Poor posture leads to neck and back pain.
Poor posture wreaks havoc on your body. Whether you slouch forward or have an overly pronounced forward curve in your lower back, you posture imperfections can make you suffer physically. You may experience chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. As the effects of poor posture trickle down your kinetic chain, you're vulnerable to hip, foot or knee injuries. Headaches, fatigue, breathing and digestion problems, nerve compression, sciatica and carpel tunnel syndrome may also result from not standing up straight.
Simple exercises can help strengthen your back and open your chest so you sit and stand more upright. Good posture isn't always the cure to your ills, but it can go a long way in helping you feel and look your best.
Open Your Chest
When your chest muscles are tight, they pull your shoulders forward and round your upper back. Sitting at a computer or in commuter traffic for hours can exacerbate this postural flaw. Counter it with a few front-of-the-body openers.
Shoulder Rolls: Stand up with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Breathe in and lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and draw your shoulders back and down, coaxing your shoulder blades together. Repeat five to 10 times multiple times per day.
Chest Expansion: Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips. Clasp your fingers together behind your tail bone and push the hands together and down. Simultaneously broaden your chest and fronts of the shoulders. If it's hard for your hands to meet behind your back, hold a face towel or strap between your hands to make up the distance.
Strengthen the Upper Back
A weak upper back goes hand-in-hand with a tight chest. Even if your chest isn't super tight, a weak upper back makes it hard to keep your shoulder blades retracted in a tall posture. Strengthen this area of your body with simple body-weight exercises.
Y Raise: Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat with your legs about hip-distance apart. Let your arms lie alongside your hips. Lift your face and chest an inch or so off the floor; this is your starting position. Inhale and sweep your arms up and above your head so they extend out at a slight angle from the shoulders and create a "Y" shape with your torso. Sweep the arms back alongside your hips. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions and work up to three sets.
Cobra: Lie on your stomach and bring your legs together. Place your hands right underneath your shoulders. Squeeze your elbows against your ribs as you roll your face, collar bones and chest up off the mat. Contract your shoulder blades to help lift you up. Avoid pressing with your hands, instead, feel your upper and middle back doing the work. Hold for three to five breaths, release and repeat three to four times.
Support the Stabilizing Muscles
You usually go to the gym to work the big muscles you see in the mirror. But, underneath these muscles lie a deeper set responsible for a stable, solid posture. The erector spinae surround your spine; the multifidus muscles run up and along the vertebrae and fine tune your posture; the transverse abdominis holds in your organs and keeps the pelvis stable; the pelvic floor and diaphragm provide stability to your lower back.
Neglect these muscles, and you will suffer the consequences of poor posture and back pain. It's easy to keep them healthy with regular body-weight moves.
Supermans: Lie on your abdomen with your arms stretched out overhead and your legs long. Inhale and lift your arms, face, chest and legs up off the floor. Pause for one to two counts and lower. Work up to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Bird Dogs: Get into all-fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale and reach your right arm forward, past your ear, and your left leg back. Keep your pelvis and torso level to the floor. Hold for one count, exhale and lower. Repeat with the opposite side. Alternate for 10 to 15 reps; work up to three sets.
Plank: Lie on the floor with your hands under your shoulders and your legs reaching long. Tuck your toes, press down with your hands and extend your elbows until you're at the top of a push-up position. Hold for 10 seconds, or up to 1 minute. Repeat three times. For variety, hold the plank on your toes and forearms.
About the Author
Andrea Cespedes has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.