Stop, right now, look how you’re sitting. You’re probably leaning in towards the screen with your shoulders hunched. You probably look like you’re hugging a beach ball. You’re killing your back, neck and spine in the process. It is what it is, but it doesn’t have to be.
I have something to admit – my posture sucks (but its getting better).
I’m relatively healthy. I eat as much organic foods as I can. I eat leafy greens a lot, I exercise 4+ times a week using weights and various forms of cardio in my home gym and during the summer I swim almost every day with my kids. I go to the doctor and they say my blood pressure is fantastic and that everything looks “excellent”. But, my posture sucks and the middle of my back hurts a lot.
My posture sucks.
I’ve become slightly kyphotic from my desk job. What does someone who is kyphotic look like? This:
They hunch forward, their shoulders lean forward, neck protrudes forward a bit. This can cause all kinds of back, neck, spine, etc issues. Does your back hurt after sitting at a desk? Do you have a knot in your neck or back that no masseuse can seem to get out? Yeah, I have one of those still. I still work on getting it worked out. I constantly catch myself leaning over, shoulders rolled forward in a bad position while compromising my back.
Injuring your back is no joke (ask anyone who has). You literally cannot do crap. You can’t stand up without pain, you can’t sit down without pain, you can’t get out of bed without pain, you can’t twist, etc. You have no idea how much you use your back until you injure it. If you’re like me, you probably thought you sat up tall and then one day you looked in the mirror or saw a picture of yourself and thought “Why the hell am I leaning over like that? Do I really look like that?”
Chances are, you do … and that sucks. But, you can most likely fix it.
Fixing Your Posture
I’m going to address the #1 problem I that bugs me. The statement of “Sit up Straight”.
What the hell does that mean anyway? What is straight?
No one seems to know, well … they think they know. But the definition is so sparse and obtuse that some people sway their back (Lordotic) when attempting to “Sit Up Straight” and that causes problems as well. Understanding what “straight” is a different kind of beast. This image from Esther Gokhale’s great book 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back. This book has transformed the way I think about sitting, standing, sleeping, walking and general movement in general.
Most folks would look at the silhouette on the right and feel that this person is “sitting up straight”, but thats not the case. The person on the right has what’s known as a retroverted pelvis and over time it can lead to tense back muscles or slumping. The person on the left has a anteverted pelvis which helps facilitate a healthy posture.
For me, this was my first realization in that I was thinking “sitting up straight” meant retroverting my pelvis and pushing my chest out. I thought I was sitting up straight but I was just causing other issues.
After delving into kyphosis I found that there was a ton of other information about sitting, standing and movement that was causing my back to curve. The slight curvature limited me from doing some basic exercises during my workouts, pinched certain nerves during common movements and gave me odd feelings in my arms after long periods of time at my desk. Thankfully I found some great, cheap, easy tools to help fix my posture and lately my life has been much better because of it.
Tools To Fix Your Posture
- Buy Esther Gokhale’s book: 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back
- Make a Standing Desk (for only $22)
- Implement a Daily Mobility Routine (5-10 minutes a day)
Buy The Manual For Your Back
Just save yourself the research and just go buy Esther Gokhale’s book: 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back
This book helped identify the various reasons why I was having problems with my posture. My standing position was incorrect. I realize I was always sitting with a retroverted pelvis and that was a big issue. I realized when I stood my pelvis was retrofitted. I realized I was being told to “sit up straight” all my life and that meant nothing after reading this. You’ll learn how to sit, stand, sleep and walk better which will improve the overall health of your back and posture significantly.
I love this book. I have it on my desk, I refer to it often. After reading it (and re-reading and using it as reference) I no longer tell my kids to “sit up straight” I tell them to “sit tall”. I do this so that this is not confused with what they will hear out in the world from everyone else who says “sit up straight”. This is based on Gokhale’s “Stacksitting” method she covers in her book.
Start Using a Standing Desk
I started using a standing desk about two years ago. Since doing so I’ve noticed dramatic differences in my posture, energy and work performance and output.
You can build a cheap 22$ standing desk by following the instructions here. Its simple, you purchase a couple of things from IKEA and build it. This is the exact standing desk I use and it works great. Since its a low cost and easy to transport you can build this at home and bring it into the office or use it in your cowering space or home office with little issue.
Arm & Hand Positioning
Simply using a standing desk is not sufficient. It needs to be set up properly. Your arms need to be at the proper angles and if they’re not you’re just going to cause other types of back/neck and mobility problems in the long run. Standing desk ergonomics is pretty simple and its best outlined by the image below. Desk height should be just below the elbow.
Finding arm and shoulder placement is key too. Kelley Starrett explains it perfectly in this video:
A couple of caveats with a standing desk though …
You may notice that your feet and legs get fatigued after a while. This usually happens when you start standing. You’re using muscles that you haven’t used before or haven’t strained that much in the previous years. There a couple of ways to combat this. I’ve found that the best way to combat this is to wear comfortable shoes and use an anti-fatigue mat. The best one I’ve found is the GelPro. Its pricey, but its worth it if you can afford it.
Secondly I sometimes feel that my legs are getting tired and I want to change it up a bit. Perhaps my lower back is starting to complain, or I’m just getting antsy. I find that if I can place one of my feet raised on a stool of some sort I can relieve pressure from one of my legs and then I can get some alternative standing positions. Others find that kind of standing/sitting by leaning against a tall chair can really make a big difference.
Lastly, sitting at a desk can cause all kinds of problems and one of which is mobility. You’ll get tight in the hips. After watching the video below, I found myself stretching a lot, everyday while I was working. 2 Birds. 1 stone.
You can stretch while you stand by doing a couple of exercises as outlined by Kelley here:
Lastly, I work 2/3 of the day standing and 1/3 of the day sitting because I tend to workout around 12PM for an hour almost every weekday. After working out I’ll stand until around 2pm and sit for the rest of the day (I start work anywhere from 5-7am everyday).
Implement a 5-10 Minute Daily Mobility Routine
Disclaimer: As with any physical exercise, consult with your physician first.
Foam roll for about 5-10 Minutes each day.
5-10 minutes isn’t much.
You can usually do this kind of stuff when you’re working, getting ready for bed (this is actually the best time as it relaxes you), etc. You can pick up a foam roller from play it again sports for under twenty dollars or at a local sporting goods shop for a bit more. They also sell them online and look like this:
Here’s a good video on how to get into foam rolling. Its easy: Roll until you find a place that hurts and hang out. You can roll your legs, back chest, etc. A roller is a great tool.
For those that really like to test their pain threshold or would like to expand their mobility, integrate a lacrosse ball into your mobility.
Simply take a Lacrosse Ball (pick one up at a sporting goods store for a few bucks or online) and put it on the ground, lay on the ball. Find a place it hurts and just hang out there for 60 seconds. Then find a new place. That red thing is the Lacrosse ball that is being used to “mash” or massage out the kinked muscles.
Lacrosse ball mobility on the back.
or this …
Lacrosse ball mobility on the chest.
Tight chest muscles can be one reason your shoulders hunch forward, here’s a great video of Kelley Starrett of Mobility WOD showing you how to roll them out.
You can also take two Lacrosse balls and tape them together to create a spine roller.
Stand up or lay down and put the taped set on your spine. The space between the Lacrosse balls provides a space for your spine to move while you roll up and down.
The Lacrosse ball will test your willingness to test your own pain threshold, its the great equalizer. After awhile, you get used to it and its a “good pain”.
The reward of mobility is immense. From being able to move more effectively and live a happier life to being able to play with your kids with no (or less) pain is great. I find that I’m extremely happy that my mobility work is over with immediately after I’m done. This i because: a) I’m happy as hell that its over. b) I feel amazing
You don’t have to do everything thing here to fix your posture. But just doing one of them will help. They’re all gateway drugs into the world of wellness for desk jockeys. If I were to recommend something for under fifty bucks? I’d say buy the book, read it at your leisure and buy the parts for the standing desk and try it for 30 days.
Those things alone will change your life, for the better.
Until next time.