Keyboard Placement and Sitting “Straight” Are Killing Our Backs

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We’re entrenched in bad posture habits. So why aren’t we doing anything to fix it?

Bad posture

Most of us have vivid memories from childhood of a slap on the wrist, whether from our parents or a teacher, accompanied by some variation on the phrase “sit up straight!” Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work – we’re a nation of slouchers. Putting the disappointment of our mothers aside for a moment, there are real reasons to start taking our posture seriously as adults. Bad posture only begets worse posture, which can contribute to a myriad of health issues that take a major toll on businesses in terms of healthcare costs, performance and productivity. Back problems cost U.S. companies an estimated $100-200 billion annually, and research has shown that our bad posture can contribute to low libido, make us look lazier, shorter and heavier than we are, and even take 5 years off our lives!

But how does it get that bad? For most of us, it starts in the office. People who work at computers spend an average of 38 minutes out of every hour in bad posture – this clearly isn’t setting a good precedent, and only reinforces bad habits. Between misunderstandings about what constitutes “good posture,” keyboards and monitors poorly placed on desks that aren’t the right height, and “ergonomic” chairs that are all too comfortable to slouch in, we’re entrenched in bad posture habits. So why aren’t we doing anything to fix it?

Well, old habits die hard. On top of that, the solutions on the market right now ask too much of us: uncomfortable wearables and time-consuming seminars that expect us to take their laundry list of exercises home with us just don’t fit into the average working person’s routine. With all of that working against us, how do we start to get better? Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Here are a few tips that companies rolling out wellness programs can offer to their workforces.

Be comfortable

Unfortunately, some of the traditional advice that we associate with good posture involves forcing ourselves into positions that are actually pretty uncomfortable. This really shouldn’t be the case. Any time you’re uncomfortable, something is wrong. If something hurts, it’s time to readjust.

Good posture

Get your butt into position

It all starts with your butt. If you sit “on your butt bones” per se, you shouldn’t have to expend energy holding yourself up. First lift your butt to the back of your chair and face your pelvis forward, and then sit down–that way the chair holds your pelvis in the right place.

Don’t sit up straight

Yes, you read that right! We’re all taught to lift our chest and hold our shoulders back. That’s wrong–it starts with placing your butt in the right place. The spine is tricky because when you “sit up straight” you’re actually arching your back backwards. That makes your back tight and tips your vertebrae. The bottom line, no pun intended, is that sitting up straight is bad for your back–once you get your butt in the right place, you actually go down a little in the front. Correct posture is relaxed, when the bones are positioned right they hold your body weight and allow the muscles to relax.

Position your keyboard

You’ll never be comfortable unless your keyboard is in the right place. To figure out where your keyboard goes, drop your arms down to your side, let them hang and relax, and relax your shoulders. Bend your elbows and let your fingers curve so your lower arm is at a right angle from your upper arm (no floppy wrists, keep your hand straight out from the arm). Where your fingertips are, that’s where your keyboard should be (and, unfortunately, almost nobody has their keyboard there!). You’ll notice that as you move your arms out a foot or so to where most people keep them, they get heavier–that’s uncomfortable and bad for you, leading to shoulder, arm, hand problems and upper back problems. Just like sitting, typing should also be effortless.

A close up of bad screen posture

Bend at your hips, not your spine

A general tip is to make sure that any and all bending occurs at your hip and not your spine. When you bend at your hip and sit at the bottom of your butt, with the back of the chair holding your butt in place, you are ready. If you sit forward in the chair your pelvis will flap backwards.

Roll your shoulders

Take your right shoulder, pick it up and drop it down. Repeat with the left, but do them separately. Back up your adam’s apple and bring your face towards your throat a little. But relax while you’re doing it–don’t stress out, or do anything that feels uncomfortable, because that’ll just make you tense, which is the opposite of what good posture brings.

Stick to a routine

Trying to focus on anything all the time can be exhausting, and this is no less true for posture. After all, if you were doing strength training, you wouldn’t lift weights all the time. Likewise, if you set aside a modest amount of time each day–say 15 minutes–to focus on good posture, you’ll find that after a few days your body will start to naturally hold a correct and healthy position, even when you’re not thinking about posture at all.

Be patient

It takes time to change a habit like poor posture. So when you catch yourself slipping into old habits, instead beating yourself up for forgetting, congratulate yourself for remembering that you are in bad posture. It’s better to to do it regularly then it is to do it for a long period of time–it’s not something to be endured, it’s something to enjoy.

Correct and incorrect posture

Get motivated

Finally, you have to want to do it for yourself, so focus on how this is going to benefit you. If you’re having trouble here are a few benefits of good posture to keep in mind. Good posture can:

  • Replace pain, discomfort, fatigue and stress with energy, relaxation and confidence.
  • Make you more focused, positive, creative, sharp and productive at work–that means you’ll be better at your job, and reap all the benefits that come along with improved performance.
  • Make you instantly look taller and slimmer, with a better butt, and project more confidence, feeling more powerful. In fact, good posture can make you look five pounds lighter instantly.
  • Make you more motivated and energized to pursue other great things in your career and personal life, including activities that further boost your overall health and well-being.

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to leverage sheer vanity–when you see other people looking like cashews wrapped around an LED display, let that serve as a reminder that you don’t want to look like that too! In sum, 15 minutes a day practicing good posture is a small investment with big payoffs, both for individuals and for their companies.

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  1. Great article, Jean! I was thinking the other day about the impact of our posture since my company has pretty long presentations on a weekly basis. Sometimes these presentations can be in the upwards of 1hr to 2hrs. Currently we sit on these chairs ( we picked up, but I’ve been debating suggesting a visual method to suggest everyone stand at different intervals. Thoughts?


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