Have you ever considered what your posture might say about you? Looking at someone’s posture can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their body, both physically and mentally. When our posture is improperly aligned, muscles work harder than they need too which leads to increased injury, tension and strain. Good posture will have us moving better, looking taller, slimmer and have us feeling our best!
Our bodies haven’t adapted to sitting for long hours slumped over in our chairs in front of a computer. Tissue that spend most of the day in the same position (sitting OR standing) will adapt to those positions, making them somewhat “fixed”. Not only does this contribute to poor posture, but also a host of other possible issues like chronic neck, back and shoulder pain, mobility issues, and even digestive and breathing problems.
Faulty posture occurs when muscles are imbalanced causing one muscle group to become too long/weak and the opposing group to be too short/strong. In an ideal posture, the muscles on both sides of the spine and body would be working in balance. This allows the joints and bones to be placed in proper alignment ensuring that the muscles are being used efficiently.
The best and most effective way to correct and improve posture is to strengthen underactive muscles and to lengthen the ones that are too tight. In order for our posture and health to change, we need to change the way we move our bodies! Following these exercise and movement tips will take you one step closer to a more neutral spine as well as better health and happier mood.
- Get out of your Chair
The “shape” of your body is created by how you move, sit and stand. It is constantly responding to and changing depending upon the forces put upon it i.e sitting still for hours upon hours at our desk!. Sitting for prolonged periods of time not only shortens and creates a lot of work for the muscles at the front of the hip (Quads and Psoas), but it also puts constant pressure on the hamstrings. This affects the blood vessels running down to your feet, which can also impinge the nerves around your pelvis.
What can you do? By making simple changes like taking frequent walking breaks and exercising daily, you’re adding more movement to your day. Doing this will have an overall positive effect on your posture and decrease your risk for disease. Change your positions frequently. Sit, stand, and move around whenever and wherever you can. Even adding simple ex at your desk can make a big difference over time.
2. Look up!
Take a look around and any given time and you’ll probably see people around you with their heads hanging down, slumped over their phone. We’re always going to use our devices, but try holding your phone directly in front of you instead of in your lap. When we’re slumped over in a poor posture your lungs don’t have room to expand. In order to breath properly the chest needs to be lifted to allow full expansion of the lungs and ribcage. The way we breath does not only affect how we move and feel but directly impacts every function in the body.
3. Chill out for better digestion
Our bodies weren’t designed to eat and digest food in a slumped forward posture or in situations of high stress. When our bodies are chronically stressed, blood flow is shunted away from the gut resulting in decreased stomach acid (which we need for optimal digestion) which results in poor and sluggish digestion. Sitting and standing with good posture will help strengthen the diaphragm and core muscles which could have a direct effect on helping to prevent bloating and indigestion.
4. Exercise for ultimate posture
Strengthening your core and back muscles and understanding proper alignment and awareness of where you are in space is key. If your muscles are not balanced properly, finding your neutral posture will be difficult. Follow these points to properly align your posture from top to bottom.
- Line up your feet so the toes are pointing straight forward and not turned out
- Align the pelvis above the ankles (back your hips up!)
- Properly align the ribcage so it is directly above the pelvis (not shifted forward)
- Shoulders wide and chest open (but not leaning back or pinching shoulder blades)
- Head balanced nicely in between shoulders and ears in line with shoulders (not forward)
Good posture involves balance between all body parts. Following these tips, you should feel centered over your feet with the weight not too far forward over the toes or too far back over the heels.
5. Get treated
I’m a firm believer that not 1 modality does it all. I used to get frequent and debilitating migraine headaches for years. After a week of daily headaches my mom begged me to see her Chirpractor and I was finally provided some relief. These days I regularly see an Osteopath (highly recommend you find one) for whole body adjustments, and I’m convinced that this has been a huge piece in balancing out my body. Adjustments are so gentle, full body and I’ve seen such incredible changes in the bodies of my clients who combine their regular pilates sessions with Osteopathic treatments.
Now Let’s Move!
These exercises will both strengthen and lengthen to help achieve your most ideal posture. They can be done using just a simple mat at home and some even at your desk throughout the day. Remember to activate your core muscles as you perform each ex for maximum support and effectiveness.
The Shoulder Stretch – Start standing in front (or behind) a chair with your hands on top of the backrest. Feet should be hip distance apart and spine neutral. Lean forward with your torso until you are in one long line from your head to your tailbone. Keeping the legs straight, lower your chest toward the floor as far as your shoulder flexibility will allow. Make sure to not push into pain. This is a great way to help increase the flexibility around the shoulder, but one step at a time.
What it’s not: Completely collapsing or pushing aggressively into the shoulders to cause pain or strain. Keep the abdominals engaged to support the back and listen to your body when it says “that’s enough!”
Seated Chest Raise – This is one of the simplest ex that can be right at your desk when you feel you need it. Use it to help open your chest and strengthen your upper back.
Sitting straight on top of your sit bones with both feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your chest, the other can just rest on your lap. Make sure your back is not resting or slumping on the back rest. While taking an inhale, press your chest up gently into your hand. You can visualize a string on your hand connected to your chest gently pulling up to the ceiling. This is a small movement that should create a lifting in your chest and a lengthening in your upper back in between your shoulder blades. After repeating 5-10x, try and keep the last lift and see if you can maintain it while working away.
What it’s not: Lifting the shoulders up to the ears and creating more tension around the neck and shoulders. Also be mindful about not extending the lower back to create the movement.
Hip Circles – Laying on your back, bend one knee and keep the foot on the floor/mat. Lift the other leg into a tabletop position with the knee in a 90 degree angle from hip and knee. Imagine you have a marker on your knee, start to circle the knee around as if you were drawing circles on the ceiling with your knee. Complete 6-8 circles in each direction on each leg. Try to keep the hip relaxed as you do this. This ex should help relax all the muscles around the hip providing a nice release.
What it’s not: Allowing your pelvis to move around and lead the movement will cause tension in the back. Keep the spine neutral and the moving leg as relaxed as possible.
Good Ol’ Plank – Planking (in any variation) is one of the best ways to strengthen your core. Having a strong core is essential to good posture. In addition to working the abdominals, a good plank will strengthen the shoulders, arms, legs and back, giving you more bang for your buck.
Starting position: On the floor or mat with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees just back of your hips. Stabilize your shoulders and abdominals and extend legs back until they’re fully straight. Legs can be together or apart, but you should be in one long line from head to toes.
What it’s not: Slumping or collapsing in the lumbar spine (lower back). Lift the hips and squeeze those glutes!
Kneeling Lunge – On your hands and knees on a soft mat. Step forward with one leg until the shin of the front leg is vertical. Make sure to line up your pelvis in a neutral position (hip bones at the front of the pelvis in line with the pubic bone so pelvis is also vertical). Gently lunge forward until you feel a gentle stretch at the front of your hip. You may feel like you have to gently tuck the pelvis under (posteriorly) as you lean forward to feel the stretch.
What it’s not: Leaning to far and letting the pelvis tilt forward (anteriorly). This will cause the lower back to extend and compress and you won’t effectively stretch the muscles at the front of the hip which you’re targeting.
The Bottom Line – Good Posture requires a balance of movement, strength and stabilization. Keeping the body strong and mobile will not only minimize tension and strain in the body, but optimize function in all the muscles and joints. In no time you’ll have the posture of a Pilates Instructor and the freedom of movement for years to come.