How to Improve Your Posture

It's been over 4 months since most designers began getting to terms with their new working from home environment. In a lot of cases, and this definitely includes me, the setup is far from ideal. I've managed to hijack my work computer and relocate it to a small desk in a spare bedroom. But the desk certainly isn't my work area of choice, and my chair is no Aeron. So while I've been productive, my posture has been suffering and my aches and pains have now become a daily occurence.

Matt Palozzi from Instinct Health has been a gym partner for a few years. His Physiotherapy business also runs classes in Pilates, Yoga, Strength Training and Dietetics. He's been publishing a few videos during lockdown, and this particular workout seemed targeted at desk-bound workers like me, so I thought I'd share, with his permission, his workout video and accompanying notes. I hope it helps a lot of people get through the coming weeks - if you like it give Matt and the team a shout-out on Instagram

How to Improve Your Posture

A common complaint we hear from clients is feeling that they have poor posture. For each person the “perfect posture” is going to different, as we are not all the same and certain positions and postures will be comfortable for some, but not for others. Having poor posture can lead to lower back pain, thoracic (mid-back) pain, neck pain and headaches. Good posture is being able to hold your body in a position which leads to the least amount of stress on your muscles and joints. Because we are all built differently, this position will be different for everyone.

Improving posture involves a combination of strengthening and stretching exercises. You need to build up endurance in the muscles that help maintain good posture and you need to stretch the muscles which, when tight, pull you into poor positions. While the muscles that need to be targeted will be slightly different for each person, there are some common problematic postures (often in combination) that can be easily addressed with some simple exercises. These include:

1. Rounded shoulders

This is often a result of being too tight in the muscles at the front of the shoulders/chest (particularly the pectoral muscles) and not being strong enough in the muscles that draw the shoulder blades towards each other, opening up the front of the chest. To combat this, try this stretch and strengthening exercise.

– Pec stretch on a foam roller
Lie with a long foam roller down your spine (your head and tailbone should both fit on the foam roller). Open your arms out to the side until you feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 20 seconds, then bring the arms back up in front of you before you open them out again, trying to get further than the first time. Repeat 3-4 times.

– Prone scapular (shoulder blade) retraction
Lie on your front with a folded towel resting under your forehead to hold your head off the floor. Your arms are by your sides with palms facing your hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. If this feels relatively easy, add lifting the hands just off the floor. You should feel this in the muscles between your shoulder blades and spine.

2. Downwardly sloped shoulders

This is caused by weakness in the upper trapezius muscles. Women with this posture often complain that their bra straps fall off their shoulders a lot. This is because the tip of your shoulder is sitting lower than it should, creating the downward slope. Let’s build up the muscles in your shoulders, and stop the slope!

– Shrugs
Stand with your arms by your side and palms facing forwards. Square up both shoulders, then gently shrug one shoulder up towards your ear (without moving your head). Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. You should feel this working the muscle between the tip of your shoulder and your neck. Do one side at a time.

3. Slouching/flattened lower back, particularly when sitting

This is often related to poor core strength and an inability to maintain good posture in your lower back. Some simple core exercises to begin with are:

1. Crook lie leg lifts
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Ensure your knees and feet remain hips width apart. Take a deep breath in, allowing your belly to rise. As you exhale, gently tighten your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Maintaining this contraction in your muscles, bring one knee in to tabletop position (hip at 90 degrees, knee at 90 degrees), then lower it down onto the floor. Repeat this movement with your other leg alternating back and forth, ensuring you do not lose the contraction in your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

1a. Leg lift and lower (progression from exercise 1)
A progression for this exercise is to take the leg from a tabletop position, extend the leg out so that both thighs are parallel. Bring the leg back into tabletop, then return your foot to the floor. Repeat with the opposite leg. Make sure as you complete this exercise not to lose the contraction of your abdominal muscles, and ensure you keep breathing throughout.

2. 4 point kneel leg lift
Start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Make sure your back has only its natural curves, rather than completely flat. Gently squeeze your abdominal muscles and your pelvic floor. Without moving your back, squeeze your glute muscle and extend one leg directly behind you, as if you are sliding your big toe along the floor. Pause with the leg extended for 1 second, then slide the foot back to its starting position. Repeat with the opposite limb.

2a. Bird dog (progression from exercise 2)
Once you have achieved leg lifts in isolation, you can begin to add in upper limb movement to destabilise your body and therefore add challenge to your balance exercises. Starting in the same position as above, without moving your back, slowly lift one arm out in front, and the opposite leg out behind you. Pause with arm and leg extended, then return to the floor. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Make sure you continue to breathe throughout and maintain that gentle squeeze of both pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.

4. Chin too far forward

This is often caused by a weakness in the muscles at the front of the neck, meaning our head has a tendency to flop forwards. This exercise will help to hold your head high throughout the day!

Lie on your back with a folded towel or small pillow under your head. Place your hands on the front of your neck, just off to each side. Lift your head slightly off the pillow and feel these muscles tighten. These are the muscles you DON’T want to feel with this exercise. Now rest your head back down on the pillow. Gently nod your head forwards (imagine you are trying to make a very subtle double chin). You shouldn’t feel any tension in those muscles toward the front of your neck. The muscles you are working are much deeper than these so you shouldn’t feel anything. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times.

Reproduced with Permission from Instinct Health