Ok, so you want to have a bigger chest and a flat stomach, and maybe you’d like to be a little taller. What is the quickest way to each of these goals? Something your mother could have told you (and probably did): You need to work on your posture. But you don’t need to walk around the room with a book on your head to gain better posture. There are a few easy exercises you can do everyday to put some confidence in your stride (and a light in your mother's eye).
What is Posture?
First let’s be clear what posture is. Posture is sometimes thought of as a static position—being stiff and holding your chin up, right? Well, no. In reality, posture is the alignment and function of all of your body parts at any given moment, whether that moment is one where you are still or in motion. It is important to remember this when you are working out, because proper alignment, or posture, is the starting point to any movement. Repetitive altered movement patterns (what we generally call "poor form") place unusual stress on the joints and, therefore, the muscles. This leaves you much more vulnerable to injury. Working on your posture is working on your alignment: it takes the "altered" out of your movement patterns and allows you to be fluid and functional. And, for those of you concerned with aesthetics, it’s important to note that proper posture opens your chest, engages your abs, and adjusts your head position. You'll both look better and feel better.
Before we get to the exercises, let’s review proper posture in a static position, such as standing. Start with the feet: they should be pointed straight ahead, rather than out to the sides or inward. Moving up the leg, the knees should track in line with your second and third toes, pointing straight ahead. Proper posture of the hips requires a neutral position, one not tilted too far to the front of the body, as that produces an extreme lower back arch. Likewise, tilting the hips too far backward causes an overly-flat back. The last two areas of note are the shoulder and head positions. Most of us have a tendency to round our shoulders forward due to office work or the use of computers. Proper posture of the shoulders means pulling them back and down. A neutral head position is one in which the chin is slightly tucked, as if you were pressing the back of your head into a wall behind you.
Work Your Posture
Once you are standing up straight, it's time to think about some exercises. In fact, you are going to need to train for posture. And, you need to train in two ways. Improper posture has tightened you in the wrong places, and left you weak where you need strength to hold you up straight. So, you will need both flexibility exercises to open up the tight or overactive muscles that impede correct posture—and you will need strength exercises to help you build up the muscles that good posture relies upon, and that poor posture has left weak. Plan to rotate these into your regular exercise program on a regular basis and you should see improvements in your movement throughout your life activities.
|POSTURE EXERCISES: FLEXIBILITY TRAINING|
|Stability Ball Chest Stretch|
|Start on all fours with your pelvis slightly tucked to prevent an excessive lower-back arch. Tilt your head back as if there were a straight line from your ears to your hips. Using a small-to-medium stability ball, reach your right arm out to the side, bent at the elbow 90 degrees with palm facing down, and place the ball under your forearm and elbow to support the arm and open the right side of your chest. From this point, relax your self toward the ground, giving yourself a great stretch in the chest and front of the right shoulder. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.|
|Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch|
|Starting on both knees, bring your left foot forward as if you were in a lunge stance, with the knee joint at 90 degrees. The right knee will stay on the ground as you slowly move your upper body forward (increasing the angle of the left knee bend), and push your hips by contracting your right glute. This movement will begin to stretch your right quadriceps and the front of your right hip. For some this may be enough of a stretch. For those that need a bit more, you may bring your right arm straight up in the air as you move your upper body forward. Be sure your lower back is not arched. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.|
|Upper Spinal Floor Twist|
|Lie on your side with both knees together and bent at a right angle to your body. Extend your arms out in front of you (so that the lower one is on the floor), and so they are level with the shoulders and parallel to your upper legs, with palms together. Slowly lift the top arm up and over to the other side so that your upper body is in a "T" while your knees remain over to the side, turning the head to look toward the ceiling. Let gravity slowly lower the arm to the floor. Breathe and let your spinal muscles relax. If needed, you may use your other hand on your top knee to make sure the knees stay together during the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.|
|POSTURE EXERCISES: STRENGTH TRAINING|
|Seated Wall Arm Raises|
|The goal of this exercise is to train your shoulder blades to remain down and together during an shoulder reach. Sit on the floor with your back against the wall. Bring the bottoms of your feet together with knees out to the sides. Press your entire backside against the wall including lower back and hips. Keeping your chin tucked, bring your arms up to a 90 degree angle, so that your upper arm is parallel with the floor and your forearm is vertical, and both the upper and lower arms pressed against the wall. Now slowly extend your arms up, reaching to the ceiling, but without letting your arms come off the wall. Pay close attention that your shoulders do not start to raise toward your ears. Keep your shoulder blades down and together throughout the motion. Repeat the reaches 15-20 times slowly.|
|There are many different versions and progressions of the Cobra but the basic Floor Cobra is a good place to start. Lie on your stomach with arms alongside your body and your palms facing the floor. Draw-in your belly button and pull shoulder blades together, as you open your chest. Lift chest and hands off floor, keeping arms straight and back and thumbs rotating back to open your shoulders. Your lower body should remain relaxed as this is an exercise that is focused on your back muscles. Keep chin tucked so your head is in line with your spine. Hold the up position for five seconds and slowly lower. Repeat this movement 15 to 20 times.|
|Supermans are a back-strengthening classic; here you will do them on a BOSU. To begin, place the Bosu ball flat side down on the floor, lie face down on it, and position yourself so your stomach is directly on top of the dome. Keep your eyes towards the floor so your neck stays in line with the rest of your spine. Stretch your arms straight out in front of you and your legs straight out in back of you, allowing your hands and feet to rest on the floor. Using opposite arm and leg movements, lift one arm and one leg off the floor, drawing your belly button in to do so. In this exercise, focus on keeping your shoulder blades back and down during the reach. Hold for five seconds, return them to starting position, and slowly lift the opposite arm and leg. Repeat this movement 15 to 20 times on each side. Note: Your lower back should not arch excessively during any of these movements. If it does, that is an indication this exercise too advanced. You should not feel any pain in your back or core; at most only mild discomfort from muscular fatigue.|
About Ryan Allen: Ryan is a personal trainer certified through The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), a gold standard in the fitness industry. His education and lifelong training in various sports and disciplines, such as yoga, gymnastics, and running, as well as his focus on posture, movement patterns, and fitness level form the basis for the individualized programs that he builds for each of his clients. He can be found training his clients at DIAKADI Body as well as various outdoor locations throughout San Francisco.