It’s a simple thing: carry a weight on one side of the body and that weight is pulling you that way; to stop ourselves falling over, we have to tighten up muscles on the opposite side of the body.
All in alignment. In order to stop falling over backwards, the man in the picture above has to tighten up his chest, round his shoulders and poke his head forwards. Whatever we do is what we get good at, be that physical or mental. Which means the occasional use of a backpack for carting heavy stuff about will make us feel temporarily horrible, but we will recover. Do this as part of the daily grind and all it can lead to is pain and a compromised posture. How we overcome the daily insult of stuff carrying – including carrying a baby on one hip or a handbag on one shoulder – is surprisingly individual. Overcome it we do, but at a price.
What to do? There are choices. If we have to use a backpack source one like those made by Osprey – these are like mini huge rucksacks, so can be adjusted to fit snugly, spreading the weight more evenly. If I’m having to lug stuff about I use my small wheelie suitcase you take on board a plane – and I swap hands regularly. You can even get spinner versions, so you are not dragging it behind you.
Handbags on one shoulder or arm cause issues: the picture to the right clearly shows her tightening up the side opposite to her handbag. If she always carries it in the crook of her arm, her poor left bicep will get extremely tight – and that hurts. If you look very closely, you’ll see her left shoulder is hitching up. Now if very tight on one side, carrying a handbag on that tight side can be therapeutic since it forces the weaker side into action. And indeed, a good exercise is to carry something in your hand, weighing up to 1kg, on the tight side.
Solutions for handbag wearers is to carry it in your hand on the tighter side – or swap hands regularly; sling the handbag across the body; use as small a handbag as you can so you are not carting unnecessary stuff about. Use a shopping trolley…..
Back squats also cause big physical problems, again because the weight is pulling you over backwards, so you are forced to tighten up the front. At the bottom point of the squat (hips lower than knees), your chin is in neutral, upper body is fairly upright and in no way stooped, meaning you maintain spinal alignment throughout the movement. Much safer to work on are the front loaded alternatives: the front squat, the goblet squat, the deadlift or the cable squat and there is also the dumbell squat. The front loaded alternatives clearly activate the muscles of the upper back particularly, to stop you falling on your nose.
Standing up straight is not easy for us Westerners, given lifestyle and the joys of commuting. But there are things we can do on a daily basis to help – and there are many things we do to make things much worse. It is a matter of choice.