By ‘good posture’ I am referring to the way in which we carry our bodies in everyday life. The saying ‘we become what we practise’ is just as relevant for our physical condition as it is for every aspect of life. In this article I make my case for why a regular Pilates practise will help you develop good posture and add significant health benefit long into our older age.
How good posture is sabotaged
Let’s pick a familiar topic we can all relate to - the art of ‘sitting’
The modern lifestyle generally includes a lot of sitting either at the desk in front of our computers or in the car. I think it is fair to assume that 6-8 hour stretches in front of the computer each day are quite common. What other physical activity can we dedicate so much time and dedication in daily practise? The problem with this ‘activity’ is our body, particularly our posture, is ‘becoming what we practise’ - that is a learned body position which typically is not a healthy one. The spine is under constant strain from our heads tilted forward and shoulders hunched over. The long term result is poor posture and a high risk of developing postural related pain and problems down the line.
Everyday activities to practise good posture
The simple task of picking things up whether from the floor or any surface below waist level requires good posture to do so safely. We’ve all heard the saying “use your legs not your back” but not everyone understands precisely what this means. Due to poor physical conditioning and bad habits the tendency is to bend over at the waist in order to reach whatever it is that needs lifting. Trying to lift something from a bent-over position puts tremendous strain on your lower back, made worse the further the object is away from your body.
Developing good habits is essential for nearly everything that we want to achieve. To achieve good posture is no different. If we are aware of the “use your legs not your back” rule but only apply it when we are to lift ‘heavier’ items and sneak in a quick ‘bent-over low back’ lift for ‘lighter’ items - then we are sabotaging our ability to form good habits. Whether you are picking up a child or a small bag of groceries - “use your legs not your back” must apply to both.
In everyday clinical practise when I ask ‘’how did the injury occur’’ I often hear from patients ‘’I felt immediate pain in my back when I just bent over to pick something small off the floor, I can’t believe it as it was nothing’’. Yes it is a trivial movement but when done repeatedly it can cause problems.
How to “use your legs not your back”
A decent degree of physical conditioning is required to perform the proper lifting technique. You are essentially performing a squat, which although is a fundamental training movement of bodybuilders and athletes, is also an absolutely necessary movement for everyone else too.
Most of us probably don’t want to, neither do we necessarily need to, learn to squat with a weighted bar across our shoulders. Performing the squat freeform with nothing more than the force of gravity and our own body weight for resistance will be tough enough for the poorly conditioned body.
Fancy testing your squat ability?
Simply squat down as if you are going to sit in your favourite chair but don’t let your bum touch down (it’s a good idea to practise this over a chair incase you fall backwards). Your thighs shouldn’t go beyond horizontal/parallel with the floor, keep your head up and spine as straight as possible. Hold in this position for a couple seconds before pushing yourself upright into a standing position by driving through the legs.
How did it feel?
Because there are so many different muscles involved in this total-body movement the squat is not really the ideal exercise to begin training with from the start. This very functional movement becomes easier to perform safely and correctly when your core muscles (not just your stomach) are well conditioned.
Body-conditioning - a delicate process
People train for different reasons depending on their fitness goals. If you simply ran 5 miles everyday to get fit and lose some weight you may very well achieve your goals but you would most likely not achieve a well balanced musculature.
This is why Pilates is now practised by amateur and professional sports players, athletes and teams - because of its balanced and total-body conditioning value.
For athletes Pilates may form only part of their overall training programme but for the rest of us, if we had to choose a single exercise system to keep us in shape and help us maintain functional and pain-free mobility, Pilates is an ideal choice as a primary body-conditioning routine.
We will be publishing our new Pilates term schedule by the end of this week and will begin accepting bookings for our 6 and 8 week courses. If you are new to Pilates I encourage you to join one of our beginner classes. If you are lacking in confidence to join an exercise class due to your current level of fitness or because of an injury or physical dysfunction please do get in touch with us to discuss your suitability.
Our classes are led by very experienced Chartered Physiotherapists who specialise in helping people recover from musculoskeletal conditions.
We look forward to seeing you in class.
Take care, Lorraine.