Years of bad posture can be improved - so if you are reading this and are worried that your bad posture is too late to fix - it can be with the proper training and exercises.
If you have developed a rounded shoulder position, for example, or hunched over posture, you have not missed the boat to correct it. There is still a chance that you can stand tall again.
How Posture Can Change
Did your mom ever tell you to sit straight at the dinner table or while you do your homework? Well, she was right. Many people slouch over without ever knowing it - while sitting in front of a desk at work all day or doing every day activities. Although slouched posture can affect you over time, another big reason behind bad posture is weak core muscles.
Strengthening core muscles can greatly improve your posture as well as any back pain you may be experiencing. During exercise, it is important to strengthen your core in order to do exercises correctly with good form and most importantly, to reduce the risk of injury while you exercise. Your core muscles connect your upper and lower body to help you to maintain proper posture, balance and body alignment. When you have weak core muscles, this can cause your upper body to fall forward, causing your shoulders to hunch and may be the culprit to the lower back pain you are having.
In the long run, maintaining proper posture can help lessen the number of exercise-related injuries you experience and can help improve good posture.
What Makes “Poor Posture”
Poor posture not only is the result of bad habits over time, it puts strain on your lower back muscles, especially in your posterior chain. Over time, weak core muscles can affects hip stabilization and extension, which actually limits your range of motion and can lead to a condition called "hyperlordosis," or that curved low back posture you often see.
Every time you look down at your computer screen or phone, you are placing pressure on your surgical spine, shoulders and neck. Because poor posture throws off your body’s muscles and bones, signals from the sciatic nerve cannot flow as freely. Over time, you can develop sciatica, or pain along the back of the thigh, calves and feet. To add on to that, bad habits (slouching and inactivity for example) cause muscle fatigue and tension that can lead to bad posture and many issues beyond that. If you are experience back pain, spinal dysfunction, rounded shoulders or "potbelly" this can all be do to poor posture and correcting it will amazingly turn all of the corrections around for the good.
What is “Good Posture”
If you stand up straight and tall, you want your weight to sit over your feet which helps keep your body balanced - this is good posture. For a better visual, think about having your chin and elbow parallel to the floor while keeping your spine straight. Your elbows and hips should also be even with your knees pointing straight ahead. Good posture is a form of fitness in which the muscles of the body support the skeleton in an alignment that is stable and efficient. Good posture is present both in stillness and in movement.
Got it? Don’t panic if you don’t. Really, it is harder than it sounds and can take a little time and training to get it right, especially if you have developed some bad habits over the years.
Exercises to Improve Posture
Get with a personal trainer to begin your training to fix your posture. A personal trainer will not only analyze your posture, strength and imbalances, they will design an exercise program to help you correct your imbalances and get you back on track.
Here are some great exercises you can do to start. These exercises will help you strengthen your core and leg muscles, both essential to help you stand tall and reduce injuries during exercise and everyday life situations (getting in and out of your car, carrying in groceries, playing with the grand kids, etc.). Do the number of reps and sets that align with your skill level and exercise program:
Plank: With hands directly planted on the ground directly below shoulders and behind you about hip width apart, engage your core muscles not letting your hips drop to the ground (or arching your back). Hold this position for 30 seconds, drop back into child’s pose and repeat.
Side Plank: Laying on your side, align your elbow directly below your shoulder, keeping the rest of your body straight. Lifting your hips up and pressing away from the floor, you can either tuck your bottom leg underneath you at 90 degrees or straighten both legs out, being sure to stack your hips. Hold for 15 - 30 seconds, switch sides.
Medicine Ball Twists: Sitting and holding a medicine ball or dumbbell close to your chest, place your feet hip-width in front of you as you grip the weight or medicine ball with both hands; engage core and twist body from left to right keeping your body still and only moving your torso. Inhale at starting position and exhale as you twist.
Hip Flexor Stretch: On a yoga mat or soft surface, kneel on both knees, with your bottom on your heels and balls of your feet firmly on the mat. Slowly lean forward, with hands on mat shoulder-width apart bringing left knee forward through your hands, placing it at a 90-degree angle. Keep your body straight, extending your right leg behind you. Lean forward for a deep stretch and hold 20 - 30 seconds. Switch sides.
Wall Sits: Lean your back up against a flat wall, with feet planted shoulder-width apart on the floor. Slowly step your feet forward while lowering your upper body down the wall while continuing to lean your back against the wall. Your knees should be bending as you are lowering yourself, stopping once calves and hamstrings are at a 90 degree angle. Hold for 30 - 90 seconds.
Bent Over Row: Grip onto a barbell evenly or hold two dumbbells with your palms facing down. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the waist, keeping your back straight almost parallel to the floor. The barbell should be directly in front of you; your arms should be perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your torso stable and core engaged, lift the weight toward your chest with your elbows close to your body, squeezing your back muscles and hold for a few seconds. Lower and repeat.
Chest Stretch: Stand with feet about hip-width apart, bring your arms behind you and interlace your fingers with your palms pressing together. Not everyone has this range of mobility (yet!); you can also hold both ends of a towel or band if your hands can’t touch. Gaze forward and keep your head, neck and spine, inhale as you lift your chest toward the ceiling and bring your hands toward the floor. Hold for about 5 breaths.
Glute Squeezes: Using a step or low bench (any elevated stable surface at home such as the bottom step of your staircase) stand behind step right right foot resting on top; press into the right foot and lift the back leg straight behind you squeezing the glute (butt muscles!) and core. Return left leg to floor and repeat. Switch sides.