“Sit up straight!” Does Your Posture Affect Your Performance?

Did your mother ever nag you about sitting up straight? Maybe a teacher did? Other than aesthetics, why does posture matter and how does it affect your performance?

Poor posture creates muscular imbalances. Sitting with slouched shoulders and head forward–we’ve all been there. Vladimir Janda termed this Upper Cross Syndrome. It’s particularly common for anyone who spends significant time working at a computer, texting or driving. It includes tightness in the front of the shoulders (pectorals) and back of the neck (upper traps and suboccipitals) along with weakness in the front of the neck (deep neck flexors including longus colli) and upper back (rhomboids, lower and middle traps). We can do as much damage to our shoulders at our desks as we do in our workouts! Unfortunately, the muscular imbalance persists even when not performing these activities.

Posture and breathing

Poor posture also alters our breathing and that affects how well we breathe. When we slouch, the upper portion of our spine (thoracic) flexes forward and compresses the diaphragm against the abdomen. If the diaphragm can’t move freely, our bodies have to switch to chest breathing which is far less efficient. That’s no small matter. This causes:

  • Additional neck and shoulder tension
  • Disruption of proper core activation and spinal stability
  • Low-back, shoulder and neck pain
  • Headaches

If those weren’t enough, it also contributes to brain fog (hypoxia) and changes the blood chemistry that can increase muscle tension.

When we’re stressed, our body’s natural reaction only heightens the ill effects listed above. We naturally go into a protective position (think fetal position). If you’re sitting at your desk under the stress of a strict deadline, the odds are high that you’ll have significant muscular imbalances and pain both now and later.

The Takeaway

Here are some ways you can practice good posture. The tips will help you today and in the long run!

  • Keep your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, working out, etc. You’re on the right track if you can take full diaphragmatic breaths (most of the movement happens in your abdomen).
  • Don’t let your shoulders swallow your neck! Keep your shoulders relaxed and pain-free by keeping them away from your ears.
  • Practice active sitting. Many of us sit in the same position for 8-10 hours per day. This isn’t good for our bodies. Active sitting helps you move regularly and activates your core while you’re seated. There are many different types of chairs, stools and balls that will keep you moving regularly and activate your core.
  • Take advantage of a standing desk, if you have the option. If not, get a towel or pad and kneel at your desk. This is also a great way to incorporate some hip stretching into your day.
  • Move every hour. A good rule of thumb is 3-5 minutes per hour. Alternate between light neck and shoulder stretches (while standing at your desk) and going for a quick walk. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel at the end of the day. And when you feel better, you’ll perform better.
  • Stand whenever you’re on the phone.
  • Try “walking meetings” with co-workers.

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