We are always harping on the idea that you are only in the gym for 1 hour per day. And for some of you, that 1 hour per day is only 3 days per week. That means you are consciously working towards moving better for 3 hours in a week while another 165 hours of the week are spent outside of the conscious gym realm. Can you see how easily eroded the hard work you put in at the gym can be?
Gaining competence in any arena of life is hard work. It takes knowledge, dedication, and time, quite possibly in that order. There exists a psychological model in which four stages of competence illustrate the journey from ignorance of a skill to ascertainment of said skill. Allow me to use that model as my canvas while I paint a fuller picture of gaining competence in posture, specifically.
Posture has enormous return on investment, and a lot of that ROI can be gained pretty quickly. Does your shoulder hurt? First stop is looking at posture throughout the day and even while you sleep. Are you hunched over a keyboard? Fix it. Are you a side sleeper? Don’t be. You rarely need fancy gizmos or exercises pulled deep from the annals of some physical therapy text. So let us meld fixing our posture to the four stages of competence model.
This first stop along the competence journey always reminds me of the Donald Rumsfeld quote about “unknown unknowns.” You cannot know that of which you have no theoretical knowledge. And so everyone begins here. You did not know that you are standing, sitting, and sleeping in compromised positions. And you probably did not know that these compromised positions you are in for countless hours each day are operative in your shoulder pain, funky elbow, tight hip flexors, or quick-to-pump-out lower back.
This stage is an easy one from which to graduate. All you need to know is that you have a problem. That problem is one of poor posture. It pervades everything you do in life. It even expresses itself physiologically by secretion of stress hormones like cortisol. Conversely, if you stand up straight with your shoulders down and back your body recognizes this as a position of power and will increase testosterone and decrease cortisol1. The research is conclusive that posture not only affects body structure, but it also can have effects on cognition, emotion, and neuroendocrine response to name a few. Now you know.
With your newfound knowledge you will recognize your incompetence. You will begin to notice when you are standing or sitting poorly. You will more readily recognize the consequences of poor posture as well. You may even begin to notice it all around you. It is an epidemic. Look at all of those poor souls with heads bowed down over their cell phones and shoulders rounded forward typing away. Yikes!
Now we enter the phase in which you are working towards better posture. You have to think hard on it and expend a lot of physical energy to get into and maintain these new positions of proper posture. But you know it is worth it. Over time you will have to expend less mental energy because you will have formed a habit. And once you have ingrained that habit you will have made it to the final stage of competence.
This aspirational stage is attainable by everyone. You consciously work to get into better positions over and over and over, and then one day you just find yourself sitting upright with shoulders down and back. It is then that you have stumbled into unconscious competence. You no longer have to expend all that mental energy in getting into a better position. It is now a habit. It is now just how you stand, sit, sleep, et cetera. It is as if you know no other way. Well done!
In conclusion, I really must reiterate how important your posture is for athletic performance, emotional state, recovery from physical and mental stress, and a host of other really important pieces of life. You care about your health and wellness, so care extra hard about your posture!
Coach(ing your posture) G
1 – Journal of Physiological Science, 2010