POSTURAL ENDURANCE: What it is, why you need it, and how to build it

June 1, 2018

I am standing here in the tent-city at the end of our Kalamazoo marathon (which, for the record, I cannot say that I ran) and I’m watching the next wave of tired runners go by.   At a marathon, it’s all about endurance, training the body over weeks and weeks (and sometimes years and years) to handle a sustained load to the cardiovascular system and all the major running muscles.   As I watch the runners push along, though, showing all this endurance for which they’ve worked so hard, I notice that something is missing from this picture.  About 75% of the runners run by with their heads drooping, their backs rounded, their shoulders slumped.  It looks painful.  Their lungs and legs have endured the race, but their posturecertainly has not.    Add impact over a few hours to that fallen posture and you have a perfect recipe for excessive spinal stress with multiple joint compensations, arthritis, headaches, and even rotator cuff injury!  The longer the run with these less-than-ideal conditions, the greater the destructive potential;  in fact with every couple inches that the head drifts forward, its force pulling down and forward grows exponentially so that by the end of the race a head that really only weighs twelve pounds exerts a whopping 50 pound force on the back and neck!   Ouch.  Not a runner?  This applies to you, too.  We ALL need postural endurance to simply get through our relatively seated/sedentary days without the erosion of healthy alignment.

If you can’t hold up that noggin’ all day, the stress on the spine doubles and triples!

 

The question is, what can you do about it?  Maybe you’re already aware that your posture needs improvement and every time you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror you straighten up, only to slump again when you’re not paying attention.   Because your postural support has to last until you lie down at the very end of the day every single day, it’s important to train it with specificity to the task at hand.  In other words, if you are looking to gain endurance, the training exercise needs to be one that emphasizes and challenges endurance.   For posture, you could train it by walking around in front of a mirror all day and working on it, but that’s not practical (or desirable) for most people.   The next best thing you can do will be to add a little bit of additional load to what the postural muscles have to do and then sustain that over a relatively extended time.   According to the Sorensen test, a standard in muscle endurance testing for the back extensors, a person should be able to hold a prone back extension for around 170 seconds; anything lower would correlate to a higher risk of low-back pain and dysfunction (https://www.sralab.org/rehabilitation-measures/beiring-sorensen-test).

Do this back extension for 170 seconds regularly to build your postural endurance. Make sure to breathe as deeply as you can.

To work on your postural endurance, just get down on the floor on your tummy and reach your arms back by your hips.   Next, lift your chest, your head, and your arms up off the floor by engaging your back muscles toward the middle.   Hold as long as you can, breathing deeply.   Every day you can add a few seconds to your time.    Done with regularity, this exercise will remind the weak links in that rear chain that they need to wake up and do their jobs.  Soon, standing up tall will require lots less effort.  If you do happen to be a runner, this sustained realignment will allow the body’s wonderful fascial net of connective tissue to not only receive and transfer any impact safely and efficiently but will also put you in better shape to pull ahead of the pack!

For more posture practice, visit THEBODYGEEKS  channel on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7WE2EBDBp0) and check out our podcast at https://www.thebodygeeks.com/ or on Soundcloud 

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