Newsletter #12: How to Improve Your Posture
Welcome back to the Masculinist, the monthly newsletter on the intersection of Christianity and masculinity.
In the Masculinist, I alternate the issue between hard-hitting cultural commentary and practical news you can use for being a better man. Today another installment of the latter with a focus on posture.
Posture – The Key to Improving Masculine Presence
Do you want to have a strong masculine presence when you walk down the street or into a room or stand at the podium? Almost nothing is more important to that than having good posture.
Americans today have terrible posture. You can attribute this to all sorts of things, such as people hunched over computers in the office or bending their neck down to look at their phone. But it’s pretty obvious when you look around. It’s been widely made fun of, such as in those parodies “evolution of man” graphics that show men evolving from a bent-over monkey to an upright human to a bent-over man typing away at his computer.
I long had absolutely horrible posture. I always walked along almost staring at the sidewalk, as if afraid of stepping into a hole or something. As far as I know, I was always like this. I speculate it was because I grew up next to a cow pasture where you really did need to watch where you stepped. But who knows why really.
It took a long time before I even became aware my posture was bad. After I did I tried to fix it. But I just couldn’t do it. I could keep my head up when I was consciously thinking about it, but if I stopped concentrating, I’d immediately revert to craning over and staring at the ground.
About three years ago I stumbled on some techniques that really helped me to fix my problems. I’m by no means perfect and probably never will be. After a lifetime of poor posture, I’ll probably have something of a kyphotic posture forever. But I’m much, much improved.
Good and Bad Posture
Bad posture comes in a variety of forms. There is a graphic at this link. That compares good posture with various forms of poor posture. (I am not embedding it because of copyright. The image is from The Physio Company).
Proper posture is your entire body in a vertical alignment, like someone is pulling you up by a string attached to the top of your head, with your shoulders open and back, head up, and eyes forward.
By contrast, I have traditionally looked like the guy on the right in that image. Note the rounded, slumped shoulders, curved upper back, head forward, and looking down. But also note the tilted hips. Everybody knows that you are supposed to keep your head up, and looks for posture problems in the head and shoulders. But posture problems often start at the hips with a forward or backward tilt.
I believe this kind of poor posture results from two things: habituation, and a weak posterior chain and core. Many of us have had bad posture for so long it’s stamped itself on our body. That habit has to be broken, and the body reshaped to a proper contour. And most men are very weak. Standing up straight requires a strong posterior chain (the muscles on the rear side of your body, such as your back muscles) and core. But most men can’t even do one unassisted pull-up, an exercise heavily reliant on your back muscles.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that even if your posture will never be perfect, you can make massive improvements that will give you a much greater sense of masculine presence and bearing. The bad news is that it takes a while. This is a journey that will take months and, like lifting weights or any other physical fitness activity, be something you need to integrate into your lifestyle forever.
I made good progress in about a year. So that should give you an idea of what’s possible.
Posture is absolutely critical to how you are perceived by others, so this is one you don’t want to overlook or wait to get started on. If your posture is terrible, it will undermine everything else you do when it comes to how others perceive you.
The route to better posture is two-fold. If the key problem is a weak posterior chain and core, you need to strengthen those. You can do them through either a dumbbell/bodyweight program or barbell training. And then you need to focus on consciously reshaping your posture through things like posture stretches, eye contract drills, and making sure to keep checking in on the state of your posture until the good posture is second nature.
As you’ll see, the strengthening exercises are ones you should already be doing as part of your fitness routine. There’s really nothing extra you need to do for posture other than being sure to focus on your posterior chain. So really, better posture is just extra motivation for doing something you ought to already be doing. Get the right workout program going, and the actual number of posture specific activities is low and take very little time.
Strengthening – Bodyweight/Dumbbell Version
This is what I started with. The most critical part of it is strengthening your back, which for most guys is extremely weak. Again, most dudes can’t even do a single pull-up. I know I couldn’t when I started out. It was hugely embarrassing.
The first exercise you want to do is the pull-up or chin-up. You can do them at home on an inexpensive doorframe pull up bar. Can’t do any pull-ups? Use a chair for some assistance. But be super careful with that. Always position one leg to come down on if you fall. When I did these I would do as many as I could unassisted (which at first was zero), then use chair assist for as many more reps as I could, being careful to stop before true failure.
The other key exercises are dumbbell rows – lots and lots of rows. Here’s a video of the two-arm version. And here’s one of a one-armed version. If you don’t have a bench, you can bend over and put your forearm on your knee.
To make this really easy, just do P90X. If you do two or three cycles of this, you’ll be well on your way – and be much more overall physically fit than today. I personally did it. The full P90X routine is too time-consuming to do more than once. For future go-rounds, I just used the three days week weight sessions combined with my own cardio. P90X does a ton of work on your back, core, and rest of your body. It’s not the kind of program you’d do forever, but a couple of rounds of it is a good boot camp.
The beauty of this approach is that you can do it at home, with limited equipment and no formal training.
Strengthening – Barbell Version
A second approach is to use barbell training, specifically the deadlift, squat, and overhead press, along with pull-ups. Nothing strengthens you or adds muscle faster. The deadlift especially is the single best exercise you can do for your posterior chain and posture in my view. The very act of deadlifting is the same muscle pattern you use to snap yourself into erect posture. Here’s an image capture of me near the top of the deadlift.
The other thing about these lifts is that you need to move in perfect alignment with your center of gravity to avoid tipping over. This helps orient you towards good posture and movement too. Here’s an image capture of me in the overhead press. It’s not perfect but illustrates how this lift facilitates good posture.
The core of my workout today is the barbell. With it, you get much, much stronger. The great news is that this is a maintenance workout you can do for a lifetime, and unlike P90X you can keep getting better indefinitely. The downside is that you need either a gym membership or expensive equipment. You also need initial training from someone qualified in order to avoid serious injury. And you have to accept that you’ll gain some fat as you build up during the beginning phases. For that reason, I think what I did works best. Start on P90X to get good baseline fitness and do some weight cutting, then move to the barbell.
Here are some things you can do to help get your posture right. Again, I do these and they have helped a lot.
Here’s another version of the Cernovich posture stretch. These are basically a combination of weighted shoulder shrug/chest expansion. I don’t do them now but did do them with dumbbells at home in the past while I was focusing on posture improvement.
Secondly, do my eye contract drills, as mentioned in Masc #4. That is, attempt to establish eye contact with everyone you pass and hold it for 2-3 seconds. Why does this help with posture? You need to have your head up and be looking straight ahead at eye level to do it. Are you noticing how the things I am telling you are synergistic? They support and reinforce one another.
Thirdly, check in with yourself periodically to sense what your posture is. Correct if off. Here’s one quick tip to sense if your hips are wrong. When they are in the right position, you should feel as though you’re walking forward leading with your belt buckle, as if a string were tied around it pulling you forward.
Do this and over time you’ll see results. Again, nothing will improve your masculine presence and confidence more than walking into a room with excellent upright posture and being able to make strong, unapologetic eye contact.
There’s a book called Posture Alignment that’s all about this topic. I think it’s excellent at helping you understand good posture and diagnosing what’s wrong with yours. The author’s solutions are based on a light yoga approach that I really haven’t tried so can’t endorse it. (By the skin in the game principle, I only endorse things I personally do or have done successfully). But you can try if you’d like. Or integrate some of his positions and moves into the program I outlined above.
In the Culture
A Millennial-focused web site called Fatherly just raised $4 million in funding. It’s apparently designed to get Millennial men more into fatherhood. Apparently, fans of the site are getting its logo tattooed on them (standard marketing claim discount applies). I checked the share count on some of the articles, and its traffic is pretty modest at this point.
The Millennial mommy blogger sites were huge moneymakers for a while. People with kids buy a lot of products. We’ll see if these guys are able to tap into the dad market.
In the last issue, I mentioned YouTube celebrity Dr. Jordan Peterson and said it was only a matter of time before there was an attempt made to get him kicked off Patreon. Less than a month later, Google suspended his account, causing him to lose access to both his email and YouTube. He appealed and was told his account would not be reinstated because he had committed unspecified violations of Google’s terms of service. Because he’s a high profile person, media blowback got his account restored. Don’t count on this happening forever, however.
The irony is that Google and the rest of Silicon Valley are now in the process of being devoured themselves by the very demon they summoned.
Leila Miller wrote up some highlights from her recent book Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak. It’s a write-up of 70 people who reflect back on the divorce of their parents. They still have negative feelings about it and have experienced significant impacts on their adult life as a result. I was particularly struck by how multiple of them talked about having to be, in effect, therapists to their parents, attempting to validate their parents’ feelings and avoid making them feel bad about divorcing. Here are some excerpts:
I believe [the divorce] instilled a fear of abandonment in me with regard to all of my relationships. I developed problems trusting people to be there for me, believing that when the going got rough, people would leave me. I never learned any skills for solving conflict in relationships. As much as I desperately craved intimacy and love, the closer someone came to me, the more terrified I was of getting hurt, or worse—abandoned. I unconsciously sabotaged relationships, as I didn’t know how to receive and accept real love…
I’d want people to know and understand that people with divorced parents see the world differently. It’s just how it is. Even with the ‘best’ divorces like mine, a seven-year-old should never be in a position to somehow take the responsibility of her parents’ emotions. She should never have to think about which parent gets to hear or see something from her first, for fear of hurting the other parent’s feelings. She should never have to feel like she doesn’t belong in the home of her parents. None of these things were done on purpose. My parents did the best they could to keep me at the center, to keep me as the focus, so that my life could have minimal turbulence..
A parent might be able to totally start over with a new spouse, experiencing freedom from the first marriage and only minimal contact with the first spouse. For the child, however, their worlds will forever be fundamentally split. Forever. There is no starting over with a clean slate; things are now complicated and fractured. Divorce starts a family onto two different paths that, as the years unfold, grow further and further apart. It’s not a one-time event, but rather an ever-changing and ever-widening gap that only the children are really tasked with straddling and reconciling, season after season, change after change.
These results are consistent with the longitudinal study by Judith Wallerstein, et. al. published in book form as The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. Bottom line: even the best divorces have profound, apparently life-long negative effects on the children. Parents who rationalize their divorce as somehow better for the children are engaging in casuistry, plain and simple.
The wife of my former pastor, who divorced him after he was permanently disabled in an accident, may have found freedom for herself, but the ultimate price will be paid by her five children.
Jay-Z’s old creative and sexual promiscuity has been replaced by an act of commitment. No more women, just his wife. No more gluts of great producers, just this one. These are the new risks for him: monogamy, focus, trust. There are new existential concerns, too. The ambition here extends from his own plight to the straits of black people all over America. Nothing like a coherent thesis emerges, but he’s feeling his way toward if not a moral capitalism then the idea of who capitalism is for. Jay-Z began his career talking about all the money he had and how he made it. Now, he’s aged into a man with time to think about what the money means, what else it can do. He has become wealthy, and wealth is money with dimension, vision, and heirs.
City Journal: Parents, Plural
Jeanette Kupferman: Will my granddaughter pay the price for my fight for equality?
Marie Claire: Dear Parents-to-be: Stop celebrating your baby’s gender