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It’s no secret that your posture influences the way you perceive yourself. It can affect your attitude, feelings and commitment to self-improvement or a fitness goal. Truth be told, good posture can make you look taller, broader and stronger, and it can make you feel more confident and capable. Good posture can even improve your mood, reduce back pain and decrease stress.
Alternatively, bad posture can make you look short, hunched and weak, making you feel self-conscious and less able.
This is quite a drastic difference. Maybe when reading the first description, you immediately feel a certain way. Maybe it conjured an image or sparked a desire.
Compare this to the second description, which created an opposite reaction. It creates a reality that you want to reject. Even if it’s true, you immediately want to disassociate with it.
What is posture?
Posture is the positioning of your body or arrangement of your limbs in relation to your body. Ideal posture is the correct alignment of the body in relation to the activity being performed and the requirements of the body to complete the action. As such, your posture will be different when you are standing, sitting and moving.
How does your posture get bad?
Humans are creatures of habit; you do the same things day in and day out—without realizing that over time these things have a negative effect. Whether it’s leaning on one leg when standing or spending too much time sitting, these things cause your posture to slowly deteriorate.
Because it’s so incremental, you avoid facing that these habits have a profound effect on your quality of life and self-confidence. Instead, you favor living with the issue.
Then, one day you look in the mirror and realize that your body is out of sync; your neck is out of alignment, your shoulders are rounded, anterior pelvic tilt has set in, and you even have a one legged lean.
It’s only at this point that you begin to entertain the idea of fixing these issues once and for all. But where do you start? This post will show you exactly how to fix the most common postural problems.
Why is posture important?
If ignored, bad posture can and will cause all sorts of problems, including daily aches and pains, poor lifting form, muscular imbalances, negative self-image and low body confidence. The correction of bad or weak posture will help all of these issues.
Good posture can radically change the way you perceive yourself. It can take you from shy, reserved and self-conscious to confident, strong and capable.
This will become increasingly evident as we look at the most common postural issues, their causes, the effect they have on you, how to fix them, and the benefits you get from doing so.
Cause and effect:
Generally, a forward neck develops as part of the modern “computer posture” and from leaning forward to complete everyday tasks such as cooking, washing up and using the phone. Over time, the development of forward neck gives the appearance of a “chicken” like neck, with the head protruding forward from the shoulders.
To remedy your forward neck posture, try performing the chin tuck, as prescribed by Morgan Sutherland, L.M.T., an award-winning massage therapist. Morgan explains the chin tuck, “[Starting] with your shoulders rolled back and down. Look straight ahead, place two fingers on your chin, slightly tuck your chin and move your head back. Hold for three to five seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times.”
This exercise will help reverse your forward neck by strengthening your neck muscles.
Cause and effect:
Also known as postural kyphosis, hunched back is the excessive curvature of the upper back. Symptoms can vary from purely aesthetic to pain and stiffness.
#1. Stretch your chest
Find an open doorframe and place your bent arms against either side of the door with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Adopt a staggered stance and push your chest forward until you feel a stretch in the chest. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds or until the muscles relax before forcibly pushing your elbows against the doorframe to create muscular tension (try not to generate any movement) for five seconds. Relax and increase the stretch. Repeat three times. Then, hold the stretch in place for 30–60 seconds.
#2. Release chest tightness with massage ball
Holding a massage ball with both hands, roll the ball around your chest muscle looking for areas of tightness. When you find the tight areas, apply pressure to help ease the tension. Massage each side of your chest two to three times for approximately 30 seconds.
#3. Foam roll upper back muscles
Place the foam roller in your mid-back. From here, cross your arms over your chest. Keeping your butt on the floor, extend your back over the roller and hold at points of tension for 10–15 seconds.
#4. Strengthen upper back postural muscles using prone back extensions
Lie face down on an exercise mat with your arms extended in front of you in a Y position. From here, keeping your arms extended and head in line with your spine, gently lift your torso off the ground. Hold for five to 10 seconds before gently returning to the start position. Repeat for three sets of eight repetitions.
Prone back extensions are great for not only strengthening the upper back postural muscles but also the lower back extensor muscles. Simultaneously, you are stretching the abs and chest.
Cause and effect:
Round shoulders develop through poor posture in a variety of positions used daily, including sitting for long periods, driving for long periods, and using a smart phone or tablet.
Tight chest muscles pull your shoulders forward, closing your chest and causing the shoulders to round. This makes you look shorter and causes you to adopt a more dismissive posture.
When you add weak upper back muscles to the mix, you have nothing to help counterbalance this rounding. If left untreated, it can cause pain through the back and contribute to overall bad posture.
To fix rounded shoulders, stretch the chest and shoulders and build strength in the upper back.
#1. Stretch your chest
Using an open doorframe, place your bent arms against either side of the door with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Adopt a staggered stance and push your chest forward until you feel a stretch in the chest. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds or until the muscles relax before forcibly pushing your elbows against the doorframe to create muscular tension (try not to generate any movement) for five seconds. Relax and increase the stretch. Repeat this three times before holding the stretch in place for 30–60 seconds.
#2. Work on your shoulder mobility
Using a rolled up towel or smooth foam roller, lie on the floor with the towel or roller running down the length of your back. Holding light weights (5 lbs. is enough) straighten your arms wide until you feel a stretch through the front of the shoulders and chest. Hold for 30–60 seconds.
#3. Perform pull-ups to build your upper back strength
Grab an overhead bar with a wide grip (approximately shoulder width apart) and your palms facing away from you. From a dead hang position, contract your back and draw your elbows toward your sides to bring you up to the bar. Finish at the top with your back fully contracted and your chin above the bar. In a slow, controlled manner, lower yourself back down to the starting position before repeating the motion. Aim to build up to three sets of eight with two to three minutes of rest in between sets.
#4. Perform inverted rows to build your upper back strength
Using either a Smith machine or squat rack where the bar can be held in place (use weights to hold the bar down), grab the bar with a wide grip and palms facing away from you. Hang from the bar so your shoulders are beneath your hands and your back is a couple of inches from the floor. Straighten your body, dig your heels into the floor, and tighten your core. From this position, pull your upper body toward the bar, keeping your body straight and your core tight. Hold at the top before lowering yourself in a controlled manner. Shoot for three sets of eight repetitions with two to three minutes of rest in between.
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Cause and effect:
Anterior pelvic tilt is another way of saying your pelvis is tilted forwards. It’s caused by sitting incorrectly, sitting too much, weak or inactive hamstrings and glutes, and tight quadriceps and hip flexors.
The glutes, hamstrings and abdominals work to rotate the hips backwards, which results in a more upright posture and flatter stomach. Naturally, when they are weak or inactive, they contribute to the hips rotating forward. Tight hip flexors and quads make this problem worse by pulling on your hips, rotating them forward and causing anterior pelvic tilt.
Anterior pelvic tilt varies in severity. If you have it, your lower back arch is pronounced, your butt sticks out, and your stomach protrudes forward—giving the appearance that you have a big tummy even if you don’t. If left untreated, it can also cause pain and tightness throughout the body.
There are three steps to fixing your anterior pelvic tilt: stretching tight muscles, strengthening weak muscles, and maintaining a neutral pelvis position everyday.
#1. Stretch the hip flexors
Get in a lunge position with your back knee on the floor. Maintaining an upright body position, squeeze your glute muscle on the back leg and push the hips forwards. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds, increasing the depth of the stretch as you adapt. To increase the stretch, try taking the arms up overhead.
#2. Stretch the quadriceps
Standing straight, bend one leg and take hold of the ankle. Keeping your body in line, pull the heel of the bent leg as close to your glute as possible. Squeeze the glute, push the hips forward and hold the stretch. If you are having trouble balancing, grab hold of something with your free hand or perform this exercise lying face down on the floor. Hold the stretch for 30–60 seconds on each leg.
#3. Perform bridge holds to build strength in the glutes and hamstrings
Lying on your back, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Keeping your back and core flat, bring your heels as close to your bum as possible. From here, focus on squeezing your glutes to lift your hips up and bring your body into a straight line. Hold at the top before slowly lowering back down. Repeat for eight repetitions. Rest for one to two minutes, then completed two more sets. You can use your arms for stability if you need to.
#4. Perform plank holds to build strength in the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals
Adopt a push-up position, but instead of being on your hands, rest your weight on your forearms. You want your body to be in a straight, neutral position with your head looking down, your back elongated, and your hips in-line (no sagging and not in the air) with your knees and legs straight. If someone were to place a broomstick on your back, it should make contact with your head, upper back and hips all at the same time. Contract your abs, imagine you are sucking your belly button into your spine, squeeze your glutes, and hold this position for 30–60 seconds. If this is too difficult, you can hold the half plank until you have the strength to hold the full plank.
One Legged Lean
Cause and effect:
One legged lean is caused by placing the majority of your body weight on one leg whenever standing. We do it without thinking all the time; when we’re waiting for the train, chatting on the phone or just standing around. It’s a bad postural habit that can lead to a variety of problems, including but not limited to knee pain, ankle pain, bad hip alignment and additional stress on the body.
The fix is simple, depending on your ability to program a new habit. All you need to do is make a new habit of not favoring one leg. Instead, consciously remind yourself to adopt a standing stance where your weight is evenly distributed.
To do this, stand with your feet hip to shoulder width apart when possible. This will help you distribute your weight evenly across both legs.
In a world in which we spend so much of our time sitting down, you’ll be surprised how quickly your posture can deteriorate without you realizing it. One morning, you wake up in pain, feeling stiff and out of alignment. You’re left wondering how you got there and what to do about it.
With this post, you can remove the guesswork and use the exercises described to start improving your posture and confidence today.
Theo is the founder of Lift Learn Grow, a blog that helps men build the body of their dreams without sacrificing their lifestyle. With a focus on lifting heavy weights and eating the foods you enjoy, Theo helps you reach your goals and love your journey. Join a growing community with his free training program and nutrition cheat sheet.