“Stand up straight!” my mother used to say as she’d come up behind me and grasp my shoulders, pulling them back as she put her knee into my lower back. Used to drive me nuts.
She did have a point, though. Beside looking terrible, poor posture can cause neck, back, and leg pain.
Slouching is an easy habit to get into, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting–your rear end almost always ends up sliding forward in the chair, putting undue pressure on your lower back.
When you slouch while standing, your head moves forward, in front of your body. You can’t see your profile, but next time you’re in front of a mirror, take a peek.
For every inch the head is forward of your body, its weight falls on your neck and upper back muscles. Your head weighs roughly 10-11 pounds–that’s a lot of pressure.
If your head is three inches in front of your shoulders, there are 30 pounds of pressure on your neck and upper back. No wonder your back hurts.
Posture affects how you walk, sleep, sit, and stand. Improper alignment creates continuous tension and can lead to muscle and head aches.
Proper posture prevents fatigue and wear-and-tear on ligaments and joints. It is important for good blood circulation and full breathing. You should know what good posture looks like so you have something with which to compare what you see in the mirror:
If you’re a sloucher, here are some exercises that will transform your bad posture habit into a better-looking, more healthful one–and keep your mother off your back.
1. Chin Tuck
If you normally hold your head forward from your shoulders, this exercise will strengthen your neck muscles so you’ll find it easier to hold that 10-pound rock on the top of your body in its proper position. It can be done sitting or standing–a good little exercise break from pounding away at the computer.
- Start with your shoulders rolled back and down.
- Looking straight ahead, place two fingers on your chin, slightly tuck it and push your head back; tucking your chin as far under as is comfortable to get a stretch.
- Hold 3-5 seconds, then release.
- Repeat 10 times.
This is good exercise to do in your car, using the headrest as opposing stationary force (only while car is stopped, of course).
- Follow steps 1 and 2 above.
- Press the back of your head into the headrest for 3-5 seconds.
- Repeat 15-20 times.
2. Doorway Stretch
This one feels sooo good. It will open and loosen tight chest muscles.
- Stand in a doorway and place your leg closer to the doorjamb slightly bent and in front of you, the opposite leg behind with the ball of the foot on the floor.
- Lift your arm so that your elbow is parallel to the floor with your lower arm resting on the doorjamb, hand up.
- Slowly lean into your raised arm and push against the doorjamb for 7-10 seconds.
- Relax and lean again, pushing your chest forward through the doorway into a slight lunge. Hold for 7-10 seconds.
- Repeat 2-3 times on each side, alternating between sets.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch
- Kneel on your right knee with the top of your foot on the floor.
- Place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you.
- Place both hands on your left thigh and press your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your hip muscles.
- Contract your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis slightly back, keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
- Hold 20-30 seconds, then switch your legs and repeat for the other side.
The resistance band provides just the right amount of stress for you to stretch your neck and shoulders, strengthening as you do.
- While standing, place one foot forward so your knees are slightly bent.
- Place the resistance band under the ball of each foot and grab one end of the band with each hand.
- Lift your arms up and out from your body with elbows slightly bent, slowing raising them until they are at shoulder level. Keep shoulder blades down and back (and head) straight.
- Hold 2-4 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Repeat slowly for 2 minutes.
Perform this exercise 5 days a week for noticeable relief of shoulder and neck pain and improved posture.
5. Wall Angel
- Stand with your back against a wall with your feet about four inches from it. Keep knees slightly bent. Your buttocks, spine, and head should all be touching the wall.
- Bring your arms up with the elbows bent at right angles and squeeze your shoulder blades together, forming the letter “W” with your head in the middle.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Straighten your elbows and raise your arms to form the letter “Y”. Keep your shoulders down.
- Repeat 10 times moving from “W” for 3 seconds, then to “Y”.
- Do 2-3 sets.
Using a resistance band gives your muscles something to work against. This exercise strengthens the rhomboid muscles (major and minor) in your upper back between the shoulder blades.
- Sit on the floor with legs extended forward and straight. Place the middle of the resistance band around the bottom of your feet and cross one side over the other to make an “X” over your legs.
- Grab the ends of the band with arms extended in front of you.
- Pull the ends of the band toward your hips and bend your elbows so they point back and slightly upward.
- Hold 2-4 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 times for three sets.
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