Don’t Break Your Back! Tips to Healthy Posture
When you were a child, you may have been told to “Stand up straight!” or “Don’t slouch!” from your parents and teachers. I remember when I was younger, my mother would poke my back out of nowhere to remind me to stand up straight. I hated this as a teen and was determined to rebel for no reason other than to be stubborn and go against what I was told. My purposeful slouching eventually turned into a habit and carried with me into adulthood.
Now that I’m older, I understand why my mother was so insistent. My poor posture now makes me feel:
- Pain in my back and shoulders.
- I am breathing shallowly.
- I appeared to lack self confidence.
- Energy was not flowing efficiently throughout my body. I was often tired.
- It made me look and feel weak.
I have spent much time correcting the damage, and undeveloped muscles, from my rebellious teen years. Like any habit, breaking bad posture can be a challenge, but definitely doable with some attention and practice.
Many of us may like to improve our posture, but we often don’t know how, or where to start.
Posture is defined as the carriage of the body. Good posture means carrying your body in a way that puts the least strain on muscles and ligaments. Poor posture can cause pain in the back and neck, and eventually causes injury. Improving your posture is a great way to improve your image while at the same time improving your health.
First, let’s go over some of the things that contribute to poor posture. Most of them are fixable, and others (like pregnancy) eventually go away on their own.
- Poor habits – sitting and standing incorrectly (this is me)
- Weakened muscles
- Obesity – The extra weight strains the muscles
- Improper shoes – high heeled shoes are the worst
- Reduced muscle and joint flexibility
Benefits of Good Posture
Good posture is beneficial to your health in several ways. Standing and sitting correctly prevents strain and overuse, and helps prevent back, neck, and muscle pain. Good posture also helps the muscles work more efficiently, which helps prevent fatigue. Most importantly, I have found that I can breathe deeply from my belly (my core). The energy I get from a deep breath is what keeps me going during the day.
The physical benefits are many, but there are other side benefits to good posture. When you stand properly, the body looks aligned, looks slimmer, and generally looks better. Good posture can also help you feel more confident – because you look and feel better, your confidence increases.
Most of us work at a desk or on a computer, and it’s very easy to slip into poor sitting habits. If your body posture is not aligned, eventually you will experience pain. Make sure you follow proper techniques for sitting, standing, and lifting. These seem obvious, but let’s list them to reflect.
- Sitting – Sit with your shoulders back and back straight. Your legs should be at a 90 degree angle to your body. Keep your neck, back, and heels in alignment. Avoid the urge to slouch at your desk!
- Standing – When standing, hold your head up straight and chin slightly tucked in. Keep your shoulder blades back, chest forward, and stomach tucked in. Keep most of your weight on the balls of the feet and not the heels or toes. Your arms should hang down naturally.
- Lifting – Lifting something off the ground by bending over forces your back to do most of the lifting and puts a strain on the lower back. The proper way to lift is to bend at the knees and not the waist. This forces your leg muscles to do most of the work.
- Keep Your Spine Straight: In general, try to keep your spine as straight as possible at all times. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re conscious of the alignment of your back and neck, you will notice that your posture will improve.
Simple Stretches to Loosen Your Back Muscles
- Lower back cat stretch: This stretch is done on all fours, fingers facing forward. Start by dropping your head and raising your back as you push the shoulder blades upward. Repeat in the opposite direction by pushing your chest downward, arching your lower back.
- Knees to chest: While lying on your back, pull both knees to the chest with your hands behind your knees. Keep your tailbone on the floor and hold this stretch for at least 15 seconds.
- Shoulder blade squeeze: Have arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Now swing both arms horizontally towards your back, like you are trying to reconnect your fingers behind your back. Swing your arms back to the front. Do this motion slowly several times.
- Shoulder blade lift: Have arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Now swing both arms vertically in opposite directions. Keep arms straight. Do this motion slowly several times.
- The Core Twist: Hold arms out, bent at shoulder height. Feet planted on the ground, toes facing forward. Keeping your hips facing forward, twist your upper body towards the back (try to look behind you). Twist from side to side. Twist baby! Twist!
Exercises to Strengthen Your Back Muscles
Any type of exercise will benefit you by improving muscle endurance and increasing strength. Exercises that strengthen your core are the most helpful for improving and building the muscles that lead to good posture. Your core is your torso – shoulders to hips – the source of all your strength to your limbs. Here are three exercises that help improve posture:
- Back extensions: Lying face down on the floor with hands behind head. Slowly lift your upper body a few inches off the ground and hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower to the ground. Repeat 10 – 12 times.
- Superman: Lying face down on the floor, lift your right arm and left leg off the floor several inches. Hold for two seconds and then lower. Repeat with left arm and right leg. Do 10-12 repetitions.
- Shoulder Squeeze: Lift shoulders toward ears and squeeze together, holding the position for five seconds. Relax and repeat 3-5 times.
Tips for Good Posture
- Pad Your Chair – Consider adding lumbar support pad to your office chair. I have a pretty economical cotton pad for my office chair. In fact, I use two of these. This drives other people crazy, since there isn’t much room on the chair, but it’s great for my posture.
- Push Butt Towards Back of Chair – When sitting, I find it helpful to remind myself to shift my butt towards the back of the chair. This helps to prevent me from slouching, as long as I continue to lean forward.
- Sit on Tip of Chair - When you are sitting on the tip of your chair, you are further from the back of the chair so you are less likely to lean against the back support and slouch.
- Breaks & Use of Timer – if you are sitting down most of the day, make a point to get up for breaks often. I set a timer for 40 minutes, when it goes off, I stop working, get up and stretch. Alternatively, go for a walk.
- Exercise Ball - Try replacing your chair with an exercise ball. Lean, mean and cost-effective. The exercise ball makes a nice tool for stretching out your back as well. Two birds with one stone, that’s how I roll! (haha, get it? Roll with a ball?) :)
Do you have any posture advice for us? Tips that’s worked in your life? Share with us in the comments. See you there.