Sitting posture

The alignment of the ideal sitting posture involves the body being optimally stacked over each other in a natural and relaxed manner.


Here’s an analogy: Do you remember that game called “Jenga”?

Essentially, it is a game which involves a neat stack of blocks in which its stability is progressively challenged as players remove pieces of wood from its structure.

This process continues to a point where the stack becomes too unstable and the structure collapses.

Like your posture, the structures in your body need to be stacked over each other in the most organised way to achieve ideal stability. Failure to accomplish this will result in the muscles and joints working overtime to maintain an upright position.


The alignment of the ideal sitting posture

The ideal sitting posture can be illustrated as a straight line through the ear canal, shoulder joint, thorax/ribs, pelvis and the hips. The aim of your sitting posture is to achieve as much symmetry as possible. Have a look below!

sitting posture


How do you know if you have good posture? Let’s do a quick test…

Stand up and stand your back to the nearest wall. You should be able to touch the back of your head, shoulders, bottom and ankles comfortably. If you can, well done, you have the potential to have good posture.

However, the question is: Can you maintain this right posture all the time whilst sitting? If you can’t, it’s time for you to do something about it now!

Note: Of course, this is a very general way of determining your posture. I strongly recommended getting assessed by a qualified health professional if you have any doubts. 


The ideal sitting posture

Let’s have an even closer look at how we should be positioning our body. I have devised this section into 7 separate areas, however, it is important to note that they are all interlinked and synergistic with each other.

Any change in one area will cause a chain reaction in the whole posture.

1.  Pelvis

Excuse the pun, but all good posture starts from the bottom up.

If your pelvis is not in the right position while you’re sitting, it is impossible to have good posture! It is the foundation as to which your posture is based on.

So… let’s get this started shall we?

“Mark, tell me how to position my pelvis properly?”

Good question!… The aim is to position the pelvis so that you are sitting directly on top of your “sit bones”.

How to do this:

  • Whilst standing, place your fingers on your bottom and locate your sit bones (see blue dots as above: they are the pointy parts of your bottom).
  • As you sit down, pull these sit bones away from each other.
  • Your pelvis should be tucked into the back of the chair and slightly tilted forward.
  • Distribute your weight evenly between both buttock cheeks and ensure that you do not lean to one side.

If you would like to know more on the correcting your pelvis position in sitting, check out this post: How to correctly position your pelvis in sitting.

2. Lower back

Maintain the natural curve in your lower back.

Remember – Not too much, but not too little.

The arch is directly linked to how you position your pelvis (as mentioned above).

You should feel a small amount of tension in your lower back at all times when sitting to ensure that your lumbar spine arch is supported.

Note: Make sure that you do not feel the tension in the middle back as this probably means that you are over arching!

3. Thorax/Ribs

a) Your rib cage should feed directly into your pelvis.

People who tend to stick their chest out too much (for whatever reason) tend to be over extended in the lower/middle back. Stop puffing out your chest like that!

Self assessment:  Whilst sitting down, place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your pubic bone. Make sure your hands are parallel and in line with one another.

kyphosis

b) Your upper back should remain up right. Do not hunch your back! Don’t be lazy! Sit up straight!

Self assessment:   You should already know if you slouch or not. The question is: Are you willing to do something about it?

c) There should be no rotation or tilting of your thorax.

Self assessment:   Have a look in the mirror: Are your shoulders/nipples/collar bone/finger tips level? Do you have symmetrical waist creases? Is your belly button facing forwards? Or is it to the side? It is very common to have these sort of deviations in the thorax region and unfortunately many people fail to realize this!

4.  Shoulders

Your shoulders should remain relaxed in a wide and backwards/downwards position.

The ideal shoulder position can be achieved by:

1. Lifting your arms to the side (to the horizontal) with palms facing forward,

2. Gently pulling your shoulder blades in a backwards/downwards motion and

3. Keeping your shoulders where they are, let your arms drop back down by your side.

Self assessment: Drop your hands by your side. Are your thumbs pointing forward? People who tend to have hunched shoulders will have their thumbs facing inwards towards their body.

5.  Head

Front view:

Your head should sit naturally and symmetrically between your shoulders. There should be no tilting or turning of the head in this position.

Self assessment: Look into a mirror – Are your eyes/nose/mouth level? Can you see both ears clearly and equally? If not, your head is probably in the wrong position! If you are unsure, I find it easier to draw lines on a picture of your face.

Side view:

Gently tuck your chin in. Your head should not poke forward.


Neck alignment

Self assessment:  Take a side view photo of yourself: The ear canal should approximately be in line with the middle of your shoulder joint.

As I see this poked neck position in almost all of the patients in the clinic, I have dedicated a full post to addressing this problem. Check out the post: Forward head posture correction to get that head of yours into the position its meant to be!


Note: The following are dictated by the chair that you sit on.  Get my FREE ebook: How to set up your work station.

Ideal leg position

5. Hip position

The angle of your hip joint should be around 90-100 degrees.

6. Knee position:

The angle of your knee joint should be around 90-100 degrees.

7. Foot:

The angle of your ankle joint should be at 90 degrees. The foot should ideally remain completely flat on the ground.


“It’s never too late to start, but it’s much easier if you start now.”


Let’s run through a few questions that you may have:

// Why is it important to have good posture?

I have essentially outlined the reasons why at the post here: Start here.

But to put it simply: the body works at its best when in the ideal postural alignment. If you do not have good posture, then your body will be working much harder than it should. This will commonly lead to your typical symptoms like tightness and pain.

// I have had bad posture for a long time now, can it still be fixed?

Generally speaking, the longer you have had your bad posture, the harder it will be to influence any change. However, having seen many patients with longstanding postural issues, I have found that there is always something that we can improve on.

When addressing my patient’s posture, I strongly urge them to aim for progression and not perfection.

// Can one really achieve perfect posture?

Let me throw a question back at you.

Can one really be 100% perfect in anything?

The answer is no.

But there should be nothing stopping us from trying to achieve the best in ourselves. The closer we can resemble the “perfect posture”, the more we can be assured that our body is working at its best.

Doing the best with what you have is your relative perfection and is something that we all need to try to strive for.


Due to the immensity of problems that arise from bad sitting postures, I have the need to stress the urgency of fixing your posture. It would be crazy not to even consider it!

Please do not delay! Don’t be like those people who say, “some day I’ll fix it. Some day I’ll DO some exercises.” Some day… Some day… The time is NOW!

My goal with PostureDirect is to help you with your pain by providing simple ways to achieve your best possible posture for your body.


110 thoughts on “Sitting posture”

  1. Hey Mark,

    Love your stuff! Very detailed.
    I had a question about how breathing is related to posture. Ive realised I was never really breathing from my diaphragm. Even when I did all the exercises suggested by you, breathing from the diaphragm never came naturally to me. Could you let me know if correct breathing will actually bring about good posture and how important it is. Also what is the correct way to breathe when I’m going about my usual day. Thanks a lot for all your info.

    Reply
    • Hey DP,

      If you are not using your diaphragm during quiet breathing, you are likely overusing other muscles to help you breathe (eg. scalenes, sternocleidomastoid just to name a few)

      I go through an exaggerated breathing technique in this post. (Scroll down to the Breathing section).

      In terms of relaxed breathing throughout the day, whilst keeping your neck and torso relaxed, you want to imagine that you are inhaling deep into your stomach.

      I might need to do a blog post on this in the future!

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hello Mark,

    Regarding sitting posture – is there a way to sit with a reasonably good posture while reading outside in a park, especially if a book is a bit too heavy to hold it upright for long? That could be on a bench, on the grass or even propped against a tree.

    I must add that you have made an amazing website, I really appreciate the effort you put into it. The explanations, pictures and exercises all help me a lot with fixing my posture issues.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hello Jane,

      My first recommendation would be to slightly shift your sitting position every 15-20 minutes (approximately).

      If this is too much of a hassle, I would recommend that you lean your back against a tree or bench (as opposed to free-sitting on the grass with no support).

      To keep your book in a slightly higher position than normal, it is best to prop your elbows on top of a pillow/bag to help support the weight of your arms.

      If you don’t want to bring a pillow or big bag with you to the park, you can also try maintaining reasonable posture as you use your eyes to gaze down towards the book ( as opposed to the whole torso hunching forwards)

      Hope these quick suggestions help!

      Mark

      Ps. You could also try audiobooks too!

      Reply
  3. Hey Mark I have a recliner that reclines if I want it to. I was wondering with my posture issues I feel guilty just sitting in it. Sometimes I game while sitting. How would you recommend sitting in the recliner chair? And is a pillow nessacary?

    Reply
    • Hi Jay,

      Sitting on a recliner is fine.

      You might need to position your TV screen much higher though so that it is more line with your gaze in the reclined position. (Otherwise you’ll slouch forwards to look at the tv/computer)

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hello Mark! Do you have any guidance on how to best maintain posture sitting on the airplane – especially for long haul international flights? I am of small stature (161cm), so the headrest always puts me in horrendous forward head posture and a hunched back. Thank you for any advice!

    Reply
    • Hey Tiff,

      Air plane seats are the worst!

      My only advice would be to recline that chair as much as you can. This should take some pressure of your postural muscles.

      You can also consider placing a small pillow behind your lower back. Make sure your bottom is tucked all the back into the chair.

      And of course – try to get up every hour if possible.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Hello Mark,

    If one has multiple posture issues addressed here (Forward Head Posture, Rounded Shoulders, hunchback posture, Hyperlordosis) is there a specific order to address them in?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Daniel,

      You can start in any area, however, there is likely some areas that would make more sense to start with.

      In your situation, I would go with Hunchback as this can help with forward head posture, rounded shoulders and hyperlordosis.

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Hey Mark,

    Do you have any tips or guidelines on properly setting up a kneeling chair? I have a few questions that the internet hasn’t been very helpful with:

    How do I determine the best height and angle for the seat and kneepads?
    Does my desk height need to be adjusted?
    Should my feet be in the air or touching the floor?

    Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey O P,

      I don’t have a specific guide on that.

      General points:
      – The angle of the sitting pad should be enough to encourage an anterior pelvic tilt (relative to the femur bone). I have my hip angle at approximately 130 degrees.
      – In terms of height of the chair, it should be high enough to match your desk height. (When sitting up right and elbows bent at ~90 degrees , this is where your keyboard and mouse should be)
      – Have your toes in contact with the ground. Make sure that the foot does to splay outwards.

      Mark

      Reply
  7. Hi Mark,

    Great content, especially relevant as people stay at home more during covid.

    Do you offer remote/online posture therapy sessions, either free or by payment?

    Reply
    • Hi Arjun,

      Thanks for your comment.

      At present – I do not offer any online sessions. (This could change if there is a high demand for it)

      Have a great day.

      Mark

      Reply
  8. Hi Mark, I’m 63 years old and I have a severe Degenerative scoliosis, I’m doing some of your scoliosis exercises. During last 3 years my right leg became shorter then the left and very weak by lifting it up. What exercises do you suggest to strengthen my leg. Thank you

    Reply

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