How to fix a River Island Mannequin!

9th September 2014

Ok, so this may be a little ‘tongue-in-cheek’ as articles go, but I promise to keep an undertone of reality flowing through my comments. You see, whilst River Island promote quality modern fashion for men and women alike, they also enjoy a lack of discrimination in promoting headaches, back pain, facet impingement, L5/S1 compression, capsular wear in the anterior hip, not to mention a whole new biomechanical theory on human balance! So how do we go about creating a more balanced posture in their mannequins before hundreds of thousands of their customers start walking around like a strong man carrying an atlas stone on their chest.

I think we can safely classify this guy as having a ‘Sway Posture’ (there may be some Arthritis in his C7/T1 - especially the dude in the grey shirt! - but we’ll ignore that for now). With the modern human sat at a dest for 8+ hours a day, it is easy to see how the hip flexors can become weakened over time. The Psoas muscle is the only muscle to bridge the spinal column to the legs, so when weakened, it allows the hips to sway forwards, giving this posture its characteristics and name. With the pelvis slipping forwards it creates a leant back look to the torso, which often gets mistaken for hyper-lordosis, but isn’t at all. With the torso leant backwards at such an angle the eyes would be looking up into the clouds all day, so the brain catches on and has the upper back flex back towards the midline. Here, the head continues to migrate forwards until such point that the eyes are now on the horizon. 

Just writing that paragraph and I’m starting to perspire. Just think how much energy is going into keeping that posture. Well, actually not as much as you’d think. I actually like to visualise sway as the ‘Lazy Man’s (Woman’s) Posture’. Because it is a lack of muscular effort that causes it, much like slouching in your office chair. Instead, you actually hang off your ligaments and joint capsules rather than use your muscles. 

It’s this lack of muscular effort that makes the person shrink a couple of inches as they relax the hips, upper back and shoulders. Unlike the River Island Mannequin, who's head is still posterior to the pelvis, so must be working super hard to stay up, Sway postures usually equalise their mass posterior and anterior of the midline, so remain quite efficient. Again, just like slouching in your office chair.

So what should we do, now we know this?

The way I look at it we have two main areas to address. Hip flexor weakness, and forward head carriage with the associated stiffly flexed T-spine. 

To begin with the client needs to get involved and learn that there is a better option. If you straighten up the mannequin their proprioceptive system is going to go haywire. With this more stacked alignment they are likely to fall over backwards, so they are going to need to start learning. 

I always start with a self correct exercise, where the client stands side on to a full length mirror and attempts to stack themselves up into good alignment. They then hold this for a minute or so, then go off about their day. As they get more used to the position they can start stacking up any time they are out (maybe using their reflection in the River Island Window!) or without the mirror any time they stand still in a queue. This exercise gives the brain a chance to learn. Rewiring new neural pathways for posture that slowly seep their way into the how they hold themselves all the time. 

To aid in building strength in hip flexion I like to first teach core control with a Lower Abdominal Coordination exercise. Then I’ll build in a Swiss Ball Forward Roll to challenge core and the hip flexors through motion. Then possibly you’d work towards Plank exercises, but most clients are fixed at the pelvis before we get that far. 

Now the upper back and neck is a bit more of a challenge. If you got to them early enough then everything will self correct by addressing the pelvic sway. But give them a few years modelling in that shop window and the T-spine will start to fixate. Connective tissues will build up and start to limit extension so what can we do when it does?

I like to start with segmental extension of the spine with a towel roll exercise (as long as he doesn't have Arthritis that is). This stretches out the Anterior Longitudinal Ligament at the anterior spine to increase mobility into extension. Once they’ve started to move here then I’ll get them on to dynamic extension mobility and thoracic extension exercises that force the chin to retract. Add in a little Deep Cervical Flexor coordination and strength and you are well on your way to normal posture.

Most clients have the brain of a River Island Mannequin when it comes to remembering exercises! Using ExerciseLab is a great way to keep your clients on track. After each session they can log in and remind themselves what you asked them to do. For a no obligation free trial to see how well ExerciseLab could fit into your clinic please click here.