If we look at people who work at a desk all day this constant leaning over position could develop an exaggerated kyphotic curve in the mid-spine area which can lead to all sorts of problems, one being back pain. This is due to certain muscles within this region becoming short and tight and others becoming long and stretched. Poor posture can also result from lifestyles choices such as standing all day or carrying a baby on the same hip all the time. One way to help these groups of people is to encourage them to think about good posture, core activation and effective breathing. The following points can be considered when walking:
- Eye line – avoid looking down at the ground when walking. Try and look to the horizon (where possible), chin pointing down and tucked in slightly to keep the neck/upper spine in neutral. This will reduce neck pain – remember, we are carrying our heads which weight about 10 pounds!
- Shoulders and shoulder blades – we have heard the term ‘stick your chest out’. Well, we do want to lift the chest but we don’t want to encourage arching our backs which could create an exaggerated lordotic curve. However, if you retract the scapulae slightly this will ‘lift’ the chest and draw it down slightly, which is a good position to be in. This will also assist in tightening the stretched muscles. Many people suffer from a rounded kyphotic position so stretch the tight muscles such as the pectorals and anterior deltoids
- Back straight – think about standing tall, lengthen the spine and lift up. Try and avoid sticking your bottom out, keep the hip bones level to keep the pelvis in neutral
- Tummy muscles – imagine you have a put a belt on and have done it up one hole tighter than normal. Pulling in the naval will not only give you a smaller looking tummy area and waist but will exercise the rectus abdominis as well as activate the TVA muscles which will take the pressure off the back. This will seem strange to some people but eventually the abdominals will become stronger and it will become automatic
- Foot strike – lead with the heel and roll through the foot onto the ball of the foot and push off using the toes. Placing the toes/ball of the foot down first can put additional stress on the knees and ankle joints. Walking barefoot is great but not always possible so check that appropriate and fitted shoes are worn so that the feet can move inside the shoe/trainer
- Facing forward – check that the knees and feet are facing forward
- Breathing – this will help relax tense muscles and you will take in more oxygen with longer deeper breathing
- Bag carrying – try and use a rucksack on long walks as this will distribute the weight evenly across the back as opposed to a shoulder bag
- Baby carrying – for younger children try and use a carrier or sling on the front or back as this will also distribute the weight evenly. If you tend to carry baby or toddler on a hip then try and swap regularly. This will seem strange initially but will help your back no end!
- Arms – if your arms are free then swing them at 90°
Walking is a great way to exercise and complements Pilates as well. Both will improve posture and muscle tone. According to the National Health Service, regular brisk walking increases cardiovascular fitness, creates a faster metabolism and improved bone density and a decreased risk of illnesses such as coronary heart disease and diabetes. If you are a Pilates teacher then why not take your participants out for a walk on occasions as part of your session and teach them to walk the Pilates way. Your clients will notice the benefits very quickly.