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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 101

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
  • Pregnancy
  • 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.


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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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69 thoughts on Don’t Break Your Back! Tips to Healthy Posture

  1. Ah… just great! I’m 1.84m (6 Ft 2) but because I didn’t take notice of posture when I was younger, now I tend to slouch naturally. I have to take extra effort to “stand up straight” consciously. Being tall is good. Slouching is not =P

  2. Oh just to add on… it will be good if you can include some pictures of the stretches =)

    Personal Development Blog | RichGrad.com

  3. HI Tina,

    I have a terrible pain at my back today and here comes your post on the right time.

    I’m sitting with correct posture but I did not take a break in these 2 days which cause my neck and shoulders in pain.

    How about lying on the bed (chest down) reading a book or working with my laptop. Will that be bad for my back too?

    Thank you for your post again.

  4. haha, its as though the only time I remember to correct it is when I am looking to appear very confident or put together or when it is mentioned … like now :) *JEMi sits up*

    mind you, I could afford to listen to this wisdom as I especially feel my back issues (yes, in my very youth) when I’m working with my trainer

    Oh Tina. I will take your suggestions to heart. At least, I will try. lol very useful post :)

  5. Timely post! A have new, younger friend who is a physical therapist. She reminds me to hold my shoulders back. My parents used to tell me to stand up straight, but I never really thought about holding my shoulders back. Last time I saw my friend, I complained about how sore my muscles were (from trying to follow her instruction.) I’m still working at it because I think slouching ages my appearance (in addition to the other outcomes you mentioned.)

    So, thanks for the reinforcement and the tips!

    P.S. I recently discovered your blog, and enjoy it very much.

  6. I have serious spinal problems (since childhood) that caused constant and severe sciatic pain for over ten years. Now I have a partial paralysis of my left lower leg due to nerve damage in the spine.

    In spite of this I stayed fit as a fiddle when I could. I was a runner; a cyclist, and I have practiced Tai Chi and Chi Gung for over 20 years.

    The most important things to remember are posture, and body mechanics especially while bending or lifting. The most important posture tip I could offer is to learn the “pelvic tilt” so thoroughly that it becomes natural posture for you. If you have a serious issue with your spine, I would really recommend learning Tai Chi Chuan if you can find a good teacher. Tai Chi helps you learn strong but relaxed movement using proper body mechanics.

    Otherwise — everything Tina said :-)

    John

  7. Raymond,

    Lying on your stomach reading or working on your lap top is likely to cause problems. It arches and compresses the lumbar vertebrae where most people have issues. You can read lying on your back, with your head and shoulders supported up a bit, but ensure that you pull your feet up and bend your legs. That way the lumbar area is decompressed.

    As an exercise, try gentle slow movement of the spine while standing. Move gently, very slowly, breathe calmly and deeply as you twist and undulate your spine. Move your shoulders and arms also. basically just get carried off into your body as if it were made of rubber. If you are doing it right, it should feel sensual and delicious.

    Try it :-)

    John

  8. My posture can sure use a lot of improvement.

    Thanks for the reminder and the great suggestions!

  9. good posture at an early age also contributes to height increase. i also have bad posture and continually try to correct when i’m sitting down or standing around – it is a pain sometimes but it actually helps me stay away and focused on work when i sit straight. i also find push ups and sitting against a wall at a 90 degree angle to be good exercises for improving posture

  10. If anyone is having back posture related problems, I would definately recommend the “ShouldersBack” posture correction support. Works a treat… erm have a look at http://www.shoulders-back.com.

  11. D

    John… I’m with you homie :)

    Part of my left leg is numb, skateboarding caused lumbar issue. Been doing Kung Fu / Tai Chi for a few years as well. It comes on / off.

    No fun !

  12. Jay

    yeah, i’m not THAT old yet but i need to straighten up! i have to stop being so stupid and listen cause when i get older, i’m gonna be ALL messed up!

    Jay
    DatMoney.com
    DatCurious.com

  13. Sheldon Drake

    please check out my posture/yoga page at http://www.sheldondrake.com/YOGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!.html

    you want to learn how to use your psoas muscle to anchor your lower spine, and always visualize lengthening your spine when doing these stretches given above, or you end up compressing the front or back of it. learn to keep your ribs lifted and full, and breathe with your diaphragm. if you have to lean in to see your monitor, move it closer; keep your hips under your shoulders, and don’t always have your feet bunched up under the chair or your legs lose energy. visualize a triangle with the top of your head and your shoulders at the corners; lean your head forward and pull your shoulders back, and make all three sides of the triangle longer, by filling them with inhales.

    stuff like that ; )

  14. Sheldon Drake

    eh, copy/paste that link, the html didn’t take

  15. Hey John,

    Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep that in mind.

    I’m grateful that I ask the question here. :)

  16. thanks for the information and happy holidays

  17. You wouldn’t believe how good posture can help you feel better. I went from slouching to standing up straight and it has really helped.

  18. will

    Nice but please be careful with the “replacing your office chair with an exercise ball” tip. Its generally not recommended particularly if you sit at a desk 9-5. See http://www.ergoweb.com/news/detail.cfm?id=1091 for a more detailed look at this.

  19. This is great. As a computer guy I am always sitting at a desk and will catch myself with bad posture often.

    I am not sure if I understand why we are so unconcious about our bad posture but as soon as you use these types of exercise/practices you will feel so much better.

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