I had an idea while walking home from the grocery store with my backpack full of groceries. As I walked, I suddenly became aware of how heavy the pack was, and that it was causing me to lean forward at the hips (shortening my hip flexors) and to curl my shoulders forward (shortening my pectoral muscles). This is not great posture, especially for people who spend a lot of time sitting (with shortened hip flexors) at a computer (with forward shoulders).
For people who wear backpacks, even while walking upright, the natural tendency is toward this very same poor postural position. This “back pack posture” is very common in today’s society, and is often associated with low back and neck problems.
In fact this “backpack posture” basically describes both of the poor postural patterns described by the late Vladimir Janda:
- Lower crossed (forward shoulders and associated shortened pectorals and lengthened mid and lower traps (back muscles)
- Upper crossed: shortened hip flexors and lengthened gluteals (buttocks).
Both “crossed syndromes” are very common, and very problematic. One of the major contributors is the time we spend sitting at our desks. We can try to improve our seated posture, but sitting at a desk is an unfortunate reality of our society. But we can make other changes.
I discovered that a small change in how we wear our back packs can help. Take a look at this video to see what I mean:
What if we wore our back packs (knapsack?) on our chests? People do this sometimes when they travel to locations where they are concerned about theft. But what if this became the norm for postural reasons?
After I noticed my posture, I moved the pack to my front for the remainder of the walk home. It only took a few seconds before I felt taller. I could actually feel my back muscles working to stabilize me. When I lost my posture and started to let my shoulders round, the back pack became a bit loose and was awkward to wear, which immediately made me shift my shoulders back. Amazing.
For those of you who are geeks like me, the rationale and the thought process behind this experiment is called reactive neuromuscular training, or RNT. It is a tool that most good personal trainers and physical therapists use to address dysfunctional movement. It is based on the premise that if the body is moved too far into a bad position, the brain will activate the necessary muscles to get back in balance.
Here is an example of how we use RNT in training: We often come across people whose knees cave in when they squat or during a leg press. Often trainers will place a ball between the knees to put the knees into proper alignment. But that approach is wrong! It does get them in proper alignment while the ball is between the legs, but it does nothing to correct the poor movement that caused the knees to collapse. In fact it is actually encouraging the knee to collapse even further. The muscles that were overactive to cause the collapse are now squeezing the ball – so they are even more active!
If we attach a band around the knees so that it pulls the knees further into collapse, guess what happens? Your brain has a safety mechanism – it doesn’t want to go too far into collapse – it doesn’t like to lose balance. So the brain will signal the muscles that move the knee outward to turn on, and they will resist the band. This is a very cool feature of the body! If you are skeptical, give it a try.
RNT is why the knapsack on the front is a good idea. When you wear the knapsack on the front, it pulls the shoulders too far forward for your brain’s liking, and so it signals the back muscles to start working, bringing your shoulders back into proper posture.
There are two downsides that I can see. First, if you have had forward shoulder posture for a long time, then you may find these postural muscles get tired very quickly because they have been inactive for a long time. If you find this, move into the front back approach gradually. The second downside is that you look might look a bit goofy. Is that too big a price to pay for good posture? Hopefully not! Maybe the cool kids will adopt it; the pants worn below the bum thing suggests they like to adopt goofy looks.
I will finish by pointing out that this is an idea I had. A theory. I am curious to hear comments about this theory. And I’m hoping that it is actually an original idea!
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