How many times have you found yourself hunched over your computer, slumped into the couch on your phone or stooped over the steering wheel in your car? Maybe you’ve never actually noticed your poor posture but your lower back has been acting up or your shoulder has been bugging you lately.
Full disclosure, the idea for this post came to me as I was sitting hunched over my laptop at my kitchen table. My back was bugging me and there were a couple of huge knots around my shoulder blade that had gotten so bad they often kept me up at night. I’m sure that I’m not alone, so after investigating ways to help myself, I figured I’d share my findings and the exercises that helped me, with all of you.
Benefits of Proper Posture
Posture is just the position in which we hold our bodies. Good posture is when we position ourselves standing, sitting, lying or lifting in a way that allows the body’s muscles, joints, and nerves to function efficiently and effectively.
Prolonged periods of sitting, standing or moving with poor posture can create muscle imbalances throughout the body leading to a decreased range of motion in the joints, joint instability and pain.
So what benefits will you see from improved posture?
Slouching reduces lung capacity. By sitting or standing with a straight spine, more space will be created in the torso for the lungs to expand. This improved breathing will translate into more energy as you are able to get more oxygen into your body with less effort.
Even your digestion will improve with better posture as a result of the increased organ space from a straighter spine. When the torso is stretched out, the gastro-intestinal system has room to move and the hip, back, and abdominal muscles can tighten-and-release to support peristalsis. This translates into the prevention of constipation, heartburn, and slowed digestion.
Reduced Risk of Injury & Pain
Improved posture will also reduce your risk of injury to spinal discs and result in less pain like headaches from muscle tension.
More Effective Workouts
Working on your posture will translate into more effective workouts due to improved range of motion in the joints as well as more efficient movements.
How To Improve Your Posture
It only takes a few minutes each day to improve your posture.
Quick Posture Routine
First add a couple of quick exercises into your daily routine that will strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight ones.
Weak muscles in the neck and mid back along with tight chest and hip flexor muscles are the biggest contribution to poor posture and the resulting stiffness & pain.
Chin Tucks – to strengthen the neck
While seated, look forward and bring your head backwards, as if you were making a double chin. Make sure not to tilt your head down. Hold this for 8 seconds then repeat 5 times for one set. Perform 3-4 sets throughout the day.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze – to strengthen the mid-back
Sitting comfortably on a chair with arms relaxed by your side, pull your shoulders back and squeeze the shoulder blades together without raising them up towards your ears. Imagine you are trying to squeeze a pencil that has been placed between your shoulder blades. Hold this for 8 seconds then repeat 5 times for one set. Perform 3-4 sets throughout the day.
The chest stretch can also be done while seated at your desk. Start by interlocking your fingers, bend your elbows and raise your arms above your head. Gently pull the elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together and move your elbows and hands backward. Vary the height of your hands to emphasize shoulders and/or chest muscles (for example hands behind your head, hands on top of your head, and hands a few inches above head).
Hip Flexor Stretch
To loosen up tight hip flexors you will be required to stand up. Place your right foot forward and your left foot back, no wider than your hips (imagine your feet are on train tracks.) Bend your front knee while leaving your back leg straight, and pivot your back toes so that your toes are facing slightly forward (as if they were pointing to the number “2” on a clock). Put your hands on your hips, above your head, or on your desk for extra balance, and focus on engaging your core and relaxing your shoulders. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Maintain Proper Posture
Now that you are strengthened and stretched, let’s make sure that you practice proper posture while sitting and standing in order to keep everything in line and fully benefit from all that work.
If you work at a desk all day, setting up an ergonomically correct workstation is important for maintaining the health of your back, shoulders, arms, and wrists.
This was the first thing I did. Even though I am quite active in my job I had to stop doing the planning and administration work at my kitchen table!
Ideally, your desk should be slightly below elbow level so that your forearms and wrists can stay parallel to the floor when typing. You can ensure this by adjusting either the height of your chair or your desk or both. Be sure that your shoulders stay relaxed, not hunched. Place your feet on a small stool if you are on the shorter side (like me) to take pressure off the legs.
When standing, ensure your chin is parallel to the floor and shoulders are even (roll your shoulders up, back, and down to help achieve this). The spine is neutral (no flexing or arching to overemphasize the curve in your lower back) and your body weight is distributed evenly on both feet.
Sorry to say it but your mom was right…sit up straight.
Put just a little attention into how you sit and stand and you will begin to notice decreased muscle & joint pain and an improvement in your energy levels, digestion and self confidence.
I can tell you I did!
Taking the time to perfect your posture will have huge payoffs in your daily life…willpower not required
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