Patrick Dale, author of Military Fitness, has worked in health and fitness for over twenty years and spent five years as a Royal Marine Commando. Now the owner of a fitness qualifications training company, Patrick splits his time between training prospective personal trainers and gym instructors and writing articles for numerous magazines, including ultra-FIT magazine – one of the UK’s leading fitness publications.
Always practising what he preaches, Bristolian ex-pat Patrick follows his own fitness and nutrition advice and can usually be found training hard in his gym in Pafos, Cyprus.
Here, he shares his military fitness tips for those of us who spend our days working at a desk and explains how ‘If everyone could learn to sit and stand up straight, the world would be a happier and friendlier place.’….
At the risk of sounding alarmist, you are currently doing something that, according to many fitness experts, is very bad for your health. I’m not talking about reading emails or breathing (!) but sitting down. According to the brainiacs who study this sort of thing, spending long periods of time sat down can really do you harm.
Poor posture, often the result of sitting down too much, can have an adverse effect on spine health and increases your chances of suffering bulging intervertebral discs and other forms of back pain such as sciatica. In addition, a rounded back posture, properly called hyperkyphosis, promotes an outward bulging abdomen. Poor posture can also cause headaches, shoulder problems, digestive problems, knee pain, reduce general functionality and is also responsible for the current world-wide financial crisis(!). If everyone could learn to sit and stand up straight, the world would be a happier and friendlier place.
To check your own posture, stand in front of a mirror and look at your hands. Can you see the backs of your hands in the mirror? If you can, your shoulders are probably protracted (pushed forwards) and your upper arms rotated inwards. Next, stand sideways on to the mirror– you may need to ask a friend to check this for you. Is any part of your upper back visible from the side? If it is, your shoulders are definitely protracted. Is your ear over your shoulder or is your head jutting forward? A forward head carry suggests you have tight anterior (front) neck muscles. Now look at your lower back. Do you have a nice, small but noticeable arch or is your lower back flat? It may even be excessively arched. Either way, your spine is not in optimal alignment and back pain is only a heavy shopping bag away.
One of the best ways to sort your posture is to develop postural awareness. You literally need to teach yourself to sit and stand up straight. As posture is habitual, you will need to think about the way you sit and stand almost constantly before it becomes subconscious.
Try this exercise to help you get into good seated posture. Do this at the top of every hour and you’ll be on your way to picture perfect posture. Actually, do it right now. I’m watching you so no slacking!
- Shuffle forwards on so that only your “sitting bones” are on your chair.
- Plant your feet flat on the floor so your shins are vertical.
- Let your arms hang down at your sides.
- Roll your shoulders forwards and round your upper back – you have my permission to slouch!
- Lift your chest, arch your lower back slightly and try to sit up as tall as you can without leaning back.
- Tuck your chin in and raise the crown of your head upwards to elongate your neck – think long neck, heavy chin.
- Rotate your hands outward and draw your shoulders down and back.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds while breathing evenly and deeply.
- Relax, but not too much. Try to maintain good posture for as long as you can. Eventually you will sag back down into your normal sitting position but with practice, you’ll maintain good posture for longer and longer until it becomes automatic.
- You can also do this exercise while standing. Don’t worry – while it may look a little odd, chances are nobody is watching you because their posture is so bad they’ll be looking down at the floor anyway!
Posture is not, in my opinion anyway, as fun or sexy as building strength or running sprints but if your posture is out, you are not going to get as much from these far more enjoyable training methods as you otherwise might. Think of posture, like good nutrition, as the base of your health and fitness pyramid. Only once you have built a solid foundation will you be able to reach the highest peaks.