Posture is attributed to many factors, mostly lifestyle and exercise habits. People have transitioned from the service industry of being on their feet and moving most of the day to the age of technology. The general population now spends most of their day sedentary and hunched over at their desk. Although posture problems can be hereditary, you can greatly improve your posture and health by incorporating lifestyle changes and exercise.
A few simple lifestyle changes you can make is to take breaks every hour and get up and walk around for a few minutes. Over time, posture can be affected if you spend hours sitting and can also lead to low back pain. You could replace your desk chair with a stability ball. Sitting on this round unstable surface will force you to engage your core and teach you to sit up tall with a neutral spine.
You can greatly improve your posture by incorporating resistance training, core work, and Yoga or Pilates into your exercise program. Resistance training helps to build lean muscle. Working all major muscle groups two to four times a week will help keep your body in muscular balance. There are several resistance training exercises that can dramatically improve posture. Back and shoulder exercises can especially help. The back is a large muscle group composed of many different muscles. A great goal is to target all these muscles within the week with resistance training exercises. To target the latissimus dorsi (known as lats), located on the sides of the upper to middle back, you can perform pull ups or lat pull downs on a machine. If you do not have access to a machine, you can perform a pullover with a barbell or dumbbells. To work the rhomboids and teres major, located on the upper and middle portion of the back, try rows. You can perform rows on a machine, or with dumbbells or a barbell in a bent over position.
When training the shoulders, it is important to remember that there is three main areas of the shoulders. The front, middle, and the commonly neglected rear shoulders. Rear shoulders are especially important to work. People who have weak rear shoulders (also known as rear deltoids, or delts) can become rounded in the shoulder area. You can perform overhead presses to work the front and middle shoulder, front raises to work the front shoulder, and lateral raises to work the middle shoulder. You can perform rear flys with dumbbells or a machine to work the rear shoulders. This is a small muscle and can be weak so makes sure to start with light dumbbells. A great gentle way to work the rear shoulders is by using a resistance band for rear flys. You can perform this exercise standing or seated on a stability ball. Hold a light resistance band with both hands extended in front of you over the chest, hands in line with shoulders. Exhale as you pull the hands away from each other in opposite directions, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Return to the starting position and perform two to three sets of 10-15.
In the last few years, the fitness industry has exploded with the term “core training”. Your core is composed of the abdominals and the lower back. Strengthening the core can help improve posture and decrease low back pain. The low back is often overlooked with exercisers focused on achieving a six pack. It is equally as important to train the lower back as well as the abdomen to create muscular balance. Here are a couple of exercises that will help strengthen the core.
The Plank- This exercise targets the abdominals, and the lower back works as stabilizers. Make a fist and wrap the other hand around it, making a v shape with the arms. Balancing on arms and toes, lift body into a straight line, being careful not to bring the hips up or let them drop. Keep the core engaged and hold this position 20-60 seconds, keeping breathing steady. You could perform a side plank as well to target the obliques. You can also modify this exercise by dropping to the knees and holding plank position.
Back Extensions- Lie face down on floor, legs and arms extended. Exhale, and lift opposite arm and leg, inhale and lower. Repeat on the other side for one repetition. You can also perform a back extension using a roman chair or the back extension machine at the gym.
The Bridge- This exercise targets the hamstrings and gluteus, and the abdominals and low back work as stabilizers. Lie on your back with feet flat and knees bent. Exhale and lift hips, squeezing glutes. Inhale and lower. This classic exercise has many different variations. You can hold the position as well, or try one leg bridges if you are an advanced exerciser. You could perform this exercise with feet on top of a stability ball for a balance challenge, and to recruit more muscle fibers in the hamstrings, gluteus and core.
You may consider trying Yoga and Pilates to strengthen the core and to improve flexibility. Most gyms offer Yoga and Pilates classes. Also, there are many instructional books and DVD’s available for home practice. Yoga is the practice of postures, some standing and some seated. Yoga strengthens the entire body, improves balance, flexibility , and mental focus. Pilates is classic mat work to strengthen the core by blending breath with movement. These two practices are restorative and gentle and will go a long way to help you achieve your goal of improved posture.