Throw that posture out the window

Welcome back to Making Movement Matter. As a Performance Recovery Specialist, certified in Restorative Exercise, I look at skeletal alignment and how people, over time acquire certain positions and postures that they think are healthy; but, really they are not at all.

Take your arms (look at them and mine) nice and relaxed. Do you see red dots on me? Those are the elbow pits. As athletes, if we were perfectly aligned in the humeri, we would have our elbow pits facing forward, while having the arms completely relaxed. Guess what? I’m not perfectly aligned. My right arm is actually in pretty good alignment. My left… not so good… you can barely see my elbow pit. I need to continuously work on my alignment through whole body movements as well as positions that I chose to hold on a daily basis.

One cue that I do not like people saying, in regards to posture… and let’s make sure everyone understands that posture has nothing has to do with health, it has to do with cultural beliefs in your own culture. One belief that is held highly about posture is “aesthetics”. A person needs to look like “this”, and that is the golden standard (dependent on where you live in the world and/or your culture).

Alignment wise, if you were to stand up straight or sit up straight, the last thing you would want to do is {and this is a cue so many people use} bring your shoulders back. Bring your shoulders back. Bring Your Shoulders Back!

Every athlete has internally rotated humerii. You’re asking an athlete to, using an internally rotated humerus, shove the humerus back in the glenohumeral joint, into that cavity. So you have more tension where it doesn’t belong. Everything connected to the humerus and surrounding areas become restricted (tissues, muscles and bone). What is that doing for us? It is creating more hyperkyphosis, believe it or not. Yes, more hunching! It is creating more tension in head, neck, shoulders, and back, AND a higher risk of injury, just by cueing yourself on a daily basis to bring your shoulders back.

Okay, so you are thinking “Wait a second, wait a second, let’s just get those elbow pits in line and shove my shoulders back, like this”. It’s the same thing. If I asked you to clench your teeth all day everyday, would you do it? It doesn’t feel right.

You need to start with your shoulders and arms completely, totally relaxed. And, see over time where your elbow pits are located. That’s when you can see how much internal rotation you have in the humerus, the arm bone.

Well, how can I fix that?

There’s many many many things you can do; but, I’m only going to give you one thing. And this one thing you will fight. Because athletes fight for time, they fight for performance and they fight to get that next Personal Best, all that kind of stuff. Don’t fight this! We are bipedal animals. We are suppose to walk. Quite simply, most athletes don’t walk enough. In order to get your shoulders back in place and your humeri back in place, all you have to do is use our most reflexive movement and that is walking. We were meant to walk. And walk a lot!

And guess what happens when you walk? You use reciprocal arm swing. This is natural! It actually helps relieve tension in the arm/ chest/ shoulder/ upper back regions. All the tissues and muscles around the humeri are getting the appropriate amount of movement in such a way that garners wonderful length and strength of both sides of the arm and even the body close to the arm. Walking will slowly get your body back into place. [Now, there’s an assumption that you aren’t sitting too much or doing things that will hinder your arms/shoulders].

Walking is Key. And please don’t walk with a water bottle in your hand, iPod, partner, or dog leash. And please don’t equate walking with running. Running is a completely different activity/gait/biomechanics. Walk, walk, walk with nothing in your hands and it’s just normal and natural movement. Nothing else.

You can do wonders for your skeletal frame, your alignment. Throw that posture [shoulders back] out of the window. Just relax, and keep an eye on those elbow pits. You will recover a lot quicker.

Shouldering my Shoulders

The shoulders are a fascinating complex! We certainly take them for granted and expect them to do as we wish: driving, carrying groceries, picking up kids, typing, grabbing food from the shelf, reaching from something in the back of the car, drinking a glass of wine, washing our hair, weight lifting [any form of exercise for that matter] and the list goes on.

When we get a twinge in the shoulder we tend to cOoKiE cUt the issue blaming it on a particular muscle and giving it a specific mobilization, treatment, and/or exercise. “I will stretch the pec minor because that’s the problem”. That’s great! I do it too. In fact, I do it a lot because it can absolutely help! I would just like to add one more piece of vital information about the shoulders. Natural, whole body movement is a necessity and requirement to “reset”, “restore” and ultimately provide “lifelong health” to our shoulders.

The brilliant ancient movement of walking is the answer Yes, by walking everyday your shoulders will feel the love. It takes more than a few days! You need patience and persistence. The contralateral movement of the arms set the perfect amount of balance between lengthening and strengthening the tissues around the shoulders. Repeated again in a different way: The natural swing of the arms allows the use of your shoulders as designed in perfect harmony.

“But I hate walking!” I can relate. You wouldn’t catch me dead in high school walking. I was a runner and I would do anything but walk: rollerblade, skate, run, bus, hop, skip, skateboard. Actually, I didn’t start really ‘walking’ until my 30’s because I didn’t believe it served me any purpose. If only I could go back in time… I would make sure to incorporate walking as part of my daily activities not only for my own better body movement including my shoulders but also to help with sport recovery. It truly is incredible!

Note: There is a caveat regarding walking. It means you do it with the appropriate shoes (no high heels), nothing in the hands or arms (no leashes, no loved ones hands, no waterbottles or iPods), no bouncing up and down, no race walking. It is simply your arms swinging normally, as in ‘au naturel’ with no frills. One day you can walk 10 minutes and another day 80 minutes. You can do 5 X 5 minutes or 5 hours straight (although I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t done the lead up). Also think about varying the environment for the feet and body (hills, flats, grass, sand, pavement, track, rocks, etc). Have fun!