Performing posture exercises arenot difficult, e.g. there is nothing complicated about stretching a hamstring or strengthening the core muscles, but the challenge is often knowing when to use which exercise.
Usually we think of muscles in opposing pairs e.g. abdominal and lower back muscles (erector spinale & multifidus). Why are they opposites? One is on the front side of the spine, the other on the back. One bends the trunk forward, the other bends it backwards. One tilts the top of the pelvis backwards, the other tilts the top of the pelvis forward.
If one of the opposing muscles is tight, the opposite is usually in a lengthened position. A muscle in a lengthened position typically doesn’t work effectively e.g. If the lower back muscles are tight rolling the top of the pelvis forward and increasing the arch in the lower back, the abdominals will be in a lengthen position.
In this scenario typical posture exercises would focus on stretching the muscles of the lower back will strengthening the abdominal muscles.
This exercise plan would work great for people with this type of posture the majority of the time. Unfortunately due to the intricacy of the human body it doesn’t work for everyone all of the time. To understand why lets look at a few examples.
When strengthening the abdominal muscles most people think of a sit up. The problem with a sit up is that you also use your Hip Flexors (muscles at the front of the hip). Strong Hip Flexors can contribute to forward tilt of the pelvis. Therefore by doing the exercise with the goal to improve your posture can actually help maintain the bad one.
Another problem can also occur when muscles don’t behave in their regular pattern ways.
How does this happen?
A recent case I came across involved a lady with hip/back pain. I discovered she had both tight Deep Hip Lateral Rotators (a group of small muscle deep at the back of the hip) and tight ITB/TFL (the muscle/tissue on the outside of your thigh). These are typically muscles that oppose one another. It is very uncommon for both of them to be tight at the same time.
So how did this happen?
This lady use to be a cheer leader. Many of her cheers involved standing on one leg. Standing on one leg requires the use of both of these muscle groups to assist in balance. When you strengthen a muscle it typically becomes tight. Therefore she simultaneously strengthened and tightened opposing muscles.
So what’s the take home message?
Bottom line, general posture exercises will benefit the majority of people the majority of the time. This is because we typically share common bad posture habits e.g. slouching when sitting. But if general posture exercises aren’t benefiting you may have one of the following:
- Incorrect choice of exercises
- Incorrect performance of posture exercises
- An unusual muscle imbalance caused by a unique activity