Ten Tips for Improving your Posture

Growing up I'm sure your parents or teachers have said "hey sit up straight in that chair" many times.......I know I have.  Well, they were only trying to help, even if it felt more like scolding at the time.  Standing up tall and sitting up straight are so important to maintaining good posture and lowering your risk for chronic back and neck pain.  In a society where most people are sitting for more than 50% of their day, paying attention to your posture often gets neglected.  Poor posture can cause neck and back pain, headaches and jaw pain, reduced lung function and even poor digestion not to mention it just looks bad.  Sometimes it's more comfortable to sit or walk in that slummed over position, but the long term effects of poor posture make it worth paying attention to right now.  An example of good posture while standing is simply maintaining a straight back, squaring your shoulders, keeping your chin up and chest out, engaging your core, keeping your feet forward, and hips/knees in a neutral position. 

If you're starting to notice a rounding or hunch in your upper back and shoulders it may be a sign that your rhomboids or your lower trap muscles are weak and the muscles of your chest are super tight.  Poor posture can also be caused by psychosocial factors such as job stress, emotional stress, or low self esteem.  The longer you wait to address these symptoms, the harder it may be to change them.  Don't wait until you are hunched over in pain to implement some of these tips for improving posture.  Following these guidelines will not only help feel stronger, but you will look a lot better and have more confidence as well.

Here are a few ways to fix those poor posture habits:

1.  Get a desk chair that works for you

-Sitting at a crappy desk chair that isn't ergonomically designed for your size can be the root cause of your poor posture problems.  Try sitting on an exercise ball while engaging your core, or getting fitted for a chair that allows you to sit up straight comfortably.

2. Do twice as many pulling exercises as pushing exercises

-Do many different variation of rows and reverse flys as opposed to more push ups/chest press/pushing exercises.  Strengthening the upper back muscles will help pull your shoulders back and therefore you will stand up straighter more comfortably.

3. Stretch out your chest muscles

Tight pecs are one of the main causes of poor posture and poor spinal alignment.  Do these easy and effective pec stretches daily to open up the chest and reduce the rounded shoulders look.

 Stand against the wall with your arm at a 90 degree angle with elbow and forearm touching the wall.  Lean your chest forward until you feel a good stretch through your chest and the front of your shoulder.  Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat a few times a day or when needed.

Stand against the wall with your arm at a 90 degree angle with elbow and forearm touching the wall.  Lean your chest forward until you feel a good stretch through your chest and the front of your shoulder.  Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat a few times a day or when needed.

 Lay on a foam roller the long way down your spine with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Place both arms at a 90 degree angle and try to get your elbows and forearms to touch the ground while keeping your lower back flat against the foam roller.  This is a good stretch to have someone gently press down on your elbows to open up your chest and shoulder muscles even more. 

Lay on a foam roller the long way down your spine with your knees bent and feet on the floor.  Place both arms at a 90 degree angle and try to get your elbows and forearms to touch the ground while keeping your lower back flat against the foam roller.  This is a good stretch to have someone gently press down on your elbows to open up your chest and shoulder muscles even more. 

4. Place postural reminders near your computer/in your car/wherever you are seated

Place a sticky note or a little reminder that is in eye shot of where you are sitting that reminds you to sit up strait.  If it is something that catches your eye at all times it will be a constant reminder.  It can be something as simple as a post-it that says POSTURE.

5. Strengthen your Core

Having a weak core can cause your belly to puff out and cause an unnecessary curve in your lower lumbar spine.  A great start to strengthening your core would be to do 3 sets of different plank variations daily.  You don't need any equipment or a fancy gym, just get down on the floor and do repetitions of low plank/high plank and side plank to start.  This is great exercise to do during commercials when your watching TV.  Try to hold different plank variations during the entire commercial break.

6. Lighten your load

If you carry around a backpack or a messenger bag stuffed with heavy books and work documents, consider either lightening your load or getting a rolling bag.  While I understand rolling backpacks aren't exactly hip, they will save you a lot of back and neck pain in the long run.

7. Stretch your hip flexors

The hip flexors are two inner hip muscles called your psoas major and your illiacus.  When you are seated all day these muscles are shortened and therefore causes them to be tight.  When this happens your pelvis is being pulled forward which causes an excessive and unnecessary curve in your lower back.  Here is a great stretch to loosen your hip flexors.

 Get into a kneeling position with one leg in front at a 90 degree angle.  Lunge your weight forward until you feel a good stretch in the muscles at the front of your hip.  You can reach your arm up actively reaching for the ceiling to get a much deeper stretch.  Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat daily (especially when you have been sitting for several hours).

Get into a kneeling position with one leg in front at a 90 degree angle.  Lunge your weight forward until you feel a good stretch in the muscles at the front of your hip.  You can reach your arm up actively reaching for the ceiling to get a much deeper stretch.  Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat daily (especially when you have been sitting for several hours).

8. Try a beginners yoga class

Yoga not only focuses on stretching and strengthening muscles, it also is very focused on proper posture an alignment.  A great yoga teacher will adjust their students and educate them on proper postural poses during class.  As an added bonus, doing yoga is a huge stress reliever so it will naturally help you melt some of that tension you carry up in your neck and back away.

9. Take breaks from sitting

If you are prone to sitting at work or on the couch for extensive amounts of time, then set an alarm on your phone to get up every two hours and move around.  Try some of the stretches discussed earlier in this article during that time, or simply walk back and forth in your office for a few minutes. 

10. See a chiropractor

If you think your posture and alignment issues are more serious or if you have been experiencing chronic neck and back pain it may be time to make an appointment with a chiropractor.  A chiropractor can help get you spine and hips back in alignment and get you on a program to help reduce your pain and discomfort quickly.