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Sit Up Straight! Why “shoulders down and back” won’t fix your posture. Pt. 2

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In part 1, I briefly mentioned the variance in posture across the population. These variances are just the body’s different strategies to the load placed on it over time.  Because your lives are unique, your body developed uniquely!  Some strategies to defy gravity, or load, are ingrained within you. Factors include genetics (always), environment (Who did you learn movement from?), and unique trauma (injuries and psychological).  Other factors are ones you can help, like your hobbies and occupation. Having a desk job versus an active one will likely affect how your body looks over time.  However, we can combat these factors by mastering what’s known as “the stack” and proper breathing mechanics.


Before we think about stretches, “corrective” movements, or any other modality, we need to get back to the basics of alignment and breathing.  Here are steps 1 and 2:


Part 1: Learning “The Stack”

 “The stack” is simply lining up your ribcage directly over your pelvis. See diagram below.  


Because gravity pushes us straight down, our bodies need to produce and withhold force in the opposite direction, or straight up. *insert Paula Abdul lyrics* What would happen if you made these Ovular Humanoids (OH) wear a heavy hat?   OH1 would bend backwards. OH3 would fold over forward. OH2 would be alright!  Gravity would affect them the same way, just over a greater period of time.  


Now it’s time to see how you line up. Take a look at your profile in the mirror and relax.  Do your hips slump forward? Does your ribcage flare up? If you don’t have a straight line from your earhole to your ank-hole, you don’t have the stack! If you’re going to attempt to be aware of your posture throughout the day (and at the gym), this is your focal point.  Really, the shoulders are just along for the ride.  We can’t have alignment of the arms and legs without proper alignment of the hips and ribs.   


Practice the stack at your desk. Practice the stack lying down on the floor with feet flat and knees bent. Practice while brushing your teeth. More time in this position will make it come more naturally, and we want posture to be effortless in our everyday lives. 


After you’ve mastered the stack, it’s time to focus on getting that sweet, sweet respiration down.


Part 2: Breathing Technique 

  As established in Part 1, breathing affects your movement. I emphasize breath while coaching and in my own movement practice, because inhales and exhales bias your joints differently.  And just like your other joints, the ones attaching your ribs to your spine and sternum, respectively, can lose mobility over time if full range of motion is not practiced.  Poor breathing mechanics can accentuate this immobility and lead to a number of issues including pain, trouble sleeping, even anxiety, and many more.  Everything’s connected! Breathing is about pressure management. Think of your torso like a barrel.  When inhaling and exhaling, you’re trying to expand that barrel all the way around and shrink the barrel all the way down, respectively. 


This creates the most internal pressure (aka stability) of the spine and utilizes full mobility of the ribcage. How do you know you’re creating that pressure? Here’s the test:

The Test: With both hands, make an “L” with your thumb, index, and middle finger. Once you have your L’s, place them around your waist between your ribs and your hips. Take an inhale through your nose. Do you feel equal pressure through all points of contact? Exhale out the mouth. Do you feel that pressure escape fairly equally?


If you answered yes, then that’s great! That’s how to inhale when bracing to pick up a weight, your toddler, or a big ole fat cat.  That’s how to exhale when doing core movements and stretching.  If you answered no, then you may need to check your “stack” position or your general (standing, seated, etc.) position. Get in a stacked position and use this cadence to practice and improve your breathing mechanics:


5 second silent inhale through nose, 

pause for 2, 

7 second exhale out mouth, 

pause for 2. Repeat for 2-10 minutes.

 After a couple minutes of this, you should feel more relaxed and you might even have instant improvements in your range of motion.




While mastering the breath and the stack is the first place to start, it is not the end.  Ultimately, we get slumped over as we age, because we are losing the fight against gravity.  In short, we get weaker! But we don’t have to lose this fight.  In order to skew the results in our favor and start punching back at gravity, our tissues need to have enough resiliency to hold up to the load gravity (and life) places on it.  That’s why you lift weights and throw medicine balls and let professionals, like me, kick your butt a couple times a week. To build that resiliency.


Lastly, but a lot of you need to hear this, you need to BE PATIENT. Your body has been shaped by all your years of life; it might take a little time before you notice any permanent physical changes, but your overall well-being will thank you. Trust the process! 


Thanks for reading, and see you soon!

Coach Austin

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