You’ve been keeping a secret since your company finalized a hybrid work set-up. You love the flexibility of this part-time remote, part-time in-office set-up, but you miss your office desk and ergonomic chair more than you care to admit. Ever since your kitchen counter and bed became your rotating workstations on work-from-home days, your back - and posture - have never been quite the same.
You’re not imagining it: 92% of chiropractors surveyed by the American Chiropractic Association said that patients with neck and back pain complaints increased following the pandemic. Posture problems seem to be as ubiquitous now as other top workplace issues worsened by COVID, but they’ve been around even before this big shift. Even so, and especially now, misconceptions persist about posture problems, so we sat down with NYC-based certified personal trainer and movement coach Joseph Gonzalez, whose unique and multidisciplinary science-based approach to physical fitness is the foundation of Mejor Strength, the practice he founded, to shine a light on the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to posture. And what we learned made us, well, sit up straight (pun intended).
(Seriously, though) There’s more to ‘good posture’ than sitting up straight
Our bodies have the postural control system, which has two main functions. They are essentially to (1) help us balance against gravity and (2) spatially adapt to the environment around us. When asked to define ‘good posture’, Joseph reiterates what science says by pointing to one of these two functions. “It’s the ability of an individual to manage themselves well against gravity”.
Yes, pulling our shoulders back and keeping a steady balance is part of good posture, but we need to understand what’s at work and why. Antigravity muscles are part of our physical makeup, and though they sound familiar, we may not realize that our core muscles are tasked with the main job of dealing with gravity. These muscles are all the way down in our feet and go up as high as those in between our eyes. Together, they help us navigate our physical surroundings so we avoid running into people and things, as well as getting from point A to point B with ease and efficiency.
Remember when the instructor lets out an “engage your core” with gusto in Pilates? That’s a reminder to work against gravity to get to the correct form for the exercise - a sure sign that your body is following what you want it to do, pain-free. Strong core muscles empower us to achieve good posture, which then allows us to move around in harmony not just with our surroundings but with our own bodies.
Having bad posture messes up more than just your “power vibe”
Unfortunately, there’s so much more at stake than just projecting confidence and authority when posture is involved. To cover the “bad” and the “ugly” of posture, we need to understand what causes bad posture and the impact that bad posture has in our daily lives.
Bad news #1: We may be causing the problem - unknowingly - with terrible habits, and we can’t even help or be blamed for it. For instance, when we try to accommodate imbalances in a muscle group, such as a back strain, bad habits naturally develop. The body then compromises its regular alignment to overcome this imbalance or irregularity.
Bad news #2: As if it doesn’t have enough sins as it is, stress is another culprit. Our emotional state is more intertwined with our posture than we may have believed. For example, a recurring feeling of being overwhelmed leads us to almost lose our breath, leading to a change in our breath patterns. Given that the way we breathe influences how our body manages gravity, any irregularity undoubtedly impacts our posture, magnifying gradually the more it happens. Joseph emphatically points out that “there is no such thing as `all of a sudden` when it comes to having bad posture - it has been happening over time whether or not you realize it.”
Bad News #3: Bad posture increases body pains and aches, and can possibly cause incontinence, constipation, heartburn, and poor digestion according to Harvard Health Publishing.
To get to that ‘good posture’, get to the root of the issue
Though its components are shared by everyone, achieving good posture is a personal journey, and differs from one person to the next. As we know by now, our posture goes beyond its physical connection to our bodies. Joseph thoughtfully points out, “Two of the most important qualities you need to improve your posture are confidence and security, both of which are emotional qualities.” He adds, “Fixing your posture depends on how motivated you are because you need to be able to keep up the habits that you learned to change. The key is sustainability.” As a testament to this philosophy, Joseph emphasizes that his practice has a singular goal regardless of the client or problem. “We work to restore their agency, to the point that they don’t need us anymore. If they achieve this sustainability on their own, then the confidence and security will come, and I will have done my job.”
Good posture is good health. Helping our brain learn new patterns, being open to acknowledging the bad habits we’ve created, and getting to the root of the issues with the help of an expert, are all important ways to start the right posture journey. It takes time to unlearn bad habits and to put in the work to develop new, good ones, but we need to only treat posture as part of our health to know that it’s worth the effort.
Editor's Note: Joseph Gonzalez is the founder of Mejor Strength, a professional practice focused on addressing persistent and recurring body pains, solving movement dysfunctions, and achieving movement goals. He holds certifications from FMS, SFG, NKT, and FRCms as an NEFTA-certified physical fitness trainer, is expertly trained in key specialty areas related to body pains and movement challenges. He works with clients virtually and in-person by developing personalized programs designed for their goals.