Don't slouch! You may have heard that yelled at you more times than you can remember. Well, it turns out they were right. Posture is incredibly important for overall health, especially when starting a fitness regimen. Posture refers to the alignment of the spine, focusing from the hips to the head. Because the whole body is connected through the kinetic chain, posture also involves the positioning of the legs and shoulders.

Bad posture can lead to headaches, neck and back pain, muscle pain, fatigue, and more. Bad posture is usually correlated with muscle imbalance, where some muscles are stronger than their antagonistic pair partners. These imbalances can pull parts of the body and spine out of alignment, which can in turn lead to further muscle imbalance. This can lead to a downward spiral, where both issues are worsened over time.

The Spine

The spine is composed of bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are arranged in three major sections: the lumbar at the lower back, the Thoracic from the middle of the back to the top of the shoulders, and the Cervical at the neck. Together, the vertebrae come together to form two major curves, that form an "S." The rear-facing lordotic curve lies between the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, and the forward-facing kyphotic curve is formed between the thoracic and the cervical sections. Lateral, or side to side, alignment is also integral to posture. Making sure that each vertebra is stacked straight on top of each other, without any sideways tilt is important to protecting the spine.

Good Posture

Maintaining vertical and lateral alignment of the vertebrae throughout its sections, along with maintaining its proper curvature, is key to proper posture. This includes having your ears over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your feet.

The body is built on a kinetic chain. Because everything is connected, the position of almost every body part affects everything else. Keeping your shoulders "packed," or pulling your shoulder blades down and back, is one important piece of the posture puzzle. Additionally, tilting the top of the hips backward by squeezing the glutes will adjust the curves of the back, bringing head and neck backwards too. Shoes with big heels will tilt the entire body forward, further affecting the spine's positioning.

Improving Posture

Identifying any spots where this alignment is off is the first step to correcting the underlying issues. It's fairly easy to tell if you have proper posture with just your body and a wall. Stand barefoot with your feet about six inches away from the wall, and your hips, lower back, shoulders and head touching the wall. Pull your shoulders pulled back, and twist your arms so your palms are facing forward, while maintaining contact of your back with the wall. This the type of position you want to aim for. Now try it without the wall. This might not be easy, but take note of which spots are the most difficult to maintain. By utilizing corrective exercise you can work on these areas and improve your posture. By strengthening key muscles around the spine, you can work to reduce imbalances and naturally improve your posture.

Posture is all about practice. By practicing moving the body into proper posture, you get used to what it feels like and can work to keep up that position. Improving your posture can help prevent injury and pain, and increase mobility in everyday life. Stand tall and move freely!