Category: Lifestyle

How “Fixing Your Posture” Could be Causing Your Back Pain and What to Do About It


Earlier this year I made a post called 4 Tips to Get More Flexible Without Stretching, and the #1 item on the list was to improve your posture. This post offers a deeper dive into posture, how some “fixes” can actually create back pain, and a checklist with alternatives.

We all know that hunching over like a buzzard is not good for us. The “tech neck”, rounded back, forward-thrusted head, and drooping shoulders characteristic of our modern lifestyle is obviously problematic. But how do you fix it? What should you do instead?

The most common “fix” that I see is to thrust the chest forward, lift the chin, and pull the shoulders “down and back” like a proud peacock. While this posture may work for peacocks, it isn’t so great for human anatomy and can actually cause more chronic pain, especially in the mid and upper back.

This tutorial is a little step-by-step bottom-up checklist for getting your bones stacked up and your muscles gently but firmly engaged for relaxed, healthy, mobile posture.

It is important to note that “perfect” posture is not a requirement for health or the same for all bodies. There is tremendous variety in the way our bodies are formed so this might not be what is optimal for you. This is just a set of guidelines you can use to check in with your body if you are having back pain or if you notice that your posture is feeling weird.

Posture Checklist to Align Your Spine

1. Notice How your Posture is Now

The textbooks have some guidelines for correct posture that I take as a loose jumping-off point, understanding that all bodies are different. Look for the landmarks of your ear, your shoulder bone, bone on the outside of your hip (the greater trochantur of the femur), the middle of the knee, and the ankle bone and get them all lined up one on top of the other.

Noticing where you deviate from this vertical line can help you identify some postural corrections that might help with chronic pain or tightness.

2. Check Your Pelvic Bones

All of us have different sizes and shapes for our hips, butt and bellies that make our posture look different, and that is part of what keeps the world interesting! Instead, I like to assess pelvic position using the bones, since those tend to be more (but by no means completely) consistent.

The two hip bones in the front (the anterior superior illiac spine or ASIS for those who care) and the pubic bone make a downwards-facing triangle in the front of the hips. With some variation for anatomy, you want to make these boney landmarks flat and symmetrical with each other so that the pelvis isn’t tilted side-to-side or front-to-back.

This generally involves a gentle engagement of the muscles of the pelvic floor and the illiopsoas. I have a number of workouts on pelvic stability if this feels mysterious and inaccessible for you and you can see how this looks in the video below at 2:00 minutes.

3. Engage Your Meat Corset

The meat corset is my fond nickname for a triple-layered band of muscles that wraps around your waist like a corset made of you. The transverse abdominus, internal obliques, and external obliques are a vital set of postural muscles, and like all postural muscles they are ideally awake and responsive almost all the time.

You can feel your meat corset by putting your hands on your waist and coughing or laughing. For postural work these muscles only need to be awake and lightly engaged. The “suck in your gut” cue that I loathe does not encourage sustainable posture, and endless crunches aren’t going to help either. I find that breathwork can be a good entrée to building that healthy meat corset structure.

Again, check out some of my workouts for some meat corset strengthening ideas and see the visual at 2:50 in the video below.


3. Open The Shoulders Without Squishing the Shoulder Blades

Forward rounded shoulders are the scourge of modernity, with so many of us sitting hunched over keyboards, phones, steering wheels, gaming consoles, textbooks, food preparation, sewing machines, antique scrolls, you name it. As previously stated, the common “fix” of thrusting the chest forward, squeezing the shoulder blades together, and lifting the chin is suboptimal. It strains and compresses the muscles of the upper back in a way they will not enjoy long-term and can create ongoing back pain if you try to maintain it.

Those gimmicky postural aides that encourage squeezing your shoulder blades together are just going to create a host of new issues for you.

The trick with shoulder blades is actually to pull them apart, while externally rotating the shoulder socket. This will get your upper back engaged sustainably while opening up the front of the chest and shoulder, and stacking that shoulder joint over your hip.

For an exercise to help you find this tricky position, please check out the video embedded below. For this specific tutorial skip to 4:00.


4. Stack that Ear

The head and neck come last, stacking them comfortably over the nice foundation you just built along the rest of your spine.

Many of us have a forward thrust to our head, so that the ear habitually sits in front of the shoulder instead of over it (see previous list of reasons). This position makes the neck muscles have to work much, much harder to hold up that heavy coconut of a head.

My favorite quick exercise to start to bring that head back in line is to interlace the finger into a basket cupping the back of the head, elbows wide, and gently press the head and hands together, feeling the inspiration of the muscles in both the upper back and the front of the neck. The chin should not be lifted or dropped, but remain parallel to the floor.

For that tutorial, skip to 6:30 in the video below.


Now What? Why is Good Posture so Awkward?

The first time I ran through this checklist and tried to align my posture correctly I got mad. How the hell was I supposed to walk around like this? It felt foreign, difficult, and uncomfortable.

The good news is that perfect posture is not a requirement for a rich, full, happy life or even for pain-free mobility. Like so many other things in life it is pretty much always a work in progress, something you chip away at, check in on, and use as a tool when you need it. If your current posture doesn’t cause you problems and is working for you, you may not need to change it. If you start to have pain, then running this checklist may provide relief.

When I was really dedicated to improving my posture to address my hypermobile back and a lower back pain I set an alarm on my phone to go off every hour on the hour to remind me to run through the check list. After a while I didn’t need the checklist, my body just started to remember to do it.

My posture now definitely isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that I don’t have back pain any more and I still run through the check list if I’m on my feet for a long time or feel like I need it. It’s change the way that I walk and run, and vastly improved my forward bending which was always pretty crappy.

I hope this checklist is useful for you too!

Happy Bendings,



How to Get More Flexible: 4 Basic Tips for All Levels

When I tell humans out in the world what I do I’m often asked—usually after a glum confession to being “the tightest person in the world”—what a person needs to do to get more flexible. It’s funny, because people don’t usually ask that about how to get stronger, or how to get faster, or better at a sport.

But flexibility is still cloaked in mystery. The old school approach to flexibility, suffering in a stretch until you get sick of it and give up, is understandably unpopular and lots of people don’t know what to do instead.

So here are four tips that can help to improve your flexibility without stretching. If you add some stretching on top of that (our classes and videos can give you some idea how to approach it in an effective, safe way) then that’s gravy. But these four tips alone can increase your range of motion and reduce pain and tightness.

1. Improve your Posture

Our posture has a huge effect on muscle functionality, tightness, and flexibility. Most of us only spend a small percentage of our day training, and for the rest of it we are mostly sitting and standing. So the way that we sit and stand is inevitably influential on our training.

Optimal posture stacks the body with the major joints in a straight, vertical line. This takes advantage of the bones balancing on one another to minimize the amount of work that our muscles have to do to hold us up. When we deviate from that vertical line with a forward thrusted head, an over-arched back, or forward rounded shoulders, muscles are called into play to offset that weight shift. After a while, the muscles get resentful and will become tight and cranky.

Learning how to stack your major joints as best as you can—ear over shoulder over hip socket over knee over ankle—will reduce tightness and thereby improve flexibility.

2. Move!

Our bodies are designed to move. Modern lifestyle has created immense conveniences that enable us to be sedentary and supported most of the time. This convenience takes a toll on our bodies by reducing the amount that we use our full capabilities.

It is extremely beneficial to move through your body’s full range of motion every day. This isn’t some big deal deep stretch session, it’s a gentle exploration of the ways that your body moves comfortably. Circle through every joint in your body, allowing them to move to their end range. I find that this is particularly effective when you first wake up to counter the stiffness of sleeping.

If you go for long enough without using a range of motion, you start to lose it, and losing range is a major cause of long-term pain and that general creakiness we associate with age. Check out my Full Body Stretch: Mild and Mellow for a super gentle full body ROM routine.

3. Targeted Strengthening

The myth is that strength and flexibility are opposing forces and you have to give up one to get the other. In fact, weakness can be a root cause of tightness. Many chronically tight muscles are not tight because they are too strong, they are tight because they are weak. Or they are tight because other muscles around them are weak so they are overworked and resentful (see the previous section on posture).

Figuring out which muscles on your body are sleepy, unenthusiastic, and just generally under performing and gently strengthening them through their full range of motion can make dramatic changes in your flexibility. Our video workouts and classes at Fit & Bendy include targeted strengthening for parts of the body that are commonly underperforming on a lot of our clients. This strength training enhances our active and passive stretching.

4. Water!

Every structure in our body is coated in a thin layer of fascia. This fascia also creates our tendons and ligaments, and separates one muscle from another. In a healthy, hydrated body there is a nice slimy layer of goo coating the sheets and cords of fascia, allowing the muscles and tendons and ligaments to slide along each other for ease of movement.

When we are dehydrated, this goo dries up and turns into more of a paste. The fascia doesn’t slide very well, and it can get completely stuck together. If you leave it stuck for too long it becomes increasingly difficult to unstick it. There are various techniques for unsticking fascia including ball rolling, myofascial release massage, and Structural Integration. But the best thing you can do is stay juicy by drinking lots of water. The minimum is 8 glasses per day, but you should consider more if flexibility is a goal.

Plus there are so many additional benefits to being hydrated. It’s an all-around win!

These four steps are useful for anyone concerned with flexibility and improved body mechanics, whether you are training like a maniac, brand new, or anything in between. Take the time, using these tips and as a jumping off point, to get to know your body and the root causes of tightness. Everyone is different, so if you understand your own body well, you can find the methods that will give you the best results.

Happy Bendings!


3 Things You Should Know About Shoulder Anatomy to Address Shoulder Pain

When I first injured my right shoulder in 2010 I joined the ranks of circus performers, acrobats, dancers, and athletes with shoulder injuries. I was bummed out, but far from alone. It is one of the most common sites for pain and injury for anyone who engages in vigorous upper body activities from aerial arts to lifting groceries out of the trunk.

And it’s no wonder. Shoulders are a complicated piece of equipment and, even though most of us have them, they didn’t come with an instruction manual. When I started to learn more about how shoulders are constructed I was amazed, and immediately changed the way I was training, stretching, and thinking about shoulder movement.

So here are three things that I wish I had known before I injured my shoulder that have helped me in my rehab process and informed the way I address shoulder pain in my clients.

The Shoulder is Not 1 Joint… It’s 4 Joints!

1. The Sternoclavicular joint is the place where your clavicle meets your sternum, right below your throat. We aren’t going to worry to much about this one because there aren’t a ton of muscles that affect it, but it’s important to know that it exists!

Stylish skeleton showing the sternoclavicular joint

Where the clavical meets the sternum and is attached by some ligaments.

2. The Glenohumeral joint is what we traditionally think of as the shoulder joint, where the arm bone meets the shoulder socket. It is pretty mobile, controlled by the rotator cuff, deltoids, pectorals, and lats. However it is vital to know that the glenohumeral joint, if no other joints are moving, cannot lift your arm above about shoulder height and is pretty limited at bringing your arm behind your back.

Adorable skeleton showing the movement of the glenohumeral joint

The Glenohumeral joint where the Humerous meets the Scapula and Clavical in a ball and socket joint.

3. The Scapular joint is the most mobile part of your shoulder. There is nothing but muscle attaching your scapulae to your back. No bones, no connective tissue, just muscles. The scapulae is primarily controlled by the trapezius (upper, lower, and mid), the levator scapula, the serratus, and the rhomboids. These muscles coordinate in an intricate dance to move the scapulae all over your upper back to position the shoulder socket for optimal arm movement. It is this versatility that gives the shoulder its mobility but also makes it extra tricky to control and understand.*

Adorable skeleton drawing showing the scapulae moving around the back

The scapulae have no bones or ligaments attaching them to the back so they can move around all over the place!

4. The acromioclavicular joint is where the scapula and the clavical come together. Since we don’t have a lot of musclular control of this joint I’m not going to bog us down but it is important to mention that this is another area that can have pain and strains if you aren’t using proper shoulder mechanics.


Only 2 Muscles Attach your Arm to Your Torso, The Rest Attach to the Scapula

So here is this wild, wiggly scapula floating around on your upper back, and the kicker is that the stability of the shoulder is deeply dependent on the stability of this very mobile joint. Only two muscles go directly from the arm bone to the torso. They are big, important muscles though: the pectorals run from the arm bone to the sternum and the latissimus dorsi run from the arm bone all the way down to the base of the spine and the pelvis. These are great muscles for big movements like push-ups and pull-ups, but they aren’t stabilizer muscles.

All of the muscles that provide finer control of the shoulder (the rotator cuff muscles and the deltoids) attach to the scapulae. And that means that no matter how much you strengthen your rotator cuff or pump up those delts, if you don’t have control over your scapulae then you are anchoring those muscles to an unstable surface.

This is why any campaign to improve shoulder health and address shoulder pain must include the muscles of the upper back.


We Must Improve Our Strength, Control, and Mobility in our Upper Back

Almost everyone I work with, myself included, could improve the strength, control, and mobility of our upper back muscles. The scapulae are theoretically capable of amazing ranges of movement and can act as a gorgeous base for shoulder strength and mobility. But poor posture, lack of attention, and just not being aware of what is going on in the back side of our body has a cumulative affect of creating tight, weak, unenthusiastic scapular muscles.

When our scapulae don’t engage and move properly it has a profound effect on the ability of the shoulder to do its thing.

One common example of this is when the scapulae are stuck in an elevated forward rounded position (computer hunch). This means that when we lift our arms over our head to do a pull-up or put dishes away after dinner, our glenohumeral joint, which doesn’t work well one it’s own once the arms are above shoulder height, has to strain past its happy place because it’s not getting the help it needs from the scapular joint. Over time this can lead to the miserable condition known as shoulder impingement and even to tears in the supraspinatus tendon.

That is just one of many sad stories about what can happen with the scapulae aren’t strong and free to do their job.

What I took away from learning all this was that I need to spend much, much more time thinking about my upper back and my scapulae. And that extra time has paid off in reduced shoulder pain, increased stability and mobility, and improved performance overall.

If you are curious about what has worked for me and for my clients, the shoulder series included in the Video Club Membership has a lot of the exercises I love to coordinate between the shoulder joints and build scapular awareness.

Happy Bendings!


*OK, you anatomy experts know I left out the scapuloclavicular joint. This is where the scapula and clavicle come together but since it has very little movement I don’t want to muddy the waters with excess information. But if you have a burning desire to get deep into shoulder anatomy, this is the fourth joint.


2 Exercises to Address Knee Pain in Middle Splits

Middle splits can be beastly. Often we push too far too fast, going past our body’s limits without the proper strength and control. Sometimes this means that we just hate middle splits, but it can also lead to pain and injury if we push too hard.

One of the most common places to feel pain from middle splits is in the knee joint.

There are a few common reasons why this position can have a profound effect on the knees:

1. A lot of folks do not have strong knees when they are completely straight, as they are in middle splits. Even if your knees are strong in a bent position, you may not have worked to strengthen them in full extension.

2. The muscles and fascia along the inside and outside of the knee joint (the sartorius and gracilis on the inside and the IT band attached to the gluteus maximus and tensor fascia latae on the outside) are also hip muscles. That means that hip position affects knee position and if something is pulling at the hip, and the hip is tight, that pulling can radiate down to the knee. If the knee is unstable, it is easily pulled out of alignment.

3. Knees are designed for movement the sagittal plane (forward and back, like when you kick a ball), and a very small amount of rotation, but not at all for side to side. Generally if you see a knee moving sideways, like a pendulum, you’re going to worry about it. The force on the knee joint during middle splits is a shearing force, along that sideways plane. Knees don’t like it and need extra reinforcement to withstand it.

To counteract these effects and protect the knees, one of my first go-to approaches is to practice engaging the knee stabilizing muscles in the quads and hips while finding full extension of the knee.

The two exercises shown in the video below both emphasize the work of the outer quad (the vastus lateralis) and the outside butt/hip muscles (gluteus maximus and TFL) that connect to the knee via the IT band.

I find this approach effective because middle splits put the the inner thigh muscles under a lot of tension, particularly in folks with tight hips. This pulls the knee inwards, bringing it out of alignment. Learning to use the outside butt stabilizes the knee and provides support for the hip, facilitating some ease and lengthening for the inner thighs.

These are great exercises for anyone with knee pain in normal life too. The side butt-to-knee connection is vital to maintaining lower limb stability and prevents the dreaded knee valgus (when the knee collapses in) on squats and lunges.

Some important things to keep in mind when trying out these exercises:

1. Start slow. It’s important to feel the muscles in your outside butt and quads doing the work. If they aren’t used to working like this they may fatigue very quickly and try to outsource their work to other muscles. Keep the work gentle enough, and short sets, to target the desired muscle groups.

2. Straighten your legs all the way when there is no weight on them. The knees are most vulnerable when they are fully extended, especially for us lucky noodles with hyperextended knees. You want to build strength in this position while they aren’t burdened with the extra job of holding you up.

3. If you have knee pain during these exercises, or if these exercises don’t help your knee pain, then it’s important not to keep doing them anyway. Take the time to continue to investigate, and seek out professional help if needed. There are many possible causes of knee pain and these exercises are not going to address all of them, alas.

Check out the video below for the exercises. A band or strap is useful but not necessary to get the most out of this mini-workout.

Be kind to your knees, friends. They are crabby little beasts and when they are out of sorts they can make your life less pleasant!