Movement Basics: Body Organization and Posture

Posture is a pandora’s box. We all know that we should have “better” posture, but what does that actually mean? How does that happen? Will I feel better if I sit up tall, stop slouching, and generally start doing everything perfectly all the time?  

That type of drastic change in behavior is unrealistic. Changing one’s posture is the definition of “the long game.” It is not as simple as doing 15 reps of an exercise 2-3 times per week. Posture has to do with the chronic, every second, of every day, tone of your muscles and innervating neurons. To decide to change your posture is comparative to deciding to be a millionaire. It might happen, but it’s not going to happen without immense work. 

For those reasons, I am not going to address any of those questions or use the phrase “Fixing your posture.” in this blog (I just said it, damn.). What I will discuss is a way to organize your body, and principles that can reduce risk of injury and create better movement habits.  My goal within this blog is to share overarching body organization basics that will guide your movement and predispose better postural habits.

Taking an in-depth look at two lifts, the deadlift and the bench press, we will expose some body organization principles that can guide the function of everyday or sporting movements. Although we are covering these organization principles for specific lifts, they can, and should be utilized in almost all other movements. It is important here to understand that I am going to present body organization for the athlete who trains to maximize performance and health, or adult training client. The organization I describe is not for the competitive powerlifter.

Body Organization Principles: The Deadlift. 

The deadlift can help us understand good body organization principles for the lower body. This will help us to be able to lift loads, bend over, and perform single leg movements with a better organizational comprehension than before. 

Starting from the ground up, the foot should be firmly planted in the ground, about hip to shoulder width apart. There should be tension through the arch of the foot, and an outward corkscrew torque in the ankle. I cue these by saying “grab the ground with your feet” and “spread the floor beneath you.” This torque is what helps us create unity from the foot throughout the whole body. This torque leads to an alignment of the knee over the second toe and a tension in the hip of outward pressure. 

The hip, and lumbopelvic area is of specific concern when talking body organization and the deadlift. We want to create a position that fits within the spectrum of a “neutral spine.” This does not mean your back should be flat as a board, but there should not be an overt curvature either rounded or arched.  The lumbopelvic area should be stable and unwavering. As we pick up the load, minimal change in posture should occur because we have tension through our breath. (See last week’s post) To accomplish this organization, I often think of pushing my butt back to a wall and “twerking it” upward. (Those of you who know me, understand how awkward and uncomfortable it is for me to use that phrase.)

Deadlift Lower Body Checklist: 

  1. Tension in the arch of the foot.
  2. Outward corkscrew of the ankle.
  3. Knees aligned over second toe. 
  4. Hip tension outward, spreading the floor. 
  5. Butt Back, Back Flat. 
  6. Breathe in.

Body Organization Principles: The Bench Press

The Bench Press operates as a good guide to help us understand organization of the upper body. Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is a total body lift. That being said, we are focusing on the upper body. These principles can help to alleviate shoulder and neck pain, and produce more optimal pushing and pulling through the shoulder.  

Picking up from the lumbopelvic hip area, the core (bottom of the hips, to the neck) should maintain neutral alignment, and tension through the anterior. I.E. don’t overarch your back. Think of pulling the front of your hips up with imaginary suspenders. This should tighten the anterior abdominals. Next we utilize the latissimus dorsi as a link to shoulder organization. 

In general, our shoulders should be more posteriorly rotated, and depressed than they typically are. To accomplish this *perform this as you read* try to touch your shoulder blades together, then pull your shoulders downward away from your ears. When we add a bar to the equation, I use the cue, bend the bar, which provides us with the unifying torque aspect. After we have done the shoulder work, we need to tuck the chin, and elongate the neck. 

Bench Press Upper Body Checklist:

  1. Tighten the core and breathe in. 
  2. Pull the shoulders back and down. 
  3. Bend the bar, keep the torque.
  4. Tuck the chin.
  5. As you lower the bar, the bottom of the shoulder blades should come together, not separate.

This blog definitely took the 10,000-foot view on body organization and the two lifts covered. (We only talked about half the body in each lift and I am still way over my word count) Trust me when I tell you there can be an individual blog on each number of each checklist. What I wanted to provide was a direct application of body organization to lifts, that can be used constantly in everyday life. Organizing the hips and shoulders are truly movement basics, but that does not mean they are easy. So next time you pick up that kettlebell, or bench press on a Friday evening, think of how you have organized your body to accomplish the task. Then think: “How can I do better next time?” – Alex Friedman

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