This is one of the MOST common problems I see in today’s society. Everyone has poor posture, and they are either unaware or do not know how to fix it. The truth is bad posture has almost become the “norm” in today’s society. Nearly everyone is a victim of bad posture. Take a look around the next time you are at the mall, gym, or grocery store. You will see how popular “bad posture” truly is. But, it isn’t their fault. Most people are unaware of their daily habits that are causing bad posture, and they simply do not know how to fix it. With most technology (computers/cell phones) forcing our heads into excessive forward flexion, the true question is not if you are going to develop bad posture, but when.
I am going to be discussing what causes bad posture, and 3 easy steps to fixing your posture. Your posture can be fixed, but it will take time. Remember, your posture did not get that way overnight. It will take time to adaptively change and fix your posture. You will be amazed how much better you will feel with good posture. The muscle knots, aches, pains, and headaches will begin to disappear!
What Causes Bad Posture?
The main cause of bad posture is technology forcing our heads into excessive forward flexion, sitting too long, and lack of activity. The majority of people spend hours of the day texting on their phone or typing at a computer. Overtime, sitting with forward head position will wreck havoc on your neck musculature, shoulders, and back. The common “bad posture” position is the head in a forward position along with the shoulders rounding forward. Your body will adapt while in this position by changing the surrounding muscles. The muscles in the front of the shoulder (primarily pectoralis major & minor) will get shorter & tight. The muscles in your back (primarily rhomboids & middle traps) will get elongated & weak.
Main Causes of Bad Posture
- Excessive Forward Head Flexion
- Sitting Too Long
- Lack of Activity
- Rounded Shoulders
- Computer Usage
- Weak Posterior Muscles (back muscles)
- Weak Core
- Tight Pecs (chest muscles)
How to Fix Your Posture- Step 1 (Practice)
The main goal of Step 1 is to identify what posture you have, and to visualize/practice putting yourself into proper posture. First, you must know what good posture is. Most people believe it is standing up tall or simply sitting up straight, but there is more to it than that. Look at the image to the right. These are examples of bad postures that you may see people having or you may have one of them yourself. The most common posture in today’s society is the “forward head/thoracic kyphosis”. This is due to people staring at their computer/cell phone hunched over for multiple hours.
The “Good Posture” on the far right in the image is very easy to perform, but without fixing the underlying issues (tight/weak muscles) you simply cannot stay in that position. The good posture exhibits a proper chin tuck, with shoulders down/back, and the hips in good alignment. You can see how the redline goes perfectly from the ears down through the middle of the body. That is the posture you need to consciously be trying to put yourself into. The goal of step 1, is to identify what posture you have, and to visualize/practice putting yourself into proper posture. It is important to be consciously thinking about your posture throughout the entire day.
Can A Postural Corrector Help?
I often get asked about products like these for people to wear throughout the day to fix their posture. People often ask me if they can wear these all day/ every day to correct their alignment and fix their bad postural habits. My answer is YES and NO. The product will indeed put you into a proper shoulder/back alignment, and let you know how it feels to have good posture, but that is not the solution to the problem. The product will simply cause your back/shoulder muscles to weaken even more because they will not have to do any work to hold you into that position. I tell my patients they can purchase the product to wear for a week or so ONLY to see how it feels, and to teach them what position they should be in for correct posture. I do not recommend they use the product for more than a week or 2 weeks, because it will only make the issue worse in the long run. Check out my other article here on postural braces.
How to Fix Your Posture- Step 2 (Stretch/Release)
The main goal of Step 2 is to stretch and release the muscles that are contributing to your poor posture. The main muscles that need stretched/released are the Pectoralis Major and Minor. These are your “pecs” or chest muscles. These two muscles are notorious for being tight, and contribute to a rounded/forward posture. Stretching MUST be done before you strengthen your muscles. You must stretch the tight anterior shoulders muscles before you strengthen. If you just strengthen first and try to hold good posture, your tight muscles will pull you back into bad posture. After you stretch these muscles, Step 3 will focus on strengthening your muscles to maintain proper posture that you practiced in Step 1.
The Pectoralis or (chest muscles) are very tight in almost everyone from years of sitting. While sitting most people are slouched forward with their shoulders and neck in a forward position. Overtime, these muscles will become adaptively shorter and tighten. You need to stretch/release these muscles daily in order to make a change.
Releasing Tight Pecs
I recommend using a lacrosse ball or foam roller to release these tight muscles. To do this, you simply find the tight Pectoralis Major/Minor muscles located in the front area of your shoulder/chest. Then, place the lacrosse ball, foam roller, or self massage tool in that area. I find a self massage tool the easiest to use when trying to release the Pectoralis Minor muscle. This muscle WILL be tender, that is how you know you found it. Once you locate the tender/tight muscle you must maintain pressure on the muscle for 1-2 minutes. This needs to be repeated several times throughout the day, along with stretching, to release these chronically tight muscles.
Stretching Tight Pecs
You need to be stretching daily to help lengthen the tight anterior muscles. The image below is a great Pectoralis Major stretch that you can do in any doorway or wall corner. Simply place both arms inside the doorway and slightly lean your body into the stretch. You will feel the stretch in your chest and front of your shoulder. Hold this position for 30 seconds-60 seconds and repeat 3-4x a day. This is a great way to open up chest and shoulders, and will help offset the time you spend hunched over.
How to Fix Your Posture- Step 3 (Strengthen)
After Steps 1 & 2 are complete. You need to strengthen your posterior chain muscles (rhomboids and middle/lower trapezius muscles), and deep neck flexors to maintain this new posture. This is the hardest step that takes time, and proper form to make sure you are working the correct muscles. It will take several weeks for these muscles to truly get stronger and maintain your new posture. Remember muscles take time and constant workload for them to grow/strengthen.
The best postural strengthening exercises can be done at home with a resistant band. Resistance bands are the best way to provide linear resistance throughout the entire motion, and they can be completed everywhere. I recommend people complete these postural strengthening exercises 2-3x a day to get the fastest results.
- Find a resistant band that provide a decent amount of challenge. Put your arms in-front of your body, and then pull both arms apart from each other until your arms are in a “T” position. Make sure your head is forward, chest is nice and tall, and that you are squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for 3-5 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10-12x. 2-3 times a day.
- The resistance bands can be hooked to the door or simply wrapped around a post/pole to allow you to row the bands towards your chest. This is a great exercise to strengthen your posterior chain (primarily the rhomboids & middle trapezius). Pull the resistance band towards your chest, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 10-12x. 2-3 times a day.
- Last but not least. Is the “Y” position. This exercise is KEY to fixing a poor posture. I recommend doing these standing or seated to get the full range of motion and proper positioning. First, hook a resistance band on a door or post. Then with your thumbs pointing up, raise your arms into a “Y” position while pulling your shoulder blades back and down. Try to hold this position for 3-5 seconds, and then slowly lower your arms back down towards the ground. This may be challenging at first but try to complete 10-12 reps. Repeat 10-12x. 2-3 times a day.
REMEMBER… your bad posture did not happen overnight, and neither will fixing it! The first step is to become consciously aware of your posture. Throughout the day remember to keep a good upright position with your chin tucked, and shoulder pulled back. It won’t be perfect, but everyday you will spend more and more time in a better posture. Stay consistent with Steps 2 & 3. The stretches, releases, and strengthening exercises are extremely important in fixing your posture. You will notice significant results if you follow these steps every day with consistency. I have seen TONS of patients change their posture in 1-2 months with proper positioning, stretching, and postural strengthening exercises. Remain patient, stay consistent, and you will see results.