Posted Date: September 2, 2008
As the saying goes, you must crawl before you can walk. In agility, you must have good posture before you can run well. By personal trainer Kristen Beck.
Posture is the body's alignment and positioning with respect to gravity. Incorrect posture causes your body to exert more energy than necessary, and can also cause a variety of musculoskeletal problems. When you have good posture, you move with ease and comfort. Good posture contributes to deep, full breathing, healthy organ function, good circulation, increased energy and an overall feeling of well-being. It also provides a foundation for all of the body positions needed to propel you through the agility course as fast and as efficiently as possible.
Anatomy of Good Posture
The basis for good posture involves maintaining a "neutral spine." A neutral spine has three natural curves forming an "S" shape - a small curve at the base of the neck, a subtle rounding out at the middle back and a small curve in the low back. These curves give resiliency and bounce to your spine so that it can absorb impact. If the curves are too flat or too accentuated, ligaments, and muscles become strained, preventing the efficient transfer of body weight.
Flexible, strong muscles are essential for good posture. Weak and inflexible core (shoulders, abdominals, back and hips) and leg muscles cannot support your back's natural curves.
Your ankle, knee, and hip joints balance your back's natural curves when you move. An imbalance in strength and/or flexibility around these joints can prevent you from maintaining good posture, particularly when you are moving.
In future articles, I will discuss how you can achieve greater flexibility and muscle strength. For now, keep in mind that when you correct your posture you are already working on strengthening your muscles and improving your flexibility.
What does good posture look like?
Good standing posture may feel abnormal at first, particularly if you have not been conscious of your posture in the past. Try standing with your feet hip-width apart, with your weight evenly distributed across the bottom of each foot, your breastbone lifted, your chin level, and your head held as though it is floating on top of your body. From a side view, imagine a vertical line that travels from your ear through your shoulder, to your hip, down the front of your knee and through the front of your ankle. The three natural curves in your back should be apparent. The front view should show that your shoulders, hips, and knees are level with each other (i.e. one of your knees should not be higher than the other). Hold your head straight and not turned to one side or tilted.
Maintaining improper posture while sitting is how most of us create poor postural habits. This is particularly true when driving or using a computer. As with standing, you want to maintain the "S" curve in your spine while you are sitting. This is best accomplished by sitting all the way back in the chair and placing a folded towel in the curve of the low back. The height of the chair should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor with your hips and knees at 90-degree angles. Your head should be relaxed, as though floating on top of your body, without your chin jutting forward. It is important to move out of a seated position every 20-30 minutes. On long drives to agility trials, you should ideally stop to stand and move around every two hours. While you are sitting in the car, occasionally shift your weight from side to side, roll your shoulders forwards and backwards and gently tilt your head from side to side. This light movement can help you keep your body and mind alert.
Check for normal curves in the spine
One way to check for normal curves in the spine is to stand against a wall with your heels two to three inches from the wall. Your head, shoulders, and rear end should be touching the wall. Place one hand between your waist and the wall. The space between your waist and the wall should be about the thickness of your hand. If there is excessive space between your waist and the wall, such that you can easily move your hand forward and back more than one inch, you may need some adjustment in your posture to restore the normal curves of your spine.
Another way to check your posture is to have a friend take pictures of you from the front, the side, and from behind. Evaluate the pictures based on the descriptions of correct posture above.
Remember, these are guidelines. Everyone's spine is different and some variation from these guidelines may be normal. A professional evaluation from a physical therapist may be necessary to give you a complete analysis of your posture.
How to Maintain Good Posture
You can correct your posture and maintain good posture with a little practice and consistency. One way to remind yourself to sit and walk with proper posture is to pick an object you see frequently (like dog treats, your wristwatch, or a person) and associate good posture with it. Every time you see it, correct your posture.
Once you improve your posture, you will begin to move more efficiently in your daily activities and in agility. You may also find that your dog picks up on the lightness and confidence with which you move, which can only benefit the connection you have. So, if you want to run well, walk tall and stand proud.
Photo by BAS Designs
Kristen Beck CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist - NSCA) is a personal trainer for UNC Hospitals at the UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont. For over 10 years she has been working with people of all ages, ranging from the everyday life athlete who may just need some extra motivation to triathletes, marathon runners, tennis players, dog agility handlers, and others. One of her goals is to help people improve their quality of life through exercise and fitness. Kristen lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, two-year-old daughter, and her Jack Russell Terrier. She can be reached at email@example.com.