It’s Monday morning and you head off to work. Depending on the job you do, you could be working in a number of positions – standing, sitting, twisting, or a combination of all three. The computer company Microsoft, state that many of us work at a desk for six hours or more each day (1).
What does this mean?
When you sit for long periods of time, you tend to slouch to get comfortable. You round our shoulders, slump lower than usual and put more pressure on the lower back – without realising, many of you are probably doing it now whilst reading this article! Give this a try: get a mirror sideways-on, sit how you would normally sit (at work when comfortable after 30-45mins or so) and check if your shoulders come forward. This shoulders-forward posture is a Kyphotic posture, and basically relates to the term Kyphosis (a curvature of the upper spine).
In the long-term, this Kyphotic posture can eventually lead to Kyphosis itself. At the very least, not doing anything to reduce or treat the symptoms can increase lower back pain, spinal stiffness or tenderness, as well as causing fatigue and breathing difficulties too in severe cases. Let’s analyse a typical individual for a week:
After a hard day at work (sitting down!), you step foot into your gym… what do you see?
You enter the gym on a Tuesday night, what do you see? The same guys – doing the same exercises! More often than not, you’ll see plenty of guys working their chest… barbell bench press, dumbell bench press, chest flies, cable crossovers etc. After all – who doesnt want a bigger chest?
The problem here, is that most people in the gym (95% at a guess?) are there for the sole purpose of looking good. Be honest!
Other than athletes who are trying to acheive personal bests for their sport, and people who are there to improve their health due to a wake-up call from their doctor, people want to look more attractive – and if their health improves too then that’s a nice little by-product.
To look attractive, people want to build muscle and lose bodyfat. The problem with most individuals is that they only work on the results that they can see. A classic example of this is people working their ‘mirror muscles.’
People look in the mirror to judge how their progress is going, which is great. The problems arise when individuals perform exercises with incorrect load volumes and frequencies that lead to problems affecting the body – both in the short and long-term.
As Mentioned above, many people do too much work on their chest and not enough work on their backs.
Why is this problematic?
If the amount of work performed on the chest significantly outweighs the volume of work performed on the back, the shoulder will tend to move forward – because the chest muscles are tighter. This need to be remedied with back exercises such as the barbell row, lat pull down and reverse flys. Also, people do tons and tons of crunches – and not enough lower back work. The weaker the lower back is, the more liable it is to injury when picking up heavy objects – in some cases even moderately heavy objects can cause injury.
Let’s go back to Monday night… and we take a look in the studio. Let me ask you a question: What’s one of the most popular, if not the most popular group fitness class you can think of?
I’ll give you clue – the participants spend roughly 45-60mins in a Kyphotic position.
First and foremost, Spinning is a great class for burning a ton of calories (which should ideally be supported by optimal nutrition to preserve muscle tissue and maximise fat loss because it can be very catabolic – but that’s another article!). However, participants often put themselves at risk of injury with their poor posture, their exercise selection in the gym, and the frequency and volume of these exercises.
When in a Spinning class, the correct posture should look like this left image:
(Note: neutral spine & flexed spine)
One can clearly see the Kyphotic posture this individual is displaying – similar to the man-at-computer/desk position described earlier. Therefore, posture should be monitored via mirrors wherever possible, in all positions (eg standing climb, seated climb, aerodynamic position etc.) Eventually fatigue occurs, and this is where people are most vulnerable. Ideally, as soon as posture begins to suffer through fatigue, the resistance should decrease and recovery should start. In fact, it has been suggested that Spinning should be minimised or eliminated in the presence of pre-existing lower back pain (3,4) and that symptoms could be reduced by modifying the angle of the saddle (5) or the shape of saddle itself (2).
What do we get when we put all these things together?
At the very least, if you are sat down at work all day or have pre-existing lower back pain – other forms of cardio may be preferable.
1. Do not neglect body parts.
Although it’s good to do things that are results – driven (i.e. you can see something working so you continue to do it), we can’t always see everything. Just because you can’t see your upper back doesn’t mean it’s not there! If you ever have the misfortune to have a back problem/injury, you’ll know it’s there! Don’t forget to strengthen the upper back, rear deltoids (rear shoulder), triceps, Lower back, Glutes Hamstrings and Calves. Depending on your job and lifestyle, you may need to focus on these body parts more than other individuals.
2. Monitor your posture in a mirror regularly wherever possible
This will give you an idea of how your body relaxes at the moment, and whether it could be detrimental to your life in the future. Once you ‘feel’ what correct posture is, the more autonomous it will become. The mirror is recommended, as many people cannot see from their own perspective what it is they are doing right or wrong.
3. Take a look at your activities.Do they promote good posture? Are you doing this movement more often than others? Is there a better alternative? Could you improve the posture while doing the activity?
4. Life is in front of us
Life is in front of us, therefore we tend to favour movements that keep things in our line of sight – it’s just plain safer to be able to see what we’re doing.
Think of the overall picture!
John Cammish (B.S.C) is a local East Yorkshire Fitness Bootcamp Instructor and real-world fat loss expert. He has helped countless individuals change their lives through postive habits with a focus on tried and tested methods. For more details about Personal Training, Fitness Bootcamps, Free Articles and more – check his website (www.yournextlevelfitness.co.uk) and his Bootcamp Blog (blog.yournextlevelfitness.co.uk).
2. Bressel E, and Larson B.J, (2003) Bicycle seat designs and their effect on pelvic angle, trunk angle, and comfort. Med Sci Sports Exerc Feb;35(2):327-32
3. Burnett AF, Cornelius MW, Dankaerts W, O’sullivan PB, (2004) Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects-a pilot investigation. Man Ther. 2004 Nov;9(4):211-9
4. Paris SV (1979) Mobilization of the spine. Phys Ther. 1979 Aug;59(8):988-95
5. Salai M Brosh T Blankstein A Oran A Chechik A 1999 Effect of changing the saddle angle on the incidence of low back pain in recreational bicyclists. Br J Sports Med. 1999 Dec;33(6):398-400