Thursday, 15 October 2009

How drive-time can help you improve your posture.

Driving and Evolution
We didn't evolve to sit in a car-seat or chair of any kind. When our forbears wanted to sit, they squatted, as they still do in many chairless cultures. We've done without chairs for millions of years, and only had them for a few centuries, yet now most of us spend the greater part of our days in something that requires us to flex our hips at a right angle.

We've all felt achy and stiff after a long drive, and to be honest, this post probably won't completely alter that experience. But I hope you might find some ideas that you can use to make the most of a sedentary experience.

So you've got a seat, a head rest, a steering wheel, and some pedals. What can you do with that driving/exercise equipment?

Safety first: these exercise ideas are meant to be carried out when your car is stationary, hand-brake on.

Back rest
Let's start with the back-rest. Most car seats these days are pretty well-designed to support the spine, following the curves of the lumbar area, the ribs, and a head rest (for adequate whiplash support the bottom of this should be in line with your ears, according to But you might notice that quite a lot of people don't use it. They incline forward, quite a lot. Sometimes that's accompanied by aggressive driving......... So my first suggestion is to use your back rest, if you don't already, to rest your back.

Correct angle?
Make sure that the angle of your seat is slightly larger than 90% for your comfort, and in order to avoid excessive hip flexion, which helps lead to tight hip flexors (the muscles which connect your thighs to your pelvis and spine).

Adequate seating?

Be aware of how the contours support your spine, and if they don't, and you spend a lot of time driving, you should consider changing either your car, or getting a seat support such as those featured here

Use your back rest to help you improve your breathing
I use my back rest to help me breathe into my back.........I've got a fairly flat thoracic (rib-cage) section in my back, and I don't naturally use this back section of my lungs to their full capacity. So when I'm stuck in traffic jams, I settle into my seat and direct my breathing into my back : I can feel my inter-costal (between the rib) muscles expand, and contract here, and it helps me to correct my posture.

Strengthen your neck
You can use your head rest to push your head back into - keep your chin slightly tucked and check that you are neither looking up nor down, and press the centre of the back of your head into the head restraint on an exhale, releasing on an inhale.
This is a good exercise if you have a head poke position, as it strengthens the back of your neck, helping to bring the head back to its optimum position.


I sometimes teach self-massage techniques in class, and when we compare before and after on the flexibility of our shoulders for example, it's amazing how effective a couple of minutes gentle massaging of the joints is. For example you can take your right hand, and work your fingers along your collar bone from where it starts, just under your chin and to the left, along to the tip of the shoulder, and round the shoulder joint, following the seam of your clothing. Squeeze and release down your arm, all the way down to your hand. It passes the time when stuck at the traffic lights.

You can also massage your jaw and help it release: the muscles which connect your upper and lower jaw, are pound for pound, the strongest in the body. Very often these muscles are tight, and over-used, and can lead to a stiff neck (try your movement quality as you turn your head from side to side with gritted teeth and then again with a relaxed jaw.) . Take your middle fingers from your temples and stroke fairly firmly down your cheek to your lower jaw, and then gently down your neck. Compare the two sides.

Your steering wheel.......
should be held, not gripped! Both hands on the wheel of course, and at 10 to 2, or 20 to 4, but check that your shoulders are not up by your ears as you drive.
Again, when stationary, you can use the wheel as a piece of exercise equipment. Check your shoulders are wide and released down your back. Clasp the wheel, but not tightly, and be aware of your shoulders drawing into your rib cage, like a pair of suckers. This exercise will help to improve the stability of your shoulders, and help prevent injury.

Leg position
Your knees should be slightly bent. And check that you are not allowing your foot and leg to be rolled out - ie resting on the outside of the foot. This places excess tension on the muscles on the outside of your legs, which then pull on the hips and low back.

Regular Rests

By that I mean rest from sitting! As often as you can, stop, and get out and stretch your legs. If you stay in any one position for too long (more than half and hour or so), your fascia (soft tissue) sets, a bit like a jelly setting. The longer the sit, the stiffer the jelly, and the more uncomfortable you will be. My brother-in-law once gave a young man a lift in the back of his car, after a rugby match. The lad was very tall, and despite many enquiries as to whether he had enough leg room, protested that he was quite comfortable. There was an hour and a half's drive. On arrival, the door was opened for him, and he fell out, having completely set in his contorted sitting position.

Bear in mind that because our bodies have this tendency to set in whichever position we have stayed in, our seated posture will have an influence on our standing and walking posture. So if you drive with your shoulders tense, your jaws clamped with rage, your head poked forward, your posture is not going to be great when you get out of the car.