25 | Male |
Science graduate and physiotherapy student. I exercise without a gym, and I eat a lot of fatty foods.
Fat tastes good, fat keeps me feeling full and fat gives me the energy for my fit and healthy life!
Progress photos: Lessons from bodybuilding posing
The progress photo is one of the most relevant outcome measures for people whose aims consist largely (or entirely) of looking good naked. But to get as much detail from progress photos as you can, there are a few points to know. Bodybuilders basically make their living off looking good in minimal clothing, so there’s a few things I’ve learned from them.
Bodybuilding competitions generally require relatively skimpy posing trunks for the men and bikinis for the women, with precisely 1/3 of the buttocks covered. This is necessary to expose as much musculature as possible, without exposing too much to be unsuitable for a public show.
Therefore, your progress photos should not be taken with you wearing a baggy t-shirt and jeans, because you’ll never be able to see minute differences. Less clothing is always better, but if you don’t need that much detail you may find a simple crop top (to expose the abs) to be sufficient. However, progress photos don’t have to be viewed by judges like bodybuilders do, so you may find taking your progress photos totally naked to be the best option (it does give you the most information about your glutes, lower abs and breasts).
I should also point out that in many female competitions, it’s standard to wear 4-5 inch high heels. But seeing as you’re competing against your past self rather than other girls, it’s up to you what you wear on your feet (if anything).
Stage lighting is generally pretty bright, so that no area of the body is hidden in darkness. Cameras, especially phone cameras, require fairly bright lighting to take detailed photos, so you will need to take your progress photos in a brightly-lit room. Natural lighting (sunlight) is considered ideal but is also hard to control.
However, shadows can also add definition, something bodybuilders can’t rely on. Lighting coming from above, slightly in front and slightly to one side adds shadows to the body that help show muscles. For this reason, it’s also wise to avoid a flash when taking progress photos. But whatever you do, keep it consistent between photos, because lighting does make a huge difference.
Bodybuilders also prepare for a competition by getting a tan (natural or fake), which helps preserve definition in the bright stage lighting. But seeing as you have control of lighting and, like I said above, are only competing against your past self, you can be as pale or tanned as you like for your progress photos. Just keep in mind that a tan will slightly change your definition, if you’re comparing progress photos before and after that beach trip you went on. (The same thing applies if you decide to oil yourself up for your progress photos!).
In competitions it’s mandatory to pose in several ways, to allow the judges to see you from the front, back and side. Poses vary between competitions.
For men, there are 7-8 compulsory poses that show off key muscles like biceps, triceps, lats, chest, thighs and abs. Similar poses are used in women’s physique and figure except for some reason they keep their hands open. Women’s bikini competitions allow even more variation in poses, such as allowing weight to be mostly one one hip or the torso to be turned during a pose. Whether a certain muscle is flexed during a pose or not depends on the competition and the look that is desired.
In a progress photo, adopting just a couple of these poses could be very useful to get a good view of certain muscle groups of interest. If the main muscles you’re interested in are glutes and abs, for instance, then a relaxed front view, an abs-tensed front view and some side or rear view pose may be the most useful to you. If you’re more interested in back, chest, biceps and shoulders, a double biceps front and double biceps back may be the most suitable for you. Just try to keep it consistent.
Good progress photos are all about being able to see the changes you’re looking for. You need the right clothes, lighting and poses to see those changes, and you need to do the exact same thing next time you take your photo so that you can be sure the difference is due to your hard work in the gym and dedication in the kitchen.
Posture, part 2 - What is poor posture, and how do I avoid it?
Everyone wants to have good form at the gym, because they know good form in an exercise reduces the risk of injury. But the posture you have outside of the gym matters a lot too. If you don’t sit or stand properly when you’re not moving a heavy object, how do you expect your body to be able to maintain good form when loads are applied to your body? But if you’re the kind of person who can fight laziness to get butt to the gym, you should be able to fight laziness to get your butt in the right spot on the chair. The first step is identifying it.
Good posture is essential for any time you’re going to be sustaining a certain position for a long time, doing a repetitive activity or lifting heavy loads, because these are all the activity that are likely to injure you. So I’m going to start with correcting posture in everyday activities, and then look at exercises. This post is more about avoiding poor posture than attaining perfect posture, but that’s kind of the most important part.
Maybe you spend a lot of time sitting, probably in front of a computer, so avoiding poor sitting posture is important to you. There’s no agreement on what posture is perfect (O’Sullivan et al 2012), but there are two common poor postures you want to avoid if you can. First is the slumped posture, where your butt is back on the chair but you let your back curve forward, maybe put one or both elbows on the desk, and then you have to arch your neck back to keep your head upright instead of looking at the ground. The other is the reclined slump, where your butt is almost at the front of the chair with the tailbone taking much of your weight, and then your upper back and neck are resting against the chair backrest taking the rest of your weight, and your legs are straight rather than sitting on the floor (maybe they’re even up on the desk). There are other poor postures too, where you spend a lot of time turned to one side or the neck bent to one side to hold a phone cradled against the shoulder, but I only went into detail in the two most common poor postures.
Getting out of poor posture is all about constructing a new habit (might also include replacing or adjusting chair or desk too though). You’ll need to give yourself some kind of regular cue to correct your posture. This might include setting an alarm for every 15 minutes, having a post-it note next to your computer that you glance at regularly to make yourself aware of your posture, or getting somebody to police you. Personally, whenever I start to watch a new youtube video, I’m now in the routine of sitting up straight as soon as I start to watch it. At first I could only hold it for a minute or so. Maybe you might only manage 6 x 30 second holds across the day. But eventually, the muscles involved in maintaining good posture won’t fatigue as quickly and your brain will just automatically put you in the good posture position because it will be the most comfortable, rather than the slouching and slumping postures.
In standing, you might notice other things about your posture. Both of the poor sitting postures push the lower neck forward and force the upper neck to extend back to right the head, causing the head to appear forward of the shoulders. The shoulders themselves may appear forward of the torso, and the pelvis might be tilted forward or backwards out of neutral. And it’s common for people to have their legs too overly-straight at the knees, such that the knee almost starts to bend back the other way (called knee hyperextension). It might help to get a mirror or take photos of yourself from the front and side (wearing little clothing so you can see your pelvis and shoulders properly).
Standing postures have a huge carry-over into exercise postures. Looking at a pushup form, you want to have your body in the same good posture that you’d maintain if standing up. For many such exercises, I’d advise taking a photo or video of yourself, and then applying the image rotation test. The test is this: if you digitally or mentally rotate the image so that you look like you’re standing up, how does your form look?
Cues for good form at the gym are usually a bit easier than good posture at work because your mind is focussed on the exercise and body position already, rather than on the work documents open on your computer. None the less, after a lifetime of poor posture we often have trouble feeling our body deviates from good form. Common gym faults in many exercises are the same as for standing or sitting. The head comes forward (chin poke) on many a pull-up, push-up or row. The shoulders come forward on bench press or retract back too much on pushups. The back slumps on squats or arches excessively on rows or deadlifts. The pelvis tilts forward too much on handstands or tilts backwards too much on planks. Watch out for these, and many others. It helps to have somebody with you who knows good form and can watch to make sure you’re doing it well.
Posture, part 1 - What is it good posture and should we care?
Posture is a huge topic, so even though I’m splitting this into two parts I’m sure I’ll barely scratch the surface.
Posture refers to the position of the body at any given moment. A ‘good’ posture refers to a position that is considered safest for joint and muscle biomechanics, coordination and efficiency of energy use. A good posture, also called a ‘neutral’ posture is considered the ‘safest’ position for the human body to assume, but it’s also not very functional to stay in the same position all the time. Many functional activities, even something as natural to humans as running, requires the hips, limbs and spine to move outside of a neutral position. This is a point I will return to later.
A person’s posture at rest (sitting, standing, etc) or during exercise can be outside of what is considered ‘good’ or ‘neutral’. This is usually due to behavioural patterns of muscle use, muscle tightness (i.e. short and/or increased muscle tone), poor body awareness, joint stiffness or pain. Usually all of these factors relate to one another, for example, poor patterns of muscle use can lead to muscle tightness, pain and an altered perception of what is ‘normal’ posture. Thus, this means that if you’ve been in poor posture for a while, good posture is not only going to seem weird but also feel like it requires effort and focus to maintain.
There is, however, still some debate about precisely what neutral posture is. Generally neutral posture is said to have a pelvis that tilts very slightly forward (anteriorly), an S-shaped spine (slight lumbar lordosis, slight thoracic kyphosis, and slight cervical lordosis) with the ears and shoulders both directly in line with the middle of the torso when viewed from the side. The knees are not fully locked out straight and the hips, shoulders and head are all over the top of the ankle joint. The body is also generally symmetrical left and right when viewed from the front or back.
There are a few who might argue that a curved lower back and anterior pelvic tilt is not ideal (Magee 2006), or that the lower back curve should extend higher up the back (Sprague 2001), but realistically we should think of ideal posture as a zone with a degree of variability from person to person. At the very least, we can say that significant deviations from this such as slouching at the desk or atrocious form at the gym are not within this zone.
During an activity, ideally you should be able to maintain the same good posture that (I hope) you have standing or sitting. Performing an exercise where you have to deviate from neutral posture isn’t necessarily bad, but should be considered a progression, and should only be attempted once an exercise can be performed in neutral posture.
I’ll quickly run through a few examples. If you’re doing a pushup, you should be moving from the shoulders and elbows but your neck, spine, hips and legs should remain in the same posture you’d have if you were standing up. In a squat, the movement will occur at the hips, knees and ankles, but the rest of you will remain in neutral posture. And obviously this applies outside the gym too. If you have to sit at a computer for a long period, you want to be moving the mouse and using the keyboard with your fingers, wrist and shoulder while holding the head, shoulderblade, spine and pelvis in ‘good’ posture. I’ll talk more tomorrow about how to check your posture, ways to retrain your posture and techniques for reminding yourself to remember posture.
I must point out that having poor posture doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have any symptoms, and likewise you can still have symptoms without any postural abnormalities. But, the research does seem to show that certain postures are associated with the risk of injury (but is the posture causing the pain, who knows?), and that treatments that include postural retraining are effective (Bonetti 2010).
Finally, I just want to emphasise that there is no good posture that can be maintained for hours in a row. The human body evolved for movement, so even if you’re sitting in great posture, if you’ve been doing that for more than 20-30 minutes it’s time to get up and go for a walk.