Let’s face it. Good posture isn’t exactly a high priority for many Americans. Like most things related to our health and wellness, we don’t notice it until it’s gone.
Most of us live in a sitting culture—we sit at work, we sit at school, and we sit at home. The hard truth is that most of us sit too much and sit incorrectly. Beyond this, our love affair with mobile devices is amplifying the post problem by encouraging us to bend over, hunch our shoulders and crane our necks to look at small screens. Given our lifestyle choices, poor posture may seem almost inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For anyone with a bit of mobility, motivation and time, there are exercises you can do to improve poor posture. Here are four of the best types of exercises to help you improve your posture.
Exercises to Strengthen Your Core
A strong core is essential for good posture. Your core includes your abdominals, lower back, obliques, and hips. Strong core muscles don’t just give you an attractive “six-pack” to show off at the beach. In fact, they help hold your body up straight, improve your balance, and provide you with greater muscle control and efficiency. They’re also critical to maintaining back health and provide some measure of protection against injury. When your core muscles aren’t strong, other muscles have to compensate, which results in reduced mobility as well as weakness and even pain. So, to help avoid or reduce low back pain, try regular core training. Some core training exercises include basic crunches (but not full sit-ups), side planks, crunches with a twist, standing side bends, and plank holds. Doing Pilates is another great way to work out your core muscles, as are back extensions and slow swimming.
Exercises to Correct Your Rounded Shoulders
Because so many people spend their day hunched over while driving, sitting at a desk while working, using a laptop, or even watching television, rounded shoulders are extremely common—but they are in fact a postural abnormality. When you spend a lot of time in these forward-reaching positions, the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and hips become shortened and tight, and at the same time, your upper and middle back muscles lose strength. In order to help avoid and ease rounded shoulders, you can do exercises that strengthen the weak upper back muscles and stretch the tight muscles in the chest, shoulders, lats, and hips. As the upper back becomes stronger and the chest becomes more flexible, the shoulders naturally pull back, which improves your posture significantly. You can strengthen the upper back with exercises such as reverse dumbbell flys as well as rows with a resistance band, while you can stretch your tight muscles by doing standing chest stretches, torso stretches, and standing quad stretches.
Exercises to Neutralize Your Tilted Hips
Hips should be neutral and level when viewed from the side—however, some people have postural abnormalities stemming from their hips’ tendency to slant forward. This is called the anterior pelvic tilt, and it negatively affects posture. Lordosis (also known as “swayback”) is a common indication of this tilt. Seen very often in people who sit for hours every day with their legs bent, this abnormality is caused by weakness in the hamstrings, glutes, and abs as well as tightness in the hip flexors and thighs. Exercises to correct this tilt include the core exercises mentioned above as well as bridges, leg curls with a ball, and single leg hamstring flexions with a ball. Exercises that stretch tight hip and quad muscles include standing quad stretches and kneeling quad and hip stretches.
Exercises to Retract a Forward Head
Unfortunately, you can easily develop poor posture by tilting your head forward for hours every day. This happens when you drive, when you use a laptop or tablet, or when you watch television. When you fail to retract your head while performing everyday tasks, this tightens the front and side neck muscles and weakens the deep and rear muscles of the neck. The muscles at the front of your neck have to be strong enough to hold your head directly above—not forward of—the shoulders. Not only does this abnormality contribute to poor posture, but it also causes chronic neck pain. In order to retract a forward head, elongate the back of your neck by gently pulling your chin straight in. The highest point of your body should be the top back of your head. This works against the penchant to slip into a forward head posture. You can also work on this issue while driving: practice pulling your chin in and pushing your head into the headrest behind you for a few seconds at a time, then releasing. If you have a high-backed chair that you sit in at work, you can do this at your desk as well.