The word alone is enough to unearth up memories of your mother barking, “sit up straight!”. Not to mention the fact that as college kids, we spend quite a bit of time hunched over our computers pounding out papers and studying day and night (okay, that’s optimistic). But posture, and proper form, are often forgotten in our workout routines.
Here’s the truth: proper posture (defined as aligning the body so that the pull of gravity is distributed evenly) plays a HUGE role in preventing soreness, aches and pains, and injuries. If your body is out of alignment, it means that paired muscles are uneven. Having your quads tight and your hamstrings loose, for example, can stress your joints and cause aches and loss of motion. Poor posture in the upper body has even been linked to migraines. So there you have it; posture isn’t only good for looking good, although we can all agree that standing up straight takes years off of your age and gives the illusion of being long and lean.
So how do you know if you have good posture?
If you can, have someone take a picture of you standing, from the side. Look at yourself.
You should have a straight line going through your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. This means all of your agonist and antagonist muscles are pretty much equally toned, and your body is in balance.
Maybe you don’t have the best posture. You can tell if your head tilts forward, if you have rounded shoulders, your lower back has an excessive arch, or if your butt sticks out a little too far, or not really at all.
Looking at yourself from the front can help as well. Your head should be straight, shoulders and hips even, and your kneecaps and ankles should face the front.
Which one are you?
SparkPeople.com, one of my favorite health resources, has four excellent steps towards developing good posture. Check it out.
1. Work on your core.
It all starts with your core – it is your body’s center, after all! Your core includes your abs, lower back, obliques, and hips. If you have a strong core, you can stand upright and decrease back pain.
Crunches, side planks, plank holds, back extensions, and crunches with a twist are great ways to strengthen your core.
2. Train your upper back to get rid of rounded shoulders.
If your life consists of a lot of driving or working at a desk (hello, college classes and late-night hours at the library) the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and hips become short and tightened over time. This causes your shoulders to become rounded and hunched. Think of it like your back muscles are loose and stretchy and can’t support your shoulders and neck.
Try reverse dumbbell flys and rows to strengthen your upper back, and stretches for your chest to loosen up those muscles in the front.
3. (Un)pop that hip.
Do your hips tilt forward, giving you an unnatural swayback? You probably have loose hamstrings, which are the muscles on the backs of your thighs, and loose glutes and abs as well. Constantly sitting tightens up our hip flexors, which tricks our hips into tilting forward.
Core exercises will help with this, as will leg curls to develop your hamstrings. Stretch your hip flexors and quadriceps (front of your upper legs), with a standing quad stretch and kneeling hip flexor stretch.
4. You’re not an ostrich.
So get rid of your forward head tilt! This is another unfortunate consequence of working or studying a lot, which tends to make our front and side neck muscles tight and the ones in the back loose. Usually people with rounded shoulders also have a head tilt.
Here’s a neck retraction exercise: elongate the back of your neck by pulling your chin straight in and releasing gently. A headrest exercise can be done if you’re driving by pushing your head into the headrest for a few seconds, then releasing.
Try to do these exercises a few times a week if you have back or neck pain, headaches, or you have determined visually that your posture is a little wacky. Posture and proper form lay the groundwork for effective, and safe, exercising. Are you aligned?
Some other helpful resources:
Real Simple‘s back strengthening exercises
Much love! – Gemma