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How Long Have You Been Standing Wrong?

Apparently I’ve been standing wrong for 28 years. Maybe you’ve been standing wrong, too. Here’s how to stand right.

Nate Green

Of all the things in my life that I need to work on, I never thought standing would be one of them.

If you would have asked me to write a numbered list of all the things I could improve about myself, learning how to stay vertical and stationary on two feet would have been toward the bottom.

But it’s true.

Apparently, I’ve been standing wrong for 28 years

Well, no, that’s not quite right.

I’ve been standing wrong ever since I started working out (about 10 years ago) and learned that “good posture” was to keep your chest high and shoulders back.

Turns out that’s NOT good posture.

Chris told me so, the other day when I was working out at his gym. He said, “your chest is puffed up too much and your shoulders are too far back.”

I told him I didn’t even know that was a thing. That’s how I thought you were supposed to stand.

Chris, by the way, is the trainer I work with once per week. And according to him, not only is my chest up, shoulders back posture making me stand wrong, it’s making me do everything wrong.

Kettlebell swings. Dumbbell rows. Lunges.

Name an exercise, and my “rigid action figure” posture is probably making it less effective, making me weaker, and potentially setting me up for an injury.

According to Chris, that’s because chest up, shoulders back “creates external rotation in the ribcage and thoracic spine, which creates a suboptimal position for the scapula to function, and thus all of the muscles in your upper torso.”

And also, “it negatively impacts strength, puts more strain on the lower back, and raises the risk of developing pain and injury.”

In plain English, that means the posture we’ve all been taught to emulate is causing us more harm than good.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Posture in 3 Photos

After Chris got done telling me I was standing wrong, I had him snap a few photos to illustrate just what the hell he was talking about. Here they are.

Bad Posture – Ape Internal Rotation

Internal rotation

In this photo, it’s obvious why my posture is bad: I’m deliberately rounding my shoulders. Also I’m sweaty, which is a recurring theme in all the photos.

Guys who workout don’t stand like this. We know better. Instead, we stand and walk around like this…

Bad Posture – Action Figure Overcompensation

action figure posture

My chest is up and my shoulders are back. This is what most of us think is good posture. It’s not.

Chris calls this “action figure posing”. Notice how I’m overcompensating by puffing out my chest and rigidly holding my shoulders back. Also, my ribs are flared out.

This overcompensation leads to all the stuff Chris mentioned before. The loss of strength. The “suboptimal scapula position”. The potential for annoying injuries.

And now, the final photo:

Good Posture

Nate Green

So this is good posture.

What’s different about it? A few things.

  1. My shoulders are still “back”, but I’m not actively squeezing my upper back together.
  2. My chest is still “up”, but I’m not tilting it toward the ceiling.
  3. My ribs are down and flat. This is key.
  4. I’m not tense. Of course, you can’t tell from the photo, but unlike the “action figure pose”, I’m not straining in the slightest to maintain this position. I’m just standing there.

3 Things You Can Do To Have Better Posture

Chris has me doing three things to work on my posture. You can do them too, if you like.

1. Become aware of your posture when you’re working out.

I’ve gotten better at not standing like an action figure in most situations, but I still do it at the gym. It’s like I’m mentally stuck there. It’s my default.

During exercises like lunges or rows, Chris will remind me to keep my ribs down and to not lift my chest up.

It feels weird at first, but after consistently working on it, I’m getting stronger and my shoulders and lower back — two minor injuries I’ve had for a few years — don’t hurt any more.

2. Do dead bugs

Dead bug

This exercise has a funny name and looks ridiculous. It’s also very effective and makes your abs burn.

Step 1: Find a wall, make sure you’re about an arms-length away, then lie on your back with your legs in the air and your knees bent.

Step 2: Reach overhead and place your hands flat on the wall. Lightly push against the wall like you’re trying to move it. This co-contracts your lat muscles, which function as spinal stabilizers.

Step 3: Adjust your body so your chest and ribs are down (and not flared up or out), and you have a very small space between your lower back and the floor.

Step 4: While lightly pressing against the wall and keeping your chest and ribs down, slowly lower one leg and lightly touch the heel of your foot to the ground. Breathe in while you do this.

Step 5: Exhale while bringing your bent leg back into the air. Repeat with the other leg, breathing in as you lower it and lightly touch your heel to the floor.

Step 6: Repeat for 10 reps on each side.

3. Do wall slides

Wall Slide

This is harder than it looks.

Even if you’ve been doing wall slides for years, once you focus on not lifting the chest (and keeping your ribs down), it becomes way harder.

My first thought when I did them the right way was: “Ohhh. THAT’S how they’re supposed to feel. These suck.”

Step 1: Stand against a wall with your head, upper back, and butt touching it. Reach overhead, and with your elbows slightly bent, place your hands and arms against the wall.

Step 2: Keep your chest and ribs down. (Don’t flare or lift them.) Don’t overarch your lower back. Instead, keep just a small space between your lower back and the wall. Walk your feet out a little if you need to maintain the position.

Step 3: Keeping your elbows, wrists, and hands pressed into the wall, slide your elbows down toward your sides as far as you can without losing contact with the wall.

Step 4: Slide your arms back up the wall. Make sure your ribs and chest are still down.

Step 5: Repeat for 10 reps.

+++++

Nate Green

About the Author: Nate Green is the Program Director for Scrawny To Brawny. You can find him on Facebook or Google+.

  • Jesse

    OH my god, finally! This is the info I’ve been looking for forever. I even studied Alexander Technique, sitting posture, you name it. So far, the best posture I’ve had has been when I was doing farmer carries. For some reason it just seemed to set everything into place, and after those workouts, I felt like I could stand like a normal human being for once.

    Thanks for breaking this info down, I’ll give it a shot!

  • Greg Hodlin

    Weird. I just learned I had the same issue a few weeks ago when I went to see Tony Gentilcore. Along with a few other things, he told me I should be doing a ton of deadbugs and breathing movements. It’s a bit weird to think about keeping the rib cage down while doing something like squatting, but I can tell that it’s going to pay off.

  • Aaron Gillies

    Good news! I’m already doing and coaching my clients to do those 3 things! the hardest part is teaching them to pull the shoulder blades back and down with out hyperextending the lower back.

    Great article Nate!

  • SEAN ALLT

    Love it! So many people over-compensate and end up with big-time rib flare. I like to tell people “shoulders back, chest proud, and ribs burried”. Any one of those ques on their own could create what we see in either photo 1 or 2 but when all 3 ques are used together it most often achieves the wonderful posture we see in photo 3 :)
    Great post, Nate!

  • Ben F.

    Awesome article. Thankfully I learned these same techniques and more at the start of the year in a primal posture workshop. http://gokhalemethod.com

    I’m always having to remind myself not to flair my ribs. Bad habits die hard.

  • Rick Van Laan

    My grandpa is still a truck driver and he started having back problems just from sitting on his wallet while driving. It’s great to have such an awesome article here to help others correct their postures in order to prevent future problems! Thank you!

  • John

    Great article. I found Esther Gokhale’s shoulder roll a really easy way to get this correct posture, she describes it in the first ten minutes of this video – http://youtu.be/-yYJ4hEYudE

  • bosnate

    I used to have terrible posture, but two years of yoga has corrected that without any conscious effort to stand properly. I’ve become more self aware of what my body is actually doing.

  • Frederik Ackermann

    I can’t do the wall slides – meaning I can’t get my arms to actually touch the wall without pushing my chest forward – does that mean I have a should immobility issue?

  • Bex vanKoot

    I’ve found the key to making proper posture in the ribs, chest and shoulders work is actually in the tilt of the pelvis. The Gokhale Method is a good place to start for info on how to perfect this posture.

  • Jeff Pelizzaro

    I felt like an ass watching that video on my smart phone :)

    And you are spot on with the posture info. Thanks again Nate.

  • Guest

    Thank you Nate

  • Wayne

    Thank you Nate.

  • Lee Hill

    if you really want to learn more then I recommend reading Becoming a Supple Leopard By Kelly Starrett. Best book ever with a break down on posture!

  • Clyde Forth

    Darlin’, a good Pilates instructor could have told you this first thing! Never mind – but if you haven’t tried it, you might take a few private sessions and then apply the principles to your workout. This was a nice explanation of the middle-ground between two extremes of bad posture.

  • http://titleboxingclub.com/ TITLE Boxing Club Corporate

    Great information on posture, it’s a bit surprising how many people don’t have correct posture. BTW, love the video.