Ever since the pandemic led to people everywhere working from home, spending hours upon hours sitting at their desks or nestled up on the couch with their laptop in tow, rumors of historically poor posture have ensued. While sitting indefinitely hunched can absolutely wreak havoc on your back, physical therapists and personal trainers have been taking to social media to clear up a very common misunderstanding—namely, that there’s actually such a thing as “bad” posture.
What causes postural problems?
If you love to sit slumped or hunched over your desk, that’s not necessarily cause for concern all on its own. What is, though, is when you sit that way all day long.
“What makes it ‘bad’ is holding it for a long period of time,” explains The Lotus Method founder Caitlin Ritt, who is a pre/postnatal expert. “That’s what creates permanence in these ‘weak looking’ positions.” And it’s what leaves us in pain. When we spend hours at a time out of alignment, certain muscles lose strength while other part of our bodies are overstressed.
But a posture that may be painful if held too long by one person may not affect someone else, says Ritt. So it can be difficult to clearly identify what “bad” posture is.
How long does it take to be negatively affected by posture?
If you find yourself maintaining the same hunched shape for hours on end every single day, Alo Moves trainer Roxie Jones says that after roughly two months, your overall posture can be affected, whether you’re sitting down (away from your desk/laptop) or standing up.
Before it gets to the point—or even if it already has—there are ways to mitigate it. To start, Ritt says to pay attention to your body. “If you are finding that you are having aches and pains in certain positions, listen to that and see if you can try a different position that feels better,” she says.
Whatever position you’re in, Jones says it’s important to take breaks, especially if you sit slumped, hunched, or with your head tilted down looking at your laptop screen. Maybe move from your couch to the kitchen table for a little while, or even the floor for a bit. Lift your laptop up with a computer stand to give your neck a break. And if you always sit with one leg crossed, try putting the other one on top (or, better yet, try keeping both feet on the ground).
And move! The easiest way to improve your overall posture is to get up and not just walk around but work on mobility, too. Jones suggests performing “the world’s greatest stretch” or a few cat-cow stretches. “Our bodies are meant to move; the spine is meant to flex and extend, so it’s good to do that throughout the day,” she says.
Get moving with this mobility flow:
If taking various mid-day breaks seems too distracting, Jones says that prioritizing mobility at the beginning and end of the day can work, too. If you’re unsure which movements will boost your mobility the most, she suggests taking one of her mobility classes (like the Upper Back Stretch, Stretch It Out: Shoulders and Back, or Total Body Pre-Workout Mobility classes) on the Alo Moves app. “They’re quick and can help you take out tension that was built up from sitting all day,” she shares.
Another way you can reverse the effect of stagnant posture is with strength training. “Our muscles attach to our bones and the stronger they are, the more they can support better posture and stronger movements throughout the day,” Jones explains.
Ritt also suggests focusing on your breathing. “It isn’t something many of us think about, but how we breathe can have a huge impact on our nervous system and overall body mechanics and even posture,” she explains. “Practicing diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing (instead of breathing up into our chest like many of us do) can help us tap into our parasympathetic nervous system (our calm/restore nervous system), when we tend to live in our sympathetic (fight or flight nervous system), and it helps with the recruitment of the core.”
Why should we pay attention to our posture?
While embarking on a posture-improving journey may seem challenging at first, Jones says it’s imperative if you don’t want to be hunched or slumped in everyday life. “Our bodies love to take the path of least resistance,” she says. We often fall into the postures we maintain the most and so it takes effort to change our body’s go-tos, she explains.
The good news is that doesn’t need to be complicated. “Keep your posture dynamic, keep changing positions, and utilize postural checks when doing more demanding tasks,” Ritt says.