Exercises to Improve Posture
One of the first things that people will notice about you is your posture. If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, you are likely to be in one posture for dozens of hours in a week, or thousands of hours in a year. What many people don’t realise is that posture can also affect how much pain you get in different parts of your body, the types of injuries you are likely to get, as well as your breathing, and even how you feel. At Active Physiotherapy Newtown & Darlinghurst our team of highly skilled and experienced physiotherapists assess and educate many people about how their posture can be affecting them in these ways, and most importantly, how we can help them to change it.
Types of postures
The shape of your spine is designed to share the weight of your body along its length. When one section of your spine does not have good posture, this can contribute to pain and injuries around that area. If your head is positioned in front of your shoulders when viewed from side-on, you likely have what is described as forward head posture. Your head is likely to weighs about 5kg on average. Because this weight is not balanced on top of your shoulders, this position can strain your neck muscles, and increase the stress placed on your neck. This can result in tightness and pain in your neck. This can also result in the deeper core muscles of your neck being unable to function effectively. Having a core that activates and controls your neck motion optimally can reduce your chances of having an injury to a disc or nerve in your neck.
Benefits of good posture
Having good posture feels great! It allows you to breathe easier and to feel stable and strong. From a physiotherapy perspective, when your neck is sitting on your chest and your chest is sitting on your pelvis (which we call “stacking”), your core can activate effectively, and your body is best placed to tolerate loads. These loads might be throwing a cricket ball, picking up a baby out of a cot or repetitive lifting at work. Being in the best possible position for this will reduce the cumulative loads that your body is being exposed to during your functional tasks.
Exercises for good posture
What is good posture? At Active Physiotherapy Newtown & Darlinghurst, we really like to teach our patients a simple exercise called “stacking”. This is where you place one set of fingers on your breastbone (that bone in the middle of your chest) and one set of fingers on your pubic bone (that bone in the front of your pelvis right down low on your tummy). Then aim to have the breastbone over the top of the pubic bone so that your chest and directly stacked on top of your pelvis.
Figure 1 – slumped posture
Figure 2 – corrected posture
Notice what this does to any tension you may be feeling in your neck /shoulders / low back?
Exercises to help your posture
- Neck postural muscle activation
Sit against a wall with your hips 1 inch from the wall. Let your upper back and head rest against the wall. Tip your chin down like you are nodding the word “yes”. Do this slowly so your core muscles can perform the task – we are trying to bypass the big strong movement muscles along the sides of your neck (called the sternocleidomastoid muscles – there’s a mouthful!). Once you have achieved the correct activation, hold and breathe for 10 secs. Then let go and relax your neck. Repeat so you have performed 10 x 10 secs holds – this is a great exercise for increasing stability of your neck.
Figure 3 – deep neck flexor activation
- Upper back strengthening
Lie on your tummy with your face down. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor and hold for 3 secs. Rest back down for 3 secs. Repeat 10x.
Figure 4 – Upper back strengthening
- YTW middle back strengthening
Lie on your tummy and hold your arms above your head – they will naturally make a shape like the letter “Y” then lift your arms off the floor. Place your hands back down on the floor and lift them up towards your sides to make the letter “T” and then lower down. Then bend your arms and lift them off the floor to make the letter “W” and then lower. Repeat this sequence to make x10 YTW shapes with your arms.
Figure 5 – YTW exercise
- Chest stretch for tight pecs
Tight pecs can make your shoulders rounded. So stretching these powerful muscles when they are tight can really help. See the photo below for an easy stretch you can do using a doorway at home.
Figure 6 – Pec stretch
- Table stretch for tight lats / upper back
Find a fixed point around the height of your belt line. It can be anything that won’t move for eg. the top of a handrail of a balcony or fence. Hold onto this handrail and sink your hips and allow them to go back. Allow your armpits to head towards the floor and try and straighten your spine. Breathe x 4 breaths and each time you breathe out, let your body soften just a little bit more. After your 4th breath in and out, slowly stand up and see how good it feels! Are you standing straighter?
Figure 7 – Table Stretch