I am taking a page from Diane Bruni’s rant about glutes that she did last June 18th and doing a rant of my own today. It’s about swaybacked posture and it’s been building steam in me for a very long time, 35 years, in fact.
Back in 1985, you might as well have been talking to the wind to get anyone interested in the subject of posture. Not so today. Now you’d think it was the panacea for all your ills, which in fact is not too far from the truth.
Trouble is, what’s being put out is another down-the-garden-path story, because while much of the postural information is going in the right direction, it isn’t often ending up at the right destination; what’s being shown as good posture is not good posture in my books.
I’ve come across many photos and videos put out on the net by trainers with long-standing reputations or top credentials showing their versions of good posture, and most of these photos have some degree of excessive lower back arching.
A slight arch in the lower back is natural; an excessive arch is not. It not only puts strain on the lower back muscles and hip joints, it separates the ribcage from the pelvis and prevents the torso from being connected as one straight, whole unit.
The standard way of describing good posture is to have a straight line running from the ear to the shoulder, hip joint and anklebone. However, while you can have all of those points aligned, if what’s in between them is sloping in different directions, then the torso as a whole is not held in good posture.
The photo above has the ‘good posture’ points aligned, however, you can see that the upper body from the centre of the waist (hidden behind the arm) to the shoulder is leaning backward. And the pelvis, from the same centre point of the waist to the tailbone, is tilted forward.
These centre lines, if drawn on the body, would form an acute angle at the centre point of the body where they connect. Even the external lines of the back and the top of the pelvis form an angle at the back of the waist. This is a disjointed body that has no “core” strength (a topic for another time), setting the stage for lower back and other problems sooner or later in life.
To make matters worse, exercises are often taught in a way that reinforces this angled lower back, commonly called swayback. The hamstring stretch, for example, is usually taught with the foot pulled up to the buttock, as in the photo.
Done this way, the pelvis and ribcage are pulled out of alignment even more, reinforcing faulty posture by further shortening the muscles in the back of the waist and those connecting the thighs to the front of the pelvis.
The other problem with this is that for people whose thigh muscles are fairly stretched to begin with, pulling the foot to the butt doesn’t stretch the thigh muscles all that much. In their case especially, if in fact they want to stretch the thighs, bringing the bottom of the pelvis forward and rounding the lower back would be much more effective. And this, for everyone, would take the pressure off the lower back.
Another big complaint I have is the bad influence on posture that’s done by the fashion industry and every which commercial product that exploits the sexy look of women’s curvaceous waists and thrust-out derrières to advertise their fashions and products. I could go on from here about the conflict such photos cause with other societies, but staying on track in this article, it’s a really unfortunate setback for human evolution.
The fully evolved posture of human beings includes a pelvis that is “straight,” and that’s also a topic for another time. But it takes me back to a time in the 80s when I was working on a book about posture and in it I wrote, “With posture like this put before us on a daily basis, it makes the case for a straight pelvis a hard one to sell.”
It’s a sad reflection on today’s society and our understanding of fitness and health that not much has changed in this respect. The worst of it is that encouraging sway-backed posture leads our young women, especially, into a path of pain and poor health as they get older from which it becomes ever harder to escape.
Girls and women are not alone in this. The male body, without the female curves that exaggerate misalignment, has a better chance of maintaining good posture, as seen in the photo on the left. But as shown in the one on the right, lower back arching and its subsequent pressure on muscles afflicts many men as well.
Like the frog in the pot of water about to be boiled, the repercussions to the body from bad posture don’t happen quickly and can go unnoticed until it’s too late to stop the damage.
So this is a reminder and an invitation to anyone who isn’t sure about how to correct their posture to learn the relaxing, tension releasing exercises in Somatic Stretch that lay the groundwork for “standing straight.” It’s an exciting process of self-discovery and empowerment!