Improve Your Posture With These Exercises and Stretches

Most people feel like they could improve their posture, yet they are not quite sure where to start.  I will list some key stretches and exercises that will help improve your posture, but first we need to determine what is causing our poor posture.

Most of us spend too much time sitting. Add up all the time we spend sitting in the car, at home, and at work and it may equal more than half your waking hours. The problem stems from the way we typically sit, or slouch, hours at a time in front of a computer, or behind the wheel of a car, or slumped on the couch at home.  Typical poor sitting posture includes: neck protracted, shoulders internally rotated, hamstrings shortened, glutes and core muscles disengaged. Consistently sitting like this will inevitably lead to muscular imbalances that translate into poor posture.

When you do sit, remember to keep your back straight with your head in a neutral position. Allow your shoulder blades to sink into your back pockets. Align your ears over your shoulders, and your shoulders over your hips to avoid that forward slouch.

Better yet, sit on a stability ball, or replace the chair, even some of the time with a stand-up desk arrangement. At the least, incorporate frequent breaks into your workday to break up extended hours of sitting at a desk.

During your breaks from sitting, stand up and do some muscle activation exercises and dynamic stretches to wake up the lines of communication to underused muscles and to increase mobility in tight areas.

MUSCLE ACTIVATION EXERCISES:

Activate your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine; then raise your arms above your head and lean back slightly while balanced on one leg. Hold it for five seconds; then switch to the other leg.

Activate your hips by standing on one leg and moving your opposite leg back and to the side. Hold for five seconds; then switch legs. Or, stand on both legs and alternately squeeze one glute and then the other, as you sway side to side.

Specific stretches to improve posture:

Open up the chest with a doorway stretch.  Stand in a doorway with your hands on each side of the opening- allow your body to “enter the room” with your hands still on each side of the door opening behind you.  Hold for 30 seconds.

To stretch your back, start with a half wall hang. With your feet shoulder-width apart, place your hands against a wall. Slowly step away from the wall as you slide your hands down the wall until your hands, shoulders, and hips are aligned and parallel to the floor. Push your hands into the wall and pull your hips away from the wall as you feel a stretch in your lower back.

From the half wall hang, move into a full hang to target more of your hamstrings. Move your hands down the wall to the floor and hang with waist bent and head relaxed.

SHOULDER RETRACTION EXERCISE:

The shoulder retraction exercise helps vertically align your head and neck with your spinal column and helps your thoracic spine move into extension. The shoulder retraction exercise is designed to relax your tight neck and pectoral muscles.

Stand up straight and keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead. Slowly contract your abdominal muscles to keep your hips in a stable position. With your arms dangling freely at your sides, flip your palms over to face directly ahead and then lower your shoulders down and back so that your shoulder blades move toward your spine. Push your breastbone out and up. Position your head so that it’s directly above your spinal column and then tuck your chin to your throat. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Perform this stretch one time per working hour.

REVERSE SHOULDER SHRUGS:

Perform reverse shoulder shrugs by standing or sitting up straight and keeping your head in a neutral position, directly above your spinal column. In one fluid motion, lift both of your shoulders toward your ears. Then roll your shoulders backward and down as your shoulder blades move toward your spine. This exercise helps extend your upper thoracic spine and opens up your chest. While you’re performing this exercise, you should feel a light stretch in your chest and shoulder muscles. Perform 20 reverse shoulder shrugs two to three times a day, five days a week or more if you’re doing a lot of computer work.

CHIN TUCK EXERCISE:

Perform the repetitive chin tuck exercise to stretch your neck muscles and promote better posture. The repetitive chin tuck exercise targets the muscles in your upper cervical spine, which are situated just below the base of your skull.

Perform the repetitive chin tuck exercise by standing tall and keeping your spine straight. This is your starting position. Keeping your gaze level, pull your head and neck straight back (without tilting your neck backward) and bring your chin to your throat. You should feel a light stretch in the back of your neck, just under the base of your skull. Hold your stretch for five to seven seconds and then return to your starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 times five days a week. To enhance your stretch, you can use your index finger to place gentle pressure on your chin.

My favorite “improve your posture exercise” involves a stability ball, also known as a Swiss ball, this passive stretch should be part of your daily routine.  Lie with your back supported by the stability ball. Plant your feet firmly in the ground, hip-distance apart.  Open your arms to the sides of the room and let them hang so you feel a stretch in your chest muscles. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.  This exercise feels great as it unloads your spine from gravity and reverses the forward hunched posture we get from prolonged sitting.

To learn these and more Postural Restoration exercises in person, come to my next workshop, Postural Restoration.  Included in the class is a new Stability Ball pumped up for you.

If you have any questions about this blog or your health in general, please feel free to contact me at: drtomball@performancehealthcenter.com