Better posture is a hot topic in the fitness world these days: just look around and you will find a myriad of posture-adjusting tools and sitting devices available on the market. Chiropractors and physical therapists are filling their practices with clients suffering from orthopedic pain from the ravages of years of poor posture and all the muscular imbalances that come along with it. Our modern lifestyle is one of the primary culprits for the sad state of our postures; long periods of sitting, driving, and TV-watching leave us with flaccid glutes, tight hip flexors, and slumping shoulders.
The answer to the question of what strategies are effective in combatting this state is multi-layered. The most common strategy that most people site is the age old aphorism: sit up straight! Unfortunately, this is the equivalent of yelling at muscles in an attempt to make them stronger; it simply doesn’t work that way. Another strategy is to use special tools and devices that are supposed to magically re-align posture and fix imbalanced muscles. This strategy may have some merit in the small windows in which the device is being used but it still begs the question of how we maintain this posture when we’re not sitting in our magic devices.
This is where we can’t avoid the simple and obvious truth that exercise, once again, is the answer. Unless muscles are re-trained through hundreds of reps of appropriate exercises, they are likely going to keep sleeping on the job. Whether we realize it or not, every poor posture we maintain throughout the day is us training our muscles to be weak and tight. Unless we give some powerful feedback in the opposite direction, we are more than likely doomed to a lifetime of poor posture.
The question of what muscles need to strengthened and what muscles need to be stretched is a complex one. Below, we’ve narrowed down the major themes of postural re-alignment and given you the nuts and bolts of how to get your tired muscles up and firing again. Whether your goal is to reduce chronic pain or to have a strong balanced posture, these go-to moves will you have you on your way to walking tall!
The plank is a well-known staple in the fitness world but many have yet to experiment with the back plank. Once you feel the amazing benefits of this simple drill you may find the back plank making its way to the top of your exercise list!
- Place two benches several feet apart
- Begin by lying with the upper back and shoulders on one bench and place your feet and the back of your lower legs on the other so that you are facing the ceiling
- Your hips should be bridged up so that your body is in one straight line from your feet to your shoulders
- Keep your abdominals tight and squeeze your glutes continuously to maintain this straight posture against gravity
- Complete three sets, holding for 30-60 seconds each time
- Rest as needed in between holds
For an added challenge, place a weight (dumbbell for comfort) on the hips while holding for all sets and reps
Used to train elite gymnasts to maintain healthy, well-functioning shoulders, the wall press is a simple and powerful drill to get those slumping shoulders standing upright again!
- Sit with your back against wall and the soles of your feet facing each other in the butterfly position
- Attempt to press the entire back of your torso and arms at 90 degrees into the wall with as much pressure as possible
- Keep your abs in to push your low/mid back to the wall
- While maintaining continuous pressure against the wall, press your hands overhead until your elbows are locked
- Return your arms to 90 degrees with equal pressure
- The presses should be done at a 5-seconds-up, 1 second hold, and 5-seconds-down tempo, with constant pressure
- This exercise is very difficult if you maintain a lot of pressure against the wall. Shake your arms to release tension whenever necessary
- Complete ten total repetitions
Superman + Up Dog Complex
The Superman + Up-Dog Complex is a one-stop-shop for spinal health and back strength and control.
- Lay face down on the floor
- Keep your arms straight overhead and your legs straight
- Brace your abdominals and lift your arms and legs as high as possible by squeezing your butt and upper back
- Hold this position with as much tension and height of your limbs as possible
- When the hold time expires, place your hands flat on the floor under your shoulders, then press your shoulders up until your arms are fully extended and your back is arched, creating the Up-Dog position
- Rotate these two exercises on a ten-second count for each for 5 rounds total
- As your strength increases, try extending the hold time period of each exercise by five seconds each round.
This drill addresses the most common orthopedic dysfunction rampant in our society. Tight hip flexors and psoas muscles are the result of years of seated postures and poor posture. Get those hips sitting in a more balanced position with this simple drill and your back will thank you.
- Place one foot on a bench with instep against the edge of bench
- Place other foot out in front at a 90-degree angle at the knee with your foot flat on floor
- Start with your hands on the floor on the inside of your front leg
- With your abs, butt, and ribcage locked, slowly start crawling your hands and torso toward an upright position
- Stop when a mildly uncomfortable stretch is felt in the front of your hip and/or the middle of your thigh
- Hold the point of tension while breathing through your belly with long deliberate breaths
- As the tension decreases, explore more range while maintaining core tension and slow breathing
- Complete two to three rounds of holding for 90 seconds on each leg
Floor-Lying with Diaphragm-Breathing
The magic of a hard surface is something you will come to appreciate the more time you give to this simple, effective breathing drill. It’s also a great way to clear some mental clutter from a stressful day. Breath deeply and enjoy!
- Find a comfortable but flat surface
- Lay down face up with as much of the back of your entire body in contact with the floor
- Place one hand on the lower abdomen
- Breath in to make your hand (the one on your abdomen) rise first before your chest rises
- Count the in-breath for eight seconds and the out breath for ten seconds, if possible
- Continue this rhythmic, deep breathing for three to five minutes