By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
Good posture is everything. Not only will you feel better when you’re not hunched over or compressed, but you’ll look more confident to others when you stand up straight. Did you know research has shown dominant and proper posture can even make children feel more confident in school?
But you and I both know that actually maintaining good posture can be a challenge. For those of us who spend the working day at a desk, it’s easy for our neck and back to hunch over in a chair for hours. In an era where remote working is at an all-time high due to the coronavirus, you might be wondering how to improve posture if you’re working at home for a long period of time.
Fortunately, bad posture is reversible. There’s a variety of exercises and tools you can take advantage of to strengthen your muscles and loosen out tight areas around your spine, shoulders, and chest in order to improve posture.
Good posture helps your body in a wide range of ways. It decreases strain on ligaments and joints, which can dramatically reduce the chances of arthritis and other types of repetitive injury.
Proper posture also helps your bones stay aligned so muscles can be used efficiently. This will reduce whole-body fatigue since you’re using less energy throughout the day. The alignment of the muscles and bones will cut down on aches and pains.
There’s a number of companies that market specialized posture braces that come with some pretty bold claims. Most of them assert that their tools help improve posture by pulling the shoulders back.
I can’t say I’ve had any luck with a posture brace, and I certainly can’t recommend them as a method to improve posture.
The issue is, posture braces only focus on the shoulders, while bad posture is often a combination of rounded shoulders, tight chest muscles, pelvic tilt, and forward head carriage.
You can’t just focus on one part of your body and expect a drastic transformation.
That’s why correcting poor posture is a comprehensive activity. It involves loosening up the chest and getting a good pec stretch, along with strengthening the shoulders and associated muscles through different exercises. It might even involve help from a chiropractor or massage therapist if your spine is misaligned due to years of bad posture.
Practicing some posture improving exercises during the day is a great way to strengthen your body and see dramatic alignment improvements.
One of the simplest exercises is one you probably already know: the plank. Planking is a great workout for your core and upper body.
To plank, simply lay on the floor, with your arms and feet close together, and lift your body up so just your feet and forearms are supporting your weight. It’s important to maintain a straight line while performing a plank.
You will probably feel some tension around your stomach—that’s your core getting a workout! Hold the pose for five to ten seconds and then take a break, increasing your reps and sets as you get stronger.
Here are a few other exercises to strengthen your body and improve posture:
Stand up straight and shrug your shoulders backward to your ears. Face your palms to the back of the room and pull them back, sort of like giving a “double high-five” to someone behind you.
This is a simple exercise that gives you a great stretch. Stand with your back against a wall, and place your hands behind your head and interlock your hands. Then place your elbows (flaring out) on the wall and gently flex and stretch.
This stretch really helps relieve tension in the chest and spine and helps stretch out many areas across your lower body. Stand up tall, feet together, and fold at your hips so your hands are close to your ankles. If you can’t bend that far, don’t push it; just reach as far as you comfortably can. Slightly bend your knees, tuck your chin to your chest, and let your spine stretch out as your head falls closer to the floor. Aim to hold this stretch for up to one minute.
There are a few good tools you can invest in to help your posture improve. The first is often found for free! Mobile apps like the Healthy Spine App come equipped with exercise plans and training to help you stretch your body out and strengthen areas around your chest, shoulders, and neck.
Other ways to improve your posture include optimizing your workspace. Invest in a larger monitor or a computer stand to make sure your screen is aligned at eye level, so you can work without straining or hunching over.
Many who are interested in improving their posture often wonder if sitting is unhealthy, especially if they’re sitting for long portions of the day while at work or driving in the car.
The short answer is long periods of sitting can lead to a host of negative health effects, which can include obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. However, research has shown that sixty to seventy-five minutes of moderate physical activity on a daily basis effectively counter the negative impact of sitting too much.
Think of ways to take breaks from sitting if your job requires it for long periods of time. Stand up and take a short walk every thirty minutes, or stand up while on the phone to let your body stretch. If you’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, it might be prudent to invest in or make a standing desk.
The effects of poor posture can be reversed by taking care of your body through stretching and strength-building exercises. Improving your posture is something that can easily be done from home and will have a profound impact on your general health and wellness.