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How to Maintain Good Posture: Overcoming Challenges Through Improved Strength and Flexibility
When it comes to posture, our ability to implement corrections seems to last as long as we can remain singularly focused on holding the correct positions.
For those of us who multi-task or have varying levels of attention deficit, the relief to the spine and core muscles lasts a couple of minutes.
We unconsciously revert to our normal position… and the slouch starts to return.
Like other muscles in the body, the posture and stabilization muscles fatigue, especially when you are not conditioned to engage them regularly.
The best way to make lasting changes to your posture is to strengthen the muscles to build solid fundamental positions that support the spine.
A concerted effort should be made to strengthen those muscles that have atrophied due to inactivity or improper movement mechanics.
Realizing you may have an issue or are developing a problem is the first step toward making lasting changes to your posture.
But how do you know which structures provide critical support and the specific muscles to target?
Evaluating Your Posture
To understand how to maintain good posture, you’ll want to begin by identifying the positions that create poor postures.
Many everyday activities lead to postural changes, including driving, working on a laptop, and looking down at your cell phone.
Posture and the Upper Extremities
Isolate repetitive tasks you engage in frequently and assess how these actions reinforce poor posture.
For example, are you currently reading this on a phone or laptop?
If you are, is your head and neck bent over to see the screen better?
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Are your shoulders hunched and rolled forward in front of your chest?
Suppose you heighten your awareness of this type of position and find you often in this posture.
In that case, a concentrated focus on a strength training routine will reinforce the back muscles and provide core support—specifically, the rhomboids and the lower portion of the trapezius muscles.
Posture and the Lower Extremities
Evaluating the posture of the lower extremity can be more challenging.
The lower extremity consists of both legs from the hip joint to the toes.
I would suggest having your chiropractor assess at your next visit, but here are a few posture points you can check on your own.
The position of the knees and feet is extremely important because they translate directly to gait alignment in all regimes of walking and running.
When standing naturally, are your feet pointed straight ahead, or are they turned in or out?
Are your knees straight and locked out, or is there a slight bend in the knees?
Do your knees bow towards each other or away?
The position of the hips and pelvis are also interconnected with the lower extremity when assessing posture and provide core stability to the body’s major muscle groups.
This is the base that the spine rests on, and any tilt can affect the spine and core.
To check your pelvic tilt, place your hands on your hips.
Tuck your tailbone under (like a dog tucking his tail in), then roll your tailbone back like you are about to sit down.
Then try to find a standing position between those two extremes with your tailbone.
We commonly see an anterior pelvic tilt in people who sit for most of their day.
This could be at a desk job, driving, or even sitting on the couch for long periods.
“The average American adult now spends about 6½ hours a day sitting — an increase of about an hour a day since 2007. For teenagers ages 12 to 19, that number is eight hours a day.” (1).
In my practice, I have observed a significant increase in the hours spent sitting and working from home.
Once you have executed your posture assessment, you’ll have a complete understanding of areas to target with corrective exercises.
The muscles that hold you in good posture need to be able to do so for long periods.
The Best Exercises for Maintaining Good Posture
Incorporating the following exercises and performing them frequently can help improve the strength required to hold that posture and the endurance of those muscles.
For this article, we will focus on the most common postural deformities: forward head carriage and anterior pelvic tilt.
Upper Body Posture Exercises
A significant focus in our approach to addressing forward head carriage is to design exercises to work on strengthening the rhomboid major and Minor and the middle and lower portion of the trapezius muscle.
These muscles reside between the shoulder blades in the mid-back.
The muscles in the upper back play a significant role in retraction, pulling the shoulder blades back and together.
While the upper back muscles tend to be weak in most people, the muscles in the rear portion of the neck and front of the chest (upper trapezius and the pectorals) also lack flexibility.
To target the lower trapezius muscle, lie on your stomach with your arms by your side, palms face down on the floor.
From that position, work on lifting your palm off the floor, focusing on moving your shoulder blade toward your spine.
(This movement is similar to the variation of the Superman exercise pictured below that targets the low back. Here, you would raise your arms independent of your upper body and draw inward towards your spine at the top of each motion.)
Hold this for a second, then return to the starting position.
While performing any of these upper body exercises, one thing to keep in mind is to keep your shoulders relaxed and pulled down and back away from your ears.
When creating a plan for how to maintain good posture, “Y” raises are another great exercise that targets the lower trap muscle that is worthy of inclusion.
This can be done lying with the arms overhead in a “Y”, lifting the arms off the ground and focusing on moving the shoulder blades together.
This exercise can also be performed standing with the assistance of an exercise strap, such as a TRX strap.
Again, the focus is on the movement of the shoulder blades toward the spine (squeezing your shoulder blades together).
Rhomboid major and minor can be strengthened through exercises like the Brugger exercise.
Sit with your elbows bent to 90 degrees, palms face up as if holding a tray.
Keeping your elbows at your sides, rotate your hands away from each other.
Focus on pinching your shoulder blades together, hold this for a second, then return to the initial starting position.
Rowing exercises are another way to focus on Scapular movement and strengthen the rhomboids and the Traps.
Over time, an additional challenge can be added to these exercises with the addition of a resistance band or a light weight.
Lower Body Posture Exercises
The realities of our current work and leisure requirements mean hours of sitting, which results in an anterior pelvic tilt postural change over time.
This is a forward pelvic rotation due to reduced range of motion in the hip flexors and atrophy in the hamstring and gluteal muscles.
One of the most common exercises for these two muscle groups is glute and hamstring bridges.
Like with the upper body exercises, these can be more challenging by adding a weight or resistance band.
When lying on your back, when you place your heels closer to your buttocks, the glutes are targeted.
If the heels are moved further from the buttocks, the hamstrings experience more activation.
The hamstrings can all be exercised by placing the heels on an exercise ball and pulling the ball towards the buttocks, then pushing away to roll the ball away from the buttocks.
The hamstring rollout can be more challenging by lifting the hips off the ground and holding that bridge while rolling in and out.
Many of my patients ask about hamstring exercises that involve bending at the waist then standing up, such as the “Good Mornings” exercise.
While this exercise will work the hamstrings, it also stresses the lumbar spine.
For this reason, I recommend placing more emphasis on the bridge and exercise ball exercises listed above.
The reclined position of these exercises is performed to take the weight-bearing stress off the intervertebral discs and help avoid injury.
How Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Your Posture
Making changes in the gym is an excellent start towards correcting and maintaining postural changes.
However, when working out how to maintain good posture as a whole, it is still essential to change daily life activities that reinforce the wrong posture.
Where can you make changes in your daily activities?
Focus on areas where you spend significant time, particularly on focused tasks such as your desk or workspace.
Adjust your screen to eye level, get a chair that reinforces sound posture.
Pay attention to your eyeglasses as bifocals can force you to hold your head improperly or sit forward in the chair to focus.
Consider an adjustable desktop that will allow for periods of standing or walking.
Set a timer on your phone to ensure you stand for a few minutes or execute several posture-enhancing exercises every hour.
Even those minor changes can make a noticeable difference in posture.