by Brent Hearn •
Okay, class…quiz time! Yes, you can use your notes. No, this won’t count toward your daily average. Yes, Timmy, you can go to the restroom. Right after you take this quiz.
Don’t sweat it; this one is pretty easy. Just answer the following questions. (Silently, Timmy.)
- Do you sometimes feel off-balance while standing?
- Bring yourself to your full height right now. How much adjustment did that require?
- Do you find yourself slumping, slouching, or otherwise leaning in a way that might lead to your being cast in a 90s alternative band’s music video?
- Do you experience frequent flashbacks of your mother admonishing you to Stand up straight, Timothy!? (Sorry to pick on you today, Timmy. Maybe if you showed up on time for class on any day that doesn’t involve a field trip…)
- Do you suffer from otherwise unexplained back or neck pain?
- Have you recently been offered a bell-ringing position at a French cathedral?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, your posture may need an overhaul. We’ve talked about good “office job” posture in “Watch Your Back…at Work” and doled out a few helpful posture tips for kids in “Neck and Back Health: Is Your Child Making the Grade?” but today we’re going to focus solely on standing posture.
Quite a bit goes into developing and maintaining good posture, so we’re going to try to keep things simple. It may be helpful for us to focus on three particular aspects of posture: strength, balance, and alignment.
Your core strength both affects your posture and is affected by your posture. Weak leg muscles can negatively impact your balance. Weak or fatigued muscles in your core—those in your belly, back, sides, pelvis, and butt—can lead to slumping. And said slumping can contribute to fragility in your spine, making it more prone to injury. It’s easy to see how a poor-posture cycle can be perpetuated.
Strengthening these muscles can help put an end to that cycle. You don’t have to become a gym rat; whether you’re young, older, or somewhere in between, your posture can likely benefit from manageable, consistent strength training. Consult a doctor or physical therapist to develop a routine appropriate to your current fitness level.
Your shoulders should be even. Your elbows should be even. And your hips? You guessed it: even. Think about keeping your feet at shoulder-width apart while standing, with your weight evenly distributed between both feet. And remember when we talked about slumping? That can tip you forward, throwing you off balance.
This is a great time to point out something you may have already picked up on: The aspects of posture we’re discussing don’t exist in a vacuum. Strength, balance, and (spoiler!) alignment—are all interconnected. Making positive changes in one area can pay dividends elsewhere.
There’s more to alignment than simply standing up straight. (According to some experts, “standing up straight” is overly simplistic; there’s not a one-size-fits-all metric for good posture.)
That said, there are some good guidelines to follow when it comes to proper alignment:
- Keep your head centered above your pelvis and your feet. (If you’re hunching over to stare at your phone, that’s the polar opposite of what we’re going for here. Fight the text neck!)
- Your ears should be over your shoulders—not jutting out in front of them.
- Your ankles should be directly below your hips; this helps you maintain your balance. (There’s that interconnectivity we talked about earlier.)
As you can see, it can be a lot to think about. (And there’s more.) If you’re the type of person who loves a checklist to work from, check out this article from AARP to help you assess and improve your alignment.
Harvard Health Publishing: Why Good Posture Matters
Mayo Clinic: Good Posture Tips