Friday 7 June 2013

How to Improve Your Posture

This is a little over-kill,
but you get the idea
Recently I wrote a post entitled "How to Instantly Look, Feel & Perform Better" in which I talked about why posture is so important and how some quick, simple changes to your posture can have a big impact on how you look, feel and perform. However, there is more. If you want to make an even greater impact in these areas, you need to look at making more permanent changes to your posture.

Disclaimer: without being able to assess you personally, it is difficult to know exactly what you need to do to improve your posture. Here are some high-mileage general guidelines, but nothing beats individual assessment and hands-on treatment/training/coaching for postural improvement. This is especially true if you are are getting pain or have more serious alignment issues (e.g. scoliosis). 

Effective ways to improve posture
Examine & re-adjust your lifestyle
I'm a big believer in corrective exercise. However, corrective exercise will do nothing to help your posture if the rest of your life has you in positions that wreck your posture. Here are some helpful tips:

Posture wrecker
  • Limit sitting - it wrecks you - for more details, click HERE
  • Break up prolonged sitting with mini movement breaks
  • Get your computer monitor up at eye level
  • Stand tall whenever you catch yourself slumping throughout the day
  • If using a back pack, use the shoulder straps on both shoulders
  • If you have a bag that has only one shoulder strap, make sure it spends equal time on both sides
  • If you are a parent of young children like me, spend equal time with each arm holding your children
  • No matter how cool it may be, don't drive slumped to the side with one hand on the top of the steering wheel
  • Practice chin-rectactions (i.e. stand/sit tall and make a double chin)
  • Practice good posture throughout your day
Pick great exercises and do them well
One of the things I keep reminding my athletes & students is that it is not just about what exercises you do, but how you do them. The real magic is in the combination of selecting the best exercises and then continually seeking to  master the execution of these exercises. Many exercises done with proper technique and range of motion can offer a corrective benefit.

Practice good posture while you exercise
Exercise is not just about moving big weights, getting tired or feeling the burn. It is also about teaching your body to move in a certain way. When you perform your exercises with good posture, you re-enforce good postural habits. However, the opposite is also true. Respect that exercise can help or hurt your posture.

Emphasize the muscles you cannot see in the mirror
Not only do our sedentary lifestyles wreck our posture, but our exercise programs make it worse. Many people make the mistake of emphasizing the "mirror muscles". As a result, chest flies, biceps curls and crunches take up most of the training time. These exercises often take us into poor posture and when these muscles are over-developed, they further pull us into poor posture. To look, feel and perform better, back off on these areas and give your upper back and glutes a little TLC. Also for more information on why I don't use crunches, click HERE.

Great upper back exercises posture:

Great glute exercises for posture:

Imbalance your training to emphasize the weak muscles
At minimum, a perfectly balanced person should have a 1:1 ratio of push-to-pull exercises. For example, every rep of pushing/pressing exercise (e.g. bench press) should be balanced with a pulling exercise (e.g. row). Because perfectly balanced people rarely exist, moving this push-to-pull from 1:1 to 1:2 (or in more extreme cases 1:3) can be very helpful. 

Another way to add work for the weak muscles is with added accessory exercises. For example, after doing bench press and rows, add in some extra reverse flies. See the above for details.

Work on t-spine mobility
If your thoracic spine (upper back) is stiff and rounded, your shoulders will inevitably be rounded forward. For a new video of 3 of my favorite drills for t-spine mobility, click HERE.

Focus your flexibility work on the short/over active muscles
Most athletes and fitness folks have heard the phrase, "use it or lose it." Generally, we think about this for things like cardiovascular fitness, strength and muscle mass. However, we often fail to realize that this also applies to flexibility. For example, if you sit for prolonged periods of time, your hip flexors are left in a prolonged shortened position. As a result, the body says, "I don't need this length" and shortens them for you. Here are some examples of helpful stretches:
Inhibit the short/over-active muscles prior to training
One of the "rules" that has been preached for years now is to never static stretch before exercise. This is a good general guideline as research shows that static stretching prior to physical activity does not prevent injury and reduces muscle strength and power. Basically, properly done static stretching calms a muscle down.

When you have postural problems, you not only have weak muscles, but also over-active muscles that shorten over time and hold into a position of poor posture. This creates what is known as reciprocal inhibition, which basically means it shuts off the opposite muscle. For example, over-active hip flexors shut the glutes off. The relaxation effect of foam rolling and stretching overactive muscles helps you train the opposing weak muscle more effectively. For more details on foam rolling, click HERE.

Superset corrective exercises with stretching
A time-efficient method for improving posture is to spend the rest time between sets of the weak muscles stretching the shortened muscles. For example, stretch your hip flexors between sets of hip thrusts. 

Lie length-wise on the foam roller
I already have a post on the cool benefits of this (click HERE), but I wanted to mention it again because it is very helpful for helping upper body posture. 

In conclusion
In short, adjust your lifestyle to minimize the time you spend in poor posture. Foam roll and stretch the muscles that are chronically shortened and give extra attention to the muscles that are chronically lengthened. I wish you all the best with your postural correction. Enjoy the health, performance and aesthetic benefits that follow.

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