Do martial arts encourage bad posture habits?

After years of practicing and sparring, my wife and I noticed that my posture when walking has changed drastically in a bad way. I constantly slouch when I walk around, especially when I don't pay attention or feel relaxed in my environment. Also I noticed that my left shoulder is a little lower than my right. I am guessing it's because I switched to southpaw because a lot of people are righties and always assume orthodox stance, and I feel comfortable countering them and making them feel uncomfortable.

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    Please avoid asking "polling" type questions as they lead to subjective discussion rather than objective answers. However, there is a good question here if you will instead ask "Can MA negatively affect posture". Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 13:15
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    Have your doctor test for osteoporosis. Or tell him there's something wrong with your posture and you'd like to know what's wrong. He'll know which questions to ask and which tests to do. If anything, Martial Arts will dramatically improve your posture as your core muscles are strengthened and your suppleness improves. Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 15:24
  • I think osteoporosis is out of the question, because I took some heavy blows and falls during training in awkward positions with no breakages, and the only time I broke my bones were my nose of a door frame and my arm after a fall of a roof, and my finger when I tried to block a kick from a guy who was about 40kg heavier than me :/
    – ibimon
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 11:09
  • Well, there's something wrong with your skeleton. Go see someone who knows what's what. Commented May 18, 2015 at 7:54
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    Practice makes permanent, not perfect. If you have practiced something and maybe through no fault of your own, got it wrong, or been applying strains on your body in a way you werent supposed to, even though it looked "ok" you could have given yourself issues.
    – BugFinder
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 9:58

6 Answers 6


I'm not convinced it was martial arts that caused your bad posture. There are other potential causes. Beware the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

But sure, martial arts can cause bad posture. Kelly Starrett and Joe Rogan discuss this at leeeeength on this podcast, especially circa 46:30. If you hunch to protect yourself from strikes and you spend a lot of time in that position without doing corrective work in the opposite direction, you will develop a permanent hunch. This happens with martial artists of all kinds.

The solution is to use a proper strength and conditioning program outside of martial arts classes to reinforce proper posture and strength. What's worked for me is a lot of upper body pulling exercises (e.g. pull-ups and dumbbell rows), overhead mobility (e.g. Turkish get-ups and overhead presses), and heavy barbell squats and deadlifts.

  • Brilliant post and reference. It looks like a combination of a lot of things including MA. I found out trough that podcast, I run wrong, walk wrong, lift wrong,and perform a lot of moves wrong. No wonder I get back pain!!!
    – ibimon
    Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 16:17
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    Just wanted to add, I talked today to a "new school" kickboxing champion in Ireland today (we work together). He said that anyone who has started training 10+ years ago was practicing "old school" MA, where emphasis was always on technique and sparring, with very little emphasis on the fitness itself. He described/predicted my warm up and exercise routine in Keyokushin, as if he has been at my club for whole of his life, and pointed out how much was missing. He advised to do some yoga, which not only will fix posture, but also increase reach and flexibility.
    – ibimon
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 11:02
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    Back again to update. I started doing physio therapy at home, and started feeling the results about a month into it. Final indicator that it's working was a friend I haven't seen in a good while whom thought that I was hitting the gym due to broader shoulders and back. My back and shoulders were always built and strong, but you couldn't see it due to my slouch. When I started physio I found out I have shoulder,neck, lower back, hip, knee, wrists and heel injuries. My body by the looks of it just avoided tensing those areas after injuries which turned me into Quasimodo. Thanks again Dave L
    – ibimon
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 12:05

What Dave said.

Just pitching in to say i had the same problem. After years of boxing/thai boxing i developed a bit of a "monkey slouch" as well. Boxing classes usually contain a lot of push-ups and crunches and the stance is a little hunched.

What helped me was a) actively trying not to slouch, b) diversifying my training and c) adding more exercises for the back, like reverse flies


No, well-taught martial arts don't. Injury can.

The following suggestion is made sight unseen, and does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis. I say it because you describe a postural change I have observed many times in the past, with a common cause; other/different causes are certainly possible.

The posture you describe corresponds to a postural compensation for an injured rib on your right side, towards the back (I'm guessing 8 or 9, sight unseen). Such injury probably occurred some time ago, ask your wife when she started to notice it. Other past injuries may also be involved; when, instead of resting and recuperating, we continue to train (or otherwise work hard) after an injury, we adjust our posture to favor the injured area(s), and learn to function that way. Unless we make a conscious effort to correct such compensatory postural changes after the injury has healed, we may continue with the distorted posture.

Unfortunate that contemporary fighters are not taught to read posture, one can tell a lot about an opponent's weaknesses from a brief evaluation of stance and movement. "Know yourself, know your opponent"; one should also be reading one's own posture (and all other indicators) in order to monitor one's own health and capabilities. Such self-reading also gives us insights on the conditions of others.

  • this is possible when I think about it. Could be related to knee injuries and shoulder injuries from taking bad falls during demonstrations. I had a bad back and neck injury from one of the demos we did for a community event.I girl was showing self defense, and I was the "bad guy in the hoodie". I misread her throw, and couldn't recuperate fast enough mid-air, so ended up slamming down with my neck onto hard flat concrete.
    – ibimon
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 9:27

It's possible that staying in a fighting posture constantly could negatively affect your posture, but I suspect that there are other first-order factors, such as those studied in ergonomics and musculoskeletal disorders. For example:

  1. Sitting - The modern information worker spends the majority of waking time sitting and typically does not use good posture while doing so.
  2. Smartphones - Most people hold their phones in front of their chest, and tilt their head and back forward. And people spend a lot of time looking at their phones.

All of this adds up. If the postures you frequently use are poor, you are basically training your body to have poor posture. You probably spend a lot more time doing these things than training martial arts. As the body ages, it will lose flexibility and mobility if not exercised properly.

General exercise helps, but there are specialized exercises such as the Daoist spine stretch/wave or others in yoga that have the explicit goal to increase the flexibility and mobility of the spine. These develop both the ability to feel and manipulate vertebrae. It should not be surprising that improves ability to stand up straight. This kind of training is present in martial arts such as bagua.

With this in mind, the effect of martial arts on posture will be very style dependent.

If you think your martial art contributes to poor posture, you should supplement with exercises for the spine that increase control, flexibility, and mobility. For this purpose, it's probably easiest to find a reputable yoga instructor.


As with the above posters, I can see a possibility that sparring in martial arts could lead to bad posture because you're automatically curling to protect your vital organs. On the flip side of things, many martial arts that require back flexibility, such as capoeira, involve a lot of strengthening the muscles of the torso and learned movement in multiple directions and most people I've known in there tend to have good posture without really thinking about it.

Lastly, while there are many reasons to denigrate McDojos, their general emphasis on things like standing to attention before katas and always sitting with the back straight have, in my anecdotal experience, led to good posture in the people who've practiced it. I suspect that you'd probably see similar results in practices such as marching band and the military where a straight back is part of the aesthetics.


I only have experience of a few styles, but those styles, taught well, will if anything promote good posture.

In the styles I've trained (mainly karate and kung fu) the back is almost always held straight, with head up, shoulders relaxed. Even in sparring. The attitude is, you can't fight well if you can't see, and you can't see well if you're looking down. Also being relaxed but holding your spine straight enables you to move more quickly for less energy.

I can see how in sparring it can seem to go against instinct to not scrunch up defensively. But surely the whole point of martial arts training is to modify instinct to apply science.

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