slouching again.

Eventually, I started ballet classes and the teacher would place a 12-inch ruler on my back (from neck to lower back) to ensure I kept my spine erect, especially while jumping.

If I arched my back or hunched, even a little, the ruler would slip off or poke into my back … ouch!

As torturous as it sounds, the remedy worked.

It's no fun being tall, but since then, I don't slouch unless I'm having stomach spasms.

Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.

To get the correct stance:

• Hold your head up high with your chin in. Do not tilt your head forward, backward or sideways.

• Use a mirror and check that your earlobes are in line with the middle of your shoulders.

• Pull your shoulder blades back.

• Keep your knees straight, but don't lock them.

• Imagine your head being pulled by a string to reach toward the ceiling.

• Tuck your stomach in and don't tilt your pelvis forward or backward.

• Ensure you're standing with all toes on the floor and weight evenly distributed over the heels and balls of the feet.

Don't roll the ankle inwards or outwards. If necessary, support the arches in the feet.

According to authors Don and Kyle Colbert in Get Fit And Live, the average human head weighs approximately 3.6kg.

For every inch that the head moves forward and is not centred over the shoulders, it increases the weight of the head on the neck by 4.5kg.

Hence, the forward head (or turtle head) posture of three inches increases the weight of the head on the neck by approximately 13.6kg.

This also increases the pressure on the muscles of the neck by six times.

"This turtle head posture increases the weight of the head even more.

"Chronic forward head posture may lead to long-term muscle strain on the neck, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, disk herniation and pinched nerves," they write.

When working out, pay attention to balance and symmetry, check your posture in the mirror when lifting weights.

Avoid lifting excess weight and keep the neck and shoulders relaxed to prevent from straining and pulling your head forward.

If riding a bike, be sure the seat is high enough so that your knee is extended on the bottom pedal and toes barely touching.

Incorporating postural exercises into your workouts help retrain muscles and improve your exercise form, enabling you to reap greater benefits from the workout.

Besides getting your head placement right, simple exercises you can do include fixing your rounded shoulders, which is a common problem among adults.

Lie facedown on the floor, with each arm at a 90° angle in the high-five position.

Without changing your elbow angle, raise both arms by pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Hold for five seconds.

That's one rep; do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.

Another frequent problem I see among my students is the anterior pelvic tilt, which is a result of tight hip flexors.

To rectify this, kneel on your left knee, with your right foot on the floor in front of you, knee bent.

Press forward until you feel the stretch in your left hip.

Tighten your butt muscles on your left side until you feel the front of your hip stretching comfortably. Reach upward with your left arm and stretch to the right side.

Hold for a count of 30 seconds.

That's one repetition; do three on each side.

By correcting these imbalances, your posture will improve, pain (if any) will lessen and that hot body will start materialising.