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Fitness: Standing Tall

By Oscar Saucedo

Your posture is a great way to tell if your skeletal muscle system is in good condition.  A good trainer can quickly evaluate which of your muscles are weak and which need more flexibility based only on your posture.

 If you are relatively inactive, or if your movement patterns are poor, you probably have some or all of the following: 1) feet that turn outward; 2) knees that buckle inward; 3) hips that are tilted forward; 4) shoulders that are hunched forward; 5) head that falls forward. All of these can cause knee, hip, back, and neck pain.  While we can’t cover every situation, let’s go over some of the causes of each of these.

Feet.  A common cause of externally rotated feet is a lack of flexibility in your calf muscle. This is very common, especially in people that often wear higher-heeled shoes.  When your calves are tight and inflexible, the front of your lower leg is stretched out and elongated.  Because your body will seek “the path of least resistance”, feet will turn out as you walk, run, or squat.  To help correct this, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles as part of your fitness routine.

Knees.  If your feet turn out, your knees start off buckled inward.  But even if your feet are properly aligned, knees can still turn in because of tight inner thigh muscles and tight tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle.  When a muscle is tight, the opposing muscle is elongated.  This causes imbalance and stress on the joint that those muscles surround.  Just like when your car’s front-end is out of alignment and causes uneven wear on tires, this lack of muscular balance and alignment can cause some uneven stress on your joints.  Stretch and foam roll your inner thighs, TFL, and iliotibial (IT) band as part of your flexibility training.

 Hips.  We all sit quite a bit.  While you are seated, the muscles on the front of your hip (hip flexors) are shortened and the opposing muscles (gluteus complex) are elongated.  Eventually, you can develop tightness in the hip flexors. A simplified description of this would posture be to imagine your hips are a bowl tipped forward a bit.  Looking at a side view of the hips, you can see a noticeable bend at the hip while standing.  When the hips are tilted forward, your body will try to straighten up using the lower back muscles.  This can lead to lower back overuse injury or pain.  Ask a trainer to show you some hip flexor stretches to use as part of your fitness routine.

 Shoulders.  Driving, typing, writing.  In each of these positions, your chest muscles are shortened and your middle back muscles are elongated.  I like to call the middle back muscles “the posture muscles” because hunched shoulders are the most noticeable form of bad posture.  To help correct this, take the time to stretch and foam roll your chest muscles and latissimus dorsi while strengthening your middle back muscles.

Head.  Forward head posture can cause quite a few problems.  Among them are headaches, incorrect breathing patterns, and cervical spine issues.  That really isn’t something to mess with.  Fix your posture by making an effort to line your neck up properly (try tucking your chin back as if to make a “double chin”), stretch the muscles at the front of your neck, and strengthen the muscles at the back of your neck.

This topic is too large to cover here.  But be aware that good posture, proper alignment, and good quality of movement are essential to staying injury-free and pain-free for as long as possible.            

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