The other day I shared a brief piece on Facebook about correct posture in common gym exercises, so I thought I’d expand a little more on it for those of you who may find it helpful. Nothing complicated, no fancy words, nothing too technical, just one key piece of advice that covers pretty much all exercises and will help to vastly improve posture during exercises, decreasing your risk of injury and making the exercise much more effective, meaning greater results.
Use your head
Your head is pretty heavy, around 8-12 pounds on average according to various reports. That’s a fairly reasonable chunk of your overall body weight and so its position can have big consequences for the rest of your body. It’s always going to be on top of your shoulders (hopefully) but how you align it during exercises might be more important than you know.
If you’ve watched any fitness DVD, YouTube workout or spent time in a gym, you’ll no doubt have heard the trainer saying ‘keep your head up’ and that’s sort of right, sometimes, but not always.
Your head shouldn’t be up as such, rather it should be ‘in line with your spine’. The top part of your spine, known as the cervical spine, joins with your skull. The top two vertebrae, the ones directly underneath your head, are known as the atlas and axis, and they’re the ones that allow you to move your head up and down and left to right.
Atlas because it’s named after the Greek God that held up the world, just like this vertebra holds up your head. Axis because your head can rotate around on its axis.
What does this mean for movement?
As your head is so heavy, if it drops forwards, this can pull your spine out of its natural curve, rounding your upper back. If it tilts upwards, again you’ll alter your natural curve, this time by excessively arching the lower back.
In everyday life of course you need to move your head up and down; maybe to tie a shoe lace or to look at a bird in the sky, but when we’re loading the spine during exercise, it’s important to keep it in its natural curve and therefore your head position is key.
Let’s give you a few examples of where I see it done wrong and what you’re looking for instead…
You’ll often see someone doing a press-up and lifting their head so it faces forwards, maybe so they can check themselves out in the mirror, or maybe because that’s what the YouTube video showed them to do. In this exercise, the body is parallel to the floor and therefore the head should be the same, facing down and in its natural position above the spine.
Here’s a video of me and Vic doing some press-up variations. notice how the head stays in line with the spine whatever angle we perform the press-up from.
Squats and deadlifts
Similarly in squats and deadlifts, the head should stay in line with the angle of the spine. The difference here of course is that when you do these exercise, the bend at your hips causes your body to fold forwards slightly. That means your head should follow this movement, rather than tilting the head back to continue looking forwards like I see every time I visit a gym. If the neck tilts back, this forces the spine out of its natural alignment and places greater stress on your lower back. Aim to look forwards not up, like in the video below.
The same goes for crunches, back extensions and planks. The head should follow the line of the spine.
Crunches - as the spine bends forwards, the head should follow; at the top of the movement there’ll be a gap between chin and chest about the size of an orange and you’ll probably be looking at roughly the angle where the wall meets the ceiling. People often feel discomfort in their neck during sit-ups and one of the reasons is that they strain from the neck forcing the head upwards toward the sky, out of line with the spine which has flexed.
Plank - just like press-ups, the body is parallel to the floor so the head should stay down, eyes looking at the floor directly below.
Back extensions - in the video below, notice how it’s the lower back that does the lift. Your head does not move, it just stays in line with your spine.
If you’re after one simple way to remember it, that last tip is it…’head in line with spine’. Your head should simply follow where your spine goes, it has to because it’s attached to the top of it. Use your head right and you’re in for a much safer, much more effective workout with less stress on your neck and lower back in particular.