This is one of our top fixations: having good posture. You will feel better about yourself, people will have a more favorable view of you, and your back health will dramatically improve. We reached out to Nick Holt, who had previously helped us with our stiff hips, for his take on posture improvement.
What sort of posture problems do we get from sitting and looking at a screen all day?
The 2 big ones I see with sitting and screen time are forward head position and rounded shoulders. If I wanted to throw a 3rd in the mix, it would be an excessive lower back arch due to weakened and shortened hip flexors.
Bad Posture and Risk of Injury
What sort of damage are we causing to our necks, spines, and other parts of our body from this bad posture?
This is a fascinating question. The short answer is that we really don’t know. Humans are incredibly adaptive and we just don’t know the full extent of damage at this point. There really isn’t a “perfect” posture, so to speak, but it’s more of a range of good posture that we should aim for. (See below for quick posture tests.)
I think it’s important here to understand one of the golden rules of the body is the law of specificity, ie: you get good at what you do often. If you spend a lot of time with a forward head and rounded shoulder position, you’ll get really good at that position, which is not really something you want to be good at, and not something that will age well.
The problem becomes when you go to hit a tennis ball overhead or swing a golf club and your body doesn’t have the proper range of motion to do that motion. Other muscles, tendons, ligaments, and, most often, the lower spine, take on added stress because of this lack of range. Over time, these issues simply can’t handle the load and they get damaged, ie: you get injured.
Ultimately, the damage of bad posture comes down to your individual lifestyle. This is one of the first things I address, especially with online remote training clients. If you’re engaging in activities like golf, tennis, surfing, volleyball, or other dynamic sports, your bad posture will 100% put you at higher risk of injury. If you’re not sure about your risk profile, feel free to reach out to me.
Simple Posture Tests
How do we test ourselves to see if our posture is correct?
When I work with clients remotely, I use these 2 assessments to get a baseline of posture. You can see for yourself how you stack up.
- Forward head position: Have someone take a picture of you standing from the side angle. Now, imagine drawing a vertical line down from your ear lobe. If that line is in front of the collarbone, you have a forward head position.
2. Rounded shoulders test: Grab a pen or pencil in each hand and stand in a relaxed position with your arms along your side. What direction does the front of the pen point?
Ideally, you want the pen to point forward; that’s a sign of normal shoulder rotation. If the pens are pointed towards each other, that is a sign of rounded shoulders, or, in technical terms, internally rotated shoulders.
What is the best way to sit in a chair looking at a screen?
The goal is to find a setup that works for you. Ideally, you’d want your monitor or screen to be at eye level. The goal for almost everyone I work with isn’t avoiding sitting, it’s making sure that you are moving enough throughout the day. A stand-up / adjustable desk can be great for this. Or simply getting up every 60 mins to walk for 1 min.
Exercises for Improved Posture
What are some exercises and stretches we should be doing?
It’s important to understand where you are limited and do specific exercises to try and expand those ranges of motion. So, for example, if we’re talking about the rounded shoulder position, try doing shoulder slides:
and prone Y, I, T’s:
For the forward head position, the most important “exercise” is getting familiar with what a normal head position feels like. I like the idea of thinking about a string attached to the top of your head with a balloon above your head. Think about getting taller instead of the common mistake of tilting your head backward.
Lastly, the most important variable with offsetting the damages of sitting and correcting poor posture is a consistency of movement and taking your joints through their full ranges of motion as often as possible. Starting your day with a movement routine is a great start.
I have all my clients do something like this every day.
If I have terrible posture, is there hope for me?
Of course there is! The human body is remarkably resilient and if you give it the right inputs, you can 100% improve your posture. If you want a more detailed assessment, please reach out to me.
Nick Holt is a personal trainer and movement specialist focusing on helping men over 40 move, look, and feel better. Surfing transformed his body from a debilitating back injury and got him in the best shape of his life in his 40s. He uses the principles of surfing, functional mobility, and strength training to help guys over 40 get in the best shape of their lives.
Based out of Tamarindo, Costa Rica, Nick works with clients in person and also trains clients online through his various remote coaching programs. You can grab a free copy of his 7 Habits to Get Fit and Stay Fit After 40 guide here.