Our stance plays an important role in our functional ability, which is our ability to move and perform tasks throughout our day. Posture is important for our musculoskeletal system to help prevent or reduce aches and pains. Balance, co-ordination, and flexibility can improve our quality of life, as well as support our functional movement ability.
What are the benefits of looking after our stance?
Our musculoskeletal system is a chain of connected parts. Our bones meet at joints. Our muscles connect to our bones via tendons. We have a type of tissue called fascia that runs in tracts, or pathways, connecting muscles throughout our body - for example connecting our right leg to our left arm. Our stance keeps us functionally fit and reduces musculoskeletal aches and pains.
Our body is made to support itself and meet our daily movement needs. Historically, our daily life would have involved a variety of movements and positions throughout the day. Regular movement and change would mean we would not spend prolonged periods in one position. Many people now spend large amounts of time sitting, in relatively stationary positions, such as at a desk, in a car or watching television.
There are three core elements we can work on to improve our stance: balance, co-ordination, and posture. All three are extremely low impact and ideal for any level of fitness.
There are countless exercises you can find online, but, as always, we like the simplest ones:
Heel-to-toe walk: stand upright and place your right heel directly in front of your left toe and then repeat with your left heel in front of your right toe (so you are walking in a straight line). Make sure you look forward the whole time. If you find you’re extremely wobbly to start with, walk next to a wall and place your fingers against the wall as you walk. As your balance improves, you will be able to remove your fingers from the wall. Try to see if you can complete 5 steps.
Step-up: slightly reminiscent from those 1980s fitness videos, but extremely effective. Use a step in your house, or aerobic step if you have one. As above, you might find you need to use a wall for support to begin with. Place your right leg on the step and then bring your left leg up to join it before returning your right leg and then your left leg to the floor, before repeating to a total of 5 steps per leg. You might find one side is wobblier than the other!
Remember that exercises like lunges and squats are also great for your balance. If your current exercise routine includes lunging with weights, but you find this puts you off-balance, just do the lunges without the weights. It’s more important to get your balance right first.
This is all about training different parts of our body to work at the same time to complete a task. As well as improving your technique during exercise, improving your co-ordination will also have a positive impact on your daily life, especially the older you get.
The balance exercises above require a level of co-ordination, but seeing as we use hand-eye co-ordination every day, it makes sense to detail some of those:
Go back to throwing a ball! Whether it’s tossing a ball up in the air for you to catch or playing catch with your children or grandchildren.
Throw a ball or something light into something. You could draw or mark out a line on the ground or garden and throw a ball over the line or throw a ball into a bucket.
Close your eyes. Try closing your eyes the next time you do a stationary exercise, such as your Time Under Tension movement. This will help you pay more attention to which parts of your body are moving (similar to identifying a particular muscle before we start resistance training).
While there is not necessarily such a thing as ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ posture, the majority of us spend too much time in one position, which is when the pain can start. One position we’re all guilty of is being hunched over, because of the amount of time we spend on our phones and devices. The next time you are on the high street, take a good look to see how many faces you can actually see, or whether you are mainly looking at the crown of people’s heads, as they spend their time looking at their phone, even while walking! The amount of time we spend at a computer can’t always be helped because of work, but the more time we spend in a particular position, the harder it is to get into the habit of becoming more mobile.
The most common complaint related to a constant slouching position is muscle tension (‘text neck’), which can also cause tension headaches, back pain and other complaints. Pain and other problems as a result of not moving position enough can easily be resolved by paying more attention to how you feel. While slouching in your chair, do your shoulders or neck hurt? Are your shoulders creeping up towards your ears, rather than relaxed?
If you find you need to adjust your posture, but you’re not sure how, try adopting these the next time you feel some muscle tension or the start of a tension headache:
When standing, imagine a piece of string pulling your head towards the ceiling, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and try to stand as though you are between 2 sheets of glass. Your bottom and stomach should be tucked in slightly, and your ears should stand over your shoulders.
If you’re likely to be sitting down for a long time (at work), make sure you’re doing it properly. Your chair height should ensure your feet can touch the floor, with your knees level or slightly higher than your hips, and the back of the chair should be supporting your spine.
Above all, when it comes to stance, the changes you can make are so subtle, that the most important part is paying attention to how you are moving, standing and sitting. That way, the more you start to correct yourself, the more the ‘new’ (correct!) way of moving will become the norm. It all links back to the first part of MARS – Move More. Your body was designed to move and adopt a variety of positions, so most importantly of all, try to stick to that idea of moving or changing your position for a couple of minutes each hour.