The average person spends 70% of their waking day sitting. We sit when we commute, work, study, relax, pass bowel movements, eat and more.
To understand how sitting impacts your performance, health and more, one must first connect the dots by understanding a few key principals of human biomechanics.
Posture: “The position from which movement begins and ends”
Ideal posture: “That state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity, irrespective of the attitude in which these structures are working or resting. It is during a state of ideal posture that the muscles will function most efficiently”. – Paul Chek, scientific back training.
How does poor posture effect us?
Poor posture, meaning the imposed physical mechanical disadvantage of a working muscles and joints, results in the performance of movement by that joint and muscle/s being less efficient. This by extension, carries over to effecting your bodies inter & intra muscular coordination (ability to sequence and work in utility), power, maximal force production, recovery and visual aesthetics – known as ones “GAINZ”.
Muscles attach to joints via tendons and facia, when our spinal joints are out of alignment for long periods of time, as they are in the commonly witnessed “slouch” posture, we develop muscular imbalances that effect the length tension relationship of our muscles, resulting in some of our muscles becoming short and facilitated (strong) and other muscles becoming long and weak. For example, the muscles of the anterior body generally become short and tight and the muscles of the posterior body generally becomes long and weak.
While training can help to correct posture (when applied very intelligently), you won’t be able to out train the result of 10 hours of poor sitting posture, in one gym session per day.
Having tight muscles secondary to postural aberrations, means you’ll also have weak corresponding ones too! Understanding that movement is global, performed not by muscles but by the functional interaction and interplay between muscular lines of pull, should remain at top of mind awareness when interpreting this information into your own ability to improve your strength, power, performance and muscular development. This reality merely illustrates the vast importance of balance – balance between daily posture, training, mobility (stretching etc.) and more.
The quality of a muscles’ functionality is determined by the quality of blood it’s supplied with, as well as its ability to remove waste products. When a muscle becomes short and tight, such as those commonly experienced from poor posture (secondary to prolonged dysfunction sitting positions) a muscle degenerates in its functionality, its ability to recover / adapt and its ability to grow.
“An increase of 5% in resting muscle tension results in a reduction of 50-75% of blood flow to that muscle”. – Occupational biomechanics.
A commonly diagnosable symptom of poor length tension balance in muscles – and therefore, posture – is trigger points. Trigger points are bundles of localised areas of muscle fibres that remain in spasm. If you suffer from chronic trigger points, then its time you do something about your posture and mobility.
This problematic issue associated with poor posture ultimately results in pain. Pain is the fastest way to develop poor movement mechanics. Research has shown that pain is the most effective means at rewriting our motor programs or motor engrams (movement technique). Poor technique ultimately means poor results, injury and discomfort.
When we sit, it’s imperative that we sit in a position that requires less than 3-4% of force production by our muscles.
Research shows that a muscle can only produce 8% of force production for one hour, before the onset of fatigue. Seeing that sitting is generally a static posture, when we sit in ergonomically disadvantaged positions we easily required far greater amounts of force than 4% or even 8%. This eventually leads to a muscle becoming fatigued and irritated due to a lack of “pumping” by means of dynamic movement. It is for this reason that people ought to move regularly, no matter how good of a sitting posture they’re in.
As mentioned above, sitting is a position that we as modern civilisations spend arduous amounts of time doing. Considering this reality, the law of physical adaption or SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) should enable one to realise that our bodies’ developmental and structural balance is largely a reflection of the daily positions we assume and because sitting has become more about cost efficiency, then ergonomics and posture, it shouldn’t alarm you to realise poor posture, back problems, Scheurermann’s disease, repetitive strain syndrome and more run ramped among todays society.
Bad sitting posture
Although some debate within the scientific literature exists, revolving around good sitting ergonomics, the evidence is clear – we know how NOT to sit.
When we sit, our posture changes from the balanced series of curves, to a shape resembling one big curve. When a person sits using the common right angle position (right angle ankle, knee and hip), research has shown that people usually generate 60 degrees of the necessary range from the hip and 30 degrees from the lumbar spine – resulting in a “rounded” lower back position (reduced lumbar lordosis). This position causes, muscular imbalances, inner core dysfunction, breathing pattern dysfunctions, spinal issues, increased risk of disc injury, back pain, trigger points and repetitive strain syndromes.
However, the problem doesn’t stop there, because the spine is an inseparable mechanism that the thoracic and cervical sections are also both effected in their own right. Personally, I correlate the following postures associated with prolonged poor sitting technique:
- Exaggerated thoracic kyphosis (round back) with the apex being at T7.
- Forward head carriage or an increase in the cervical lordosis, which means the head migrates forward, off its centre axis. Resulting in reduced rotation and added stress to spine.
Testing for musculoskeletal strength imbalances
Below are two basic, yet highly effective exercises you can use on yourself or your clients to see if they have the necessary balance required between their muscles. These tests are both scientifically used to test the strength between our posterior and anterior muscular systems.
- Hold this position for a total of 3 minutes. If you’re unable to do so, then research shows you may have potential musculoskeletal imbalances within our mid back extensors. I personally will not put a bar on a client’s back, until that person can complete this test using good form.
Note – keep your feet on the ground, Prevent your neck from canning back into flexion and squeeze your shoulders as tight as possible.
- Hold this position for a total of 4 minutes. This demonstrates that you (scientifically) have an “ideal” postural balance between your muscles. More specifically within your lower back stabilisers and extensors.
Note – Use a Glute hamstring raise machine (not a weirdly looking bondage apparatus as shown above).
Place your hip bone (greater trochanter) proximal to the edge of the machine. As soon as you go lower passed horizontal, you fail.
(If you experience any pain during these exercises, discontinue immediately and seek professional advice)
Test yourself and see how you go.
Free personal training advice
I suggest that you complete these test away from your heavy lifting, as these test will result in the “phasic” muscles or stabilisers becoming fatigued.
How to progress
If you fail the prescribed time, record it. Use your tested time for sets, with half of that time being allocated as your rest periods between sets. Perform 2-3 sets in total, preferably at the end of your workouts. Test yourself every second week and repeat the process until you can hold the time recommended.
Perform at least 4-5 times per week. Take a rest day if you experience delayed onset muscle soreness.
Love & Peace,
Holistic lifestyle coach
Level 3 expert trainer
C.H.E.K Exercise coach
Stay Tuned.. Jordan Peters is back next week to wrap up and cover how best to set your work station or desk up for optimal posture.
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Tom (AKA The Waterboy) is passionate about natural health and helping others improve their wellbeing by following a natural alkaline diet. He is the director of alkalife working with his brother John on a mission to educate you on how to take control of your health without medication. He is also passionate about reducing his carbon footprint which flows onto a lot of business decisions too. His pet peeves are inconsiderate people, people that cut into your lane without indicating and ironing.