MISTAKEN FOR A CAVEMAN? TRY THESE TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE
Posture is not a very interesting subject. In fact, the only people who find posture exciting are drill instructors and Pilates teachers! For the rest of us, standing or sitting up straight is pretty far down our list of things we like to do.
However, despite being a dull topic of conversation, posture is very important. Poor posture puts excess stress on your muscles and joints and can lead to pain. A large percentage of shoulder, neck, and back pain is directly attributable to poor posture. Poor posture can also adversely affect your athletic performance. You also look like a caveman.
You don’t have to become a posture-fiend to learn to sit and stand more upright, but you will notice the benefits of trying to slouch less. Here are a few practical tips for beating that hunchback.
#1 STRETCH YOUR CHEST
Tight pecs are almost inevitable in the military. It’s all those push-ups! Banging out dozens of push-ups a day will strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps, but will also cause something called adaptive shortening. Tight, shortened pecs will pull your shoulders forward and rotate your upper arms inward.
If, when you stand sideways onto a mirror you can see any part of your upper back, you need to start pulling your shoulders back. And, if you can see the backs of your hands when facing a mirror, your arms are rotated inward. Fix these problems by stretching your chest as much as you work to strengthen it.
One of the best ways to do this is the doorway chest stretch. Stand in an open doorway and place your forearms on the vertical doorframe. Your elbows should be level with your shoulders. In a staggered stance, push your chest forward and between your arms. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then relax.
It’s taken years for your chest to tighten up and it’ll take more than a few minutes of stretching per week to fix it. Commit to stretching your chest several times a day to undo the tightening effect of all those push-ups.
#2 STRENGTHEN YOUR UPPER BACK
Your upper back muscles are crucial for holding your shoulders back and keeping you upright against the pull of gravity. A few sets of lat pulldowns or pull-ups per week won’t help. Your postural muscles have to produce low amounts of forces for hours at a time. Standard strength training methods will not help much.
Instead, you need to train your upper back as it works in nature – light weights and long sets. One of the best ways to do this is resistance band pull-aparts.
Grab a resistance band and hold it in front of you at about shoulder-height. With a slight bend in your elbows, open your arms and stretch the bend out across your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do 20-30 reps, rest a minute, and repeat. If this is too hard, use a lighter band.
Do this exercise several times a day. I’ve done two sets while writing this article…
#3 LAY OFF THE SPINE FLEXION ABS EXERCISES
Abs training invariably involves exercises like sit-ups, leg raises, and crunches. As popular as these exercises are, they are kryptonite for good posture. All that flexion shortens your abdominals so that standing up becomes a real struggle.
Sit-ups and crunches might be off the menu, but you can still train your abs.
Instead of spine flexion exercises, do exercises that involve bracing your abs in an extended position, or that focus more on rotation. Good examples of posture-friendly abs exercises include planks, rollouts, single arm farmer’s walks, side planks, Pallof presses, and cable woodchops.
#4 PAY ATTENTION
You weren't born with bad posture. It's something that has developed over many years. Long periods spent slouching in a chair or walking with your head down mean that your poor posture is now habitual. All the stretching and strengthening in the world will not help if you don’t start paying attention to your posture and consciously try to make it better.
Whenever you sit, stand, walk, or run, think about your posture. Lift your chest, pull your shoulders down and back, imagine your head floating atop your spine, and lightly brace your abdominals. You won't be able to maintain perfect posture for long – you'll soon forget and fall back into your old habits. But the moment you notice you have, pay attention and pull yourself back into proper posture. With practice, you'll create a new habit.