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How to improve your posture

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

We've all been guilty of poor posture at some point, right? But do you know what the real issue is? Neglecting to correct your poor posture habits can wreak havoc on your spine, shoulders, hips, and knees over time. This can set off a chain reaction of structural problems leading to back and joint pain, decreased flexibility, and weakened muscles. And guess what? These issues can seriously hamper your ability to shed fat and build strength. It's like waving goodbye to your progress!


But don't fret, we've got your back (literally!) with a series of exercises aimed at tackling these problems head-on. These exercises are your ticket to improving your posture, reducing pain, and getting you back in motion.


Why is Posture Important?

Our bodies are incredible, finely tuned machines, optimized for efficiency in everything from movement to the functioning of our internal organs. However, when we adopt poor posture habits, it disrupts the alignment of our bones, muscles, and connective tissue, hindering our ability to move efficiently.


Inefficient movement patterns can lead to stress on certain muscles, resulting in some becoming weaker while others tighten excessively. This imbalance significantly increases the risk of sustaining serious injuries. Additionally, posture can impact the position of internal organs within your ribcage, potentially restricting both breathing and digestion. For example, slouching in a chair can make it challenging to take deep breaths compared to maintaining an upright posture.


It's important to note that your body is adaptable and can adjust to the positions you maintain for extended periods. This adaptability can lead to significant postural changes, whether due to injuries, prolonged casting, or simply sitting in the same position for extended periods. Office workers, in particular, are susceptible to poor posture. However, there is hope for improvement through a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises designed to correct and enhance posture.

 

Rounded Shoulders


  • Causes: when you spend long hours sitting at a desk, often with your arms extended forward while typing or writing, or if you engage in an excess of 'pushing' exercises without balancing with 'pulling' exercises, it can result in tight chest muscles and weakened upper back muscles. This imbalance ultimately causes your shoulders to hunch forward and internally rotate.


  • How to diagnose rounded shoulders: the Pencil Test. Stand up straight with a pencil in each hand, allowing your arms to hang naturally by your sides. In proper posture, the pencils should point directly forward. However, when you have rounded shoulders, the pencils will turn inward toward each other.


  • Exercises / stretches: begin by linking your hands together behind your back, and then slowly raise your arms until you feel a slight stretch across your chest. To stretch your right and left pectoralis major muscles individually, stand near a wall with your arm extended. The wall should be behind you, and your palm should face the wall. As you gently turn your body away from your hand, you should experience a stretch in your pectoralis major. For targeting the pectoralis minor, locate a corner of a room or doorway and position your elbows at right angles, roughly shoulder height. Next, gently tilt your upper body downward until you feel a stretch in your pectoralis minor, which is located near your armpit.

 

Forward Head


  • Causes: a common issue known as 'text neck' often accompanies forward head posture and rounded shoulders. It occurs when you spend extensive time leaning your head forward, particularly when looking at screens. Many individuals develop this condition from constantly looking down at their phones multiple times a day. To address this, consider holding your phone at a higher level, and also, elevating your computer screen to eye level can be beneficial in mitigating the effects of 'text neck'.


  • How to diagnose forward head: prolonged periods of sitting can lead to a shortening of the hip flexors at the front of your hips and a weakening of the hip extensors at the back. As a result, when you stand, your hips may naturally rotate forward slightly, which can emphasize the curvature in your lower back and cause your buttocks and stomach to protrude.


  • Exercises / stretches: to strengthen key postural muscles, ensure you maintain an upright head position and a flat back during these movements. For loosening your chest, you can use the previous stretches. Alternatively, as shown above, you can use a foam roller. Position the foam roller along the length of your spine and gently allow your arms to rest outward. To target your scalene muscles, place one arm behind your back, and then gently tilt your head in the opposite direction. Slowly roll your head back until you feel a stretch. Remember to hold each of these stretches for 20-30 seconds and repeat for each side. You can easily incorporate these stretches into your daily routine, even at your desk throughout the day.

 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt


  • Causes: extended sitting can shorten hip flexors and weaken hip extensors. This can lead to an anterior pelvic tilt, causing your lower back to arch and your stomach and buttocks to protrude. Cyclists often experience this due to frequent hip flexion during training.


  • How to diagnose pelvic tilt: stand against a wall and observe the gap between the wall and your lower back. Typically, there's a small gap, sufficient to slide your hand through, due to the natural curvature of your lower back. But, anterior pelvic tilt can cause an exaggerated lumbar curve, resulting in a larger gap between your spine and the wall.


  • Exercises / stretches: to stretch your hip flexors, try a lunge position with your back knee on the floor, forming right angles with your ankle, knee, and hip joints. Gently rotate your hips upward to feel a quad stretch in your back leg. For a quad stretch, lie on your side and pull one foot back while keeping your knees aligned. Push your hips forward to feel the stretch in your bent leg. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds on both sides. To target your hip adductors, sit with the soles of your feet together, pull your feet closer using your hands, and use your elbows to push your knees outward. Feel the stretch in your groin area and hold for 20 seconds.

 

Tight Calves


  • Causes: regularly wearing high heels can lead to shorter calf muscles as they adapt to a perpetually shortened position. This is akin to walking on your toes constantly, and some individuals may even find it more comfortable to walk in heels than flats due to this adaptation.


  • How to diagnose tight calves: while sitting in a chair, extend your legs straight in front of you and flex your toes back as far as possible. Ideally, your toes should extend 10-20 degrees beyond a right angle (as shown in the left photo). However, if your calves are tight, you might have difficulty reaching even a right angle.


  • Exercises / stretches: roll a foam roller along your calf, pausing at tender spots. To target different angles, rotate your leg while using the roller. For the gastrocnemius, press your back heel against a wall with a straight back knee, moving your back leg for a stronger stretch. For the soleus, keep a similar position but bend your back knee. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat on both sides.


 

In conclusion, poor posture can have a profound impact on our well-being, leading to various structural issues and discomfort. However, there's hope and help available. It's essential to remember that the advice provided here is meant to offer some guidance and understanding of common posture-related issues.


But it's crucial to approach these concerns with the guidance of a specialist or healthcare professional who can provide a tailored assessment and recommendations based on your unique needs and circumstances. They can offer a more personalized plan to address your posture and ensure your exercises and stretches are safe and effective for your body.


At our retreat and yoga classes, we place a strong emphasis on posture and body awareness. Our experienced instructors can help you incorporate these principles into your practice, offering guidance to improve your posture and overall well-being. Remember, it's never too late to work on your posture and reap the benefits of a healthier, more comfortable body.

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