Do you drop your head when you walk – either because you’re afraid of tripping or because you’re lost in thought? What about when you text or use a computer – where’s your head position then?
In our club dropping your head to look at the ground when Nordic walking is common. A natural instinct to protect against falls or a habit that has developed over the years. Unfortunately it does nothing for your posture and nothing for your health.
That’s because the average human head is heavy, really heavy! It weighs in at a whopping 4.5 – 5kg (think five bags of sugar) and for every inch your head extends forward, your neck has to support an additional 4.5 kg of weight. This is enough to shift your entire body out of alignment, cause a great deal of neck and shoulder – and even back - pain and reduce your lung capacity by up to 30%. Furthermore, until your head is sitting correctly over your body you won’t be able to benefit fully from all the other aspects of the Nordic walking technique.
The correct head position
In the ideal world your head should be balanced on top of your spine, not held up with the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulders. The perfect head position is where:
- Your head sits level on your shoulders - no tilting left or right.
- Your chin is parallel to the ground.
- Your ears are aligned over your shoulders.
Whilst you cannot force your head into this position if it’s been out of alignment for many years, there’s lots you can do through awareness, stretches and strengthening to entice it back to its proper place. The Alexander Technique has a great deal to say on this topic and it would well be worth exploring their principles further if you know your head posture is poor and would like to do something about it. Nordic walking also naturally encourages good posture and correct head position. Here are some things to think about plus some practical tips when you next go out.
Cues for correct head alignment
- Lengthen your spine right up into your head. Think of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than a separate entity and try to increase the space between your vertebrae, expanding it like the bellows of an accordion.
- Puppet on a string. Lift the weight off your shoulders by imagining someone has attached a piece of string to the top of your head and is pulling you up through it, just like a puppet on a string.
- Chin level with the ground. This should happen automatically if you’ve lengthened your spine.
- Scan the ground with your eyes, don’t drop your head. Your eyes are muscles and are very happy to be used. So work them by scanning the ground about 12 foot ahead of where you are about to walk. In that way you can anticipate what you are about to encounter and prepare for it, rather than dropping your head to look straight down. I know this is tricky for those of you who wear glasses, so maybe consider varifocals which I gather are better.
- If you can see your feet you’ve dropped your head! A useful cue that you’ve dropped your head is if you can see your feet when you’re walking. With a correct head position you only see them peek into your peripheral vision.
Chest and neck stretches and back strengthening exercises like my Ws are also useful and we will be discussing these at our next instructor training session and focusing on them in our classes over the coming months.
Psychologists tell us it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. You can realign your entire body just by moving your head. 21 days worth of head focus might be time well spent.