It’s interesting that so many therapists continue to use the exercise approach when no evidence proves its effectiveness. Yes there are studies that show by exercising your transverse abdominals you will strengthen them (no surprise there really!) but as for the overall benefit to your posture and coordination – no conclusive results. Let’s just spend a few moments considering the exercise approach to correcting poor posture. The theory goes that a weakness in a muscle or group of muscles is causing your body to lose its natural, upright posture. So parts of your body are collapsing due to lack of support and other parts have to work harder to keep you balanced. This explains the aches and pains that often go with poor posture.
So what is the best way to strengthen a weak muscle? Exercise of course! Just do this movement twenty times a day and soon everything will be right again. But just wait a moment. Let’s consider why a particular muscle is weak and not performing its function correctly. Are you familiar with the term ‘use it or lose it’? If a muscle has become weak it is usually because you are not using it. If you slump all day in a chair you will get better at slumping and use your extensor muscles in the back less and less until they become weak. If you are not using the right muscles to do the right job it’s a coordination or ‘body use’ problem.
Imagine you took your car to the garage and the mechanic reports you have damaged the gears. The part needs to be changed and that is going to cost you big time. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? What if the mechanic says you will have to change that part every month because it’s the way you drive that is causing the problem? Not so reasonable, just think of the cost and time involved! You would, of course, take action to assess your skills and learn how to drive your car in a way that doesn’t cause damage.
So what is your therapist advising you to do when they suggest exercise to improve your posture?
“You have some weak muscles and need to spend time each day to strengthen them. And this will be done using movements that have nothing in common with your everyday movements.”
What questions should you ask your therapist?
Will I have to continue to do them for long periods?
When I stop will they remain strong or will they start to get weaker again?
Will the exercises make me sit, stand and move with less effort?
Wouldn’t it make sense for your therapist to show you how to ‘use’ your body in a way that didn’t cause ‘muscle imbalances’? Yet if you asked you might find the advice starts to get a bit limiting such as ‘sit up straight’, ‘work on your core muscles’ etc etc. Yet if you knew how to sit and stand properly you wouldn’t have poor posture would you!
Even if an intense period of exercise did help your posture would you spend all that time doing them? If there was an easier, more scientific approach to getting a better posture that didn’t require exercise wouldn’t you give that a chance?
If your posture is poor it is because muscles aren’t doing what they are supposed to do. But remember, you are the one who is telling them what to do! Exercises that have nothing in common with everyday movements, work on muscles in a piecemeal manner and encourage the ‘wrong sort of effort’ will not deliver any long term benefits.
So the sensible, scientific way to approach the problem would be to find out where you are going wrong. A better understanding of how you can use gravity to lessen the effort you put into all your activities is another key factor in getting a better posture. Combine a knowledge of your own body, mind and the role of gravity and your posture will start to resume its natural shape.