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How much should I care about my posture?

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Posture Is More Important Than You Think

"The more well-balanced and developed the muscles are that dictate alignment, the further you can push the envelope," says Andrew Wolf, an exercise physiologist at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. You'll be better able to lift heavy objects, sprint or change directions explosively, and fully utilize your diaphragm for proper breathing if you're not wasting energy on inefficient posture. "I've seen athletes who have made adjustments of just a millimeter or two at the spinal level, and it turns out to be the difference between being able to lift 300 pounds and being able to lift 350 pounds," says Carl Paoli, professional gymnast, CrossFit coach, and author of Free+style: Maximum Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements, agrees.

There's the scare tactic, too: poor posture causes muscles to tighten and work overtime. "For the 20-something athlete, [bad] posture is not a life or death issue—but in the context of a long life filled with athletic pursuit, it takes on additional gravitas," says Wolf. "Voila, you have the beginnings of chronic pain."

Beware the Turtle Head

"Very few people have their ear canals directly over the center of their shoulders," Wolf says. "Most of us have 'turtle head,' with our heads way out in front of our shoulders." This puts unnecessary strain on the back and neck, and leaves the spine in a weakened position, more vulnerable to injuries.

Fix this where you're most at risk of slumping. If you spend hours in the car each day, pay attention to sitting upright and keeping your head over your shoulders while you drive. If you sit (or stand!) at a desk job from 9 to 5, take a break at least every 30 minutes to do one minute of forward and backward shoulder circles and chin retractions. "Keep your head level but try to move it backward relative to your shoulder—it's like giving yourself a major double chin," Wolf says.

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