Did you know that beyond looking like a troll and wreaking havoc on your mobility, there are some powerful psychological reasons as to why you should sit straight?
I’m not shy to embrace the woo-woo but I understand that many of you won’t be convinced unless there’s some hard facts backed by research. I got you!
Firstly, I want you to understand that I’m all up in that mobility training as well as all the activities that push your body and keep you healthy. Though, it’s important to understand that you’re probably training a few hours a week but spending as much as 8 times more hours sitting at your desk or in your car.
How you sit can negatively or positively impact your training.
If you spend your day with your shoulders rounded, your neck cranked forward and your lower back slouched, you are training your body to imprint and record that as your preferred posture.
How the hell are you going to go from that curved cave man pose to a beautifully executed snatch?
Sounds like injury central to me...just sayin”!
Beyond that, you know how you feel kinda stressed and cranky at the end of the day? Well that slouched posture has got something to do with it...but who am I to tell you about posture?
I’m about to dish out some super interesting research that will have you rethinking your sitting game.
I constantly see good looking people at the gym or at spinning class that clearly put some serious effort into looking on point - the latest Lulu’s, the fresh new Reebok Nanos, the Swell water bottle at spinning and the Yeti for the CrossFit folks. Yet if you were to take a picture of them sitting while they weren’t looking, they’d look closer to our ancient cave dwelling relatives.
How is this not part of the looking-good-process??
Ok, I’m guilty of this too but most times, you’ll catch me with a pretty decent posture. I know you’ll be watching me from now on, waiting for a slip up! Challenge accepted!
Ok so back to that science I promised you!
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who teaches at Harvard University, wrote an amazing book called “Presence” and presented an awe-inspiring TED talk relating to power postures and its effect on mood. She’s been featured in the New York Times and has been published in various top academic journals.
If you want to geek out a it on the psychology behind the posture-mood-connection I’d recommend you check her out. She does a great job at translating academic jargon into an enjoyable and inspiring read.
In her book, Amy talks about a research at the University of Auckland who used athletic tape to participants’ backs in patterns that held them in either upright or slumped postures. They then had to prepare a talk explaining why they were the best person for their dream job in front of a panel of unresponsive judges with the posture held during their speech. They were asked to give feedback on how they felt and were observed during the speech.
Upright speakers used less negative words, felt more enthusiastic, had higher self-esteem and reported feeling less nervous and sluggish compared to the slumped participants. They talked less about themselves and were more engaged with the present moment.
The researches for this study printed as their conclusion in their article for Health Psychology that:
“Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioural strategy to help build resilience to stress.”
Another study she mentions, was conducted on randomly assigned clinically depressed patients. They found that “participants who had been sitting in the slumped pose remembered significantly more depression-related words than positive words. Patients in the upright posture, however, showed no such bias, remembering as many positive words as negative words.”
Changing your postural patterns may change your emotional state. This may be a lot to wrap your head around but it’s an easy change that will benefit you in so many ways. Why dispute a change that can help both your body and your mind?
You may still be thinking...but will it make me stronger?
Can this make me do better at the gym?
There are two aspects that I want to cover and the first one is related to pain because I know you’re all crazy athletic so you have to endure a certain amount of pain just to just show up for your workout. Being able to deal with more pain can sometimes make the difference between making a lift or dropping the bar, running 5k or walking it, having the mental toughness or wanting to quit. Let me make it clear that I’m not suggesting you push through sharp pain that signals injury. I’m talking about the kind of pain that signals discomfort; the one that can be overcome in order to grow.
Take a look at this study mentioned in the book about pain and posture. They randomly assigned people to a dominant, neutral or submissive pose and tested participants’ threshold for pain before and after the pose. Guess what? By this point you know. The dominant pose subjects were able to endure more pain than the submissive and neutral poses. Amy says that “expanding your body toughens you to physical pain.”
But how does pain tolerance increase?
Well there’s an interesting correlation between pain and levels of testosterone in your body (men and women). Testosterone is important both in the body and in the brain and have slightly different roles in each area. In the central nervous system, a lack of testosterone is associated with poor pain control, depression, disrupted sleep, and lack of energy and motivation. In the body, testosterone plays a role in tissue repair and inflammation at pain sites. It is required for proper muscle maintenance, exercise resilience and prevention of osteoporosis.
It is necessary to have an adequate amount of testosterone for pain control, elevated mood, motivation and proper tissue repair which is why the next study is so interesting.
What Amy and her colleagues have found after collecting saliva samples from subjects (men and women) before and after her power pose studies is really compelling.
Why is this significant?
We covered the importance of testosterone in our body’s ability to repair itself, to control pain and to have drive. If that isn’t reason enough, lets look at what cortisol does to the body. Listed are some effects of high levels of cortisol associated with chronic stress according to Dr. James L. Wilson, leading expert on adrenal fatigue:
Why is it important that with power, testosterone increases and cortisol decreases?
Testosterone is associated with high assertiveness, high motivation and high pain threshold, and low cortisol is associated with low anxiety, the perfect combo for taking charge in a stressful moment.
Your posture has implications on so many levels, that tweaking it is definitely something that warrants your attention.
If you’re spending 8 hours sitting at your desk like a douche, you’re not stacking the odds in your favour. You’re making yourself more susceptible to pain, negativity and potential diminished gains at the gym. We haven’t even talked about the physical components of lack of mobility and how that affects your movements. That’s the subject of a whole other article.
We can’t escape the slouch. Even when standing, people now iHunch over their phones or tablets. Imagine that a head balanced straight above the shoulders weighs on average 12 pounds. You may have seen the image below that shows that at a 60 degree tilt of our neck, typically seen with the iHunch, the head weighs 60 pounds relative to its axis.
The result is that the Dowager’s hump that used to be reserved for our grand-parents is now seen as early as in teenagers. I have treated numerous early 20-somethings with this highly attractive hump.
And again I ask....how is posture not part of the looking-good process?
Amy and her colleague discovered that “the smaller the device, the more we must contract our bodies to use it, and the more time we spend in these shrunken, inward postures, the more powerless we feel.”
If you know someone that sits like a douche or iHunches (like everyone and their mom!), send them a little nudge by sharing this article with them. Maybe our world will be a bit more positive (or not, but at least we’ll look and feel way better!).
Let me know if you’re going to up your sitting game!
Snap a pic of you sitting wherever you are and tag @mobilityjunkie on Facebook or Instagram. I’d love to see how you take action!
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