The smart phone revolution
Look around you, count how many mobile phones you see. No doubt it will be a few, whether you’re working out in the gym, commuting on the train or waiting in line for a coffee. Almost everyone, and that’s everyone in London, has a mobile phone which has replaced many regular day to day objects. This makes our lives fast paced, efficient and easily connected with the world but is our posture paying a physical price?
Smart phone vs physical activity
With making calls the sixth most used feature on a phone, it’s obvious we spend more time looking down at our screens to check social media or surf the web. These activities are not quick bursts, suggesting that the 90 minutes on average we spend on our phone each day is a fair estimation. This doesn’t sound like a lot, maybe the same time you spend watching a few episodes your favourite boxset, however this adds up to 10.5 hours each week that you look at your phone!
If we take exercise, the UK guidance for physical activity is 150 minutes each week. Even if you’re super keen with workouts of two hours a day, four times a week, you still spend more time on your phone, potentially in a sustained position that could be having a lasting effect on your posture.
The “iHunch”* (A not so smart posture)
Your head is heavier than you think and holding it suspended in front of you, can cause significant strain on your cervical spine (neck) extensors, leading to muscle tightness & potentially headaches. Likewise sitting with your chin poked out in front of you can cause your neck flexors to become weak and less effective, making it easier for your body to adopt this unhelpful position. Both these positions can cause excess stress on certain joints in your cervical spine, causing a reduction in mobility and potentially pain.
This can lead to an increased kyphosis (rounding of your upper back) to compensate which can cause the muscle in your back to become elongated and weak. These muscles are referred to as postural muscles, whose job it is to keep you upright, however they become ineffective & promote a slouched posture. These muscles can also start to fatigue quickly, which means trying to sit upright for longer takes a lot more effort and thought! The muscles in your chest and front of your shoulders may also become shortened and tight.
Seems like a bit of vicious cycle right? The more you practice this posture, the better you get at it, which may lead to discomfort or even pain.
What else can my posture effect?
Your posture doesn’t just effect the structures of your body…
Mood and stress
Studies have shown that people with slouched postures can have a tendency to low mood and negative view points, compared to their upright sitting counterparts. In a stressful situation, e.g. a job interview, people with upright postures were more positive in their answers and able to better manage the stress.
A study found that when performing focused tasks people made 3 times more mistakes if they received a notification on their phone, even if they didn’t look at it. It only takes a second to look, but your concentration can be affected for much longer.
Interaction with others
The slouched posture you adopt when using your phone can make you less assertive in interacting with people, which isn’t surprising considering the effect in can have on your mood.
How is using my phone effecting my workouts?
The changes that occur to your body may be effecting your ability to have a safe and effective workout.
Chest: With shortening of the muscles in the front of your chest such as pectoralis major, it may be difficult to hold a bar behind your head for squats or cause you to work in a reduced range of movement in the bench or chest press.
Neck: When some muscles become weak, others can become overactive to pick up the slack for example upper trapezius. If you’re doing lots of shrugs you could be overusing this area causing it to lack flexibility and could lead to tension headaches.
Upper spine / shoulder blades: If the postural muscle in your back are fatigued such as paraspinals, latissimus dorsi and rhomboids, you’re potentially going to find it difficult to maintain good form in squats or deadlifts. You may also find deadlifts cause back pain, as you’re weighting muscle which just can’t hack the load.
Wrist and arms: If you’re experiencing pain in the hands, thumb or forearm from the repetitive strain of texting, you may find it uncomfortable to grip weights or bars. This can significantly impact your lifting ability.
Respiratory function: There is some evidence to say that a slumped posture can impact on your respiratory function. The joints in your spine and around the ribs can become stiff making it uncomfortable to fully expand your rib cage and lungs. This can decrease your respiratory capacity during cardiovascular exercise and make it difficult to get the best results.
Fatigue: Your phone may not only effect physical fatigue, but also mental fatigue. Heavy technology use has been linked to altered sleep patterns, meaning that you may not be as well rested for your workout as you thought. Also, although our phones provide us with the perfect workout playlist, they could be causing you to get distracted from your workout. Who knows what this might do to your form, concentration and ultimately safety in the gym.
Making smart choices to help change your posture
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*Credit to Steve August, a New Zealand Physiotherapist for the “iHunch” phrase!