As an Oxygen reader, you’re a stand-up kind of gal, and we’re not just talking about your character. Between training in the gym, running around the grocery store and all your other fit activities, you’re doing a lot of moving and grooving on your feet each day. But here’s the million-dollar question: Are you slouchier than a hot new pair of boots while you’re doing all that standing?
There’s a reason your mother always told you to stand up straight: Besides sapping your energy and making it more difficult to accomplish everything you’ve got packed into a day, poor posture has a slew of health consequences that can put a damper on your fit lifestyle; back pain, neck tension, decreased focus and even problems with digestion, to name a few.
Learning to perfect your posture, on the other hand, can boost your active life and your results in the gym. That’s because it all interweaves: The better your posture, the greater your range of motion and the stronger you get. The stronger you get, the harder you train, and the more muscle you add. The more muscle you add, the faster your metabolism, and the leaner your body and better your health. Not to mention that you’ll reap the health benefits of straightening up: You’ll prevent pain and injuries, boost your flexibility, reduce your stress levels (due to improved breathing) and feel more energized to succeed at your workouts and everything else you set out to accomplish in your day.
So how do you do it? “You’ve got to work at it a little,” says Steven Weiniger, DC, author of Stand Taller — Live Longer. You have four basic “posture zones”: Your head, torso, pelvis and legs, and your posture is dictated by how you balance them.
“Think of blocks that are irregularly shaped balancing one on top of the other,” says Weiniger. “Ideally, when facing front, you should be able to draw a straight line from between your feet to your belly button, and through your nose. From the side, this line goes through your ankle, hip, shoulder and ear.” In other words, you should be able to draw a line straight through your body, with no body part leaning forward, hunching back or out of line with the others. Your posture should be as close to this ideal standard as possible, but most people are out of whack in one zone or another due to sedentary jobs, repetitive motions and other lifestyle-related issues. Also, things like a large chest, a potbelly or a big bottom can pull your zones out of line, causing you to balance differently.
The good news is that active, healthy individuals like you typically have better posture than most people. The more fit and streamlined you are, the more in line you’ll be and the taller and straighter you’ll stand. So leave the slouching to fashion, and get your posture fit today using the Oxygen lifestyle.
Train for Balance
Once you’ve become more aware of your posture habits, you can work to improve them right inside the gym. Each of your muscles has a counterpart, and training all your muscles equally and in balance will help correct your postural deficiencies and improve your training results. Men are typically guilty of training their “mirror muscles” — the ones in the front that they can see when they look in the mirror. And you may be one of the many women who love to train their butts and legs. While this means that you can rock your short shorts in the summertime, it also means that you can suffer from tight hips and iliotibial (IT) bands. This causes lower back pain and kneecap misalignment if you’re not balancing your training by also working on your hip flexors, lower abs and hamstrings. If you want great posture for life, you need to train all your fit parts, even if you’re not a “leg woman.” If any of your muscles are weak or tight, balance them properly by incorporating a regular routine of strength training, stretching and massage.
Train these muscle sets equally for optimal posture:
- Glutes/hip flexors and lower abs
- Chest/upper back
- Abs/lower back/glutes
- Front delts/rear and lateral delts
Focus on Form
Maintaining proper posture during your workout is also essential. “You won’t use the muscle effectively through its full range of motion (from the beginning of the move right through to the end) if you’re not positioned properly,” says Juliet Deane, CSCS, co-owner of a training studio in Morganville, New Jersey. Plus, using improper form can cause additional imbalances in your muscles, emphasizing the problems you already have and setting you up for injury later.
When doing sitting or standing strength moves, imagine a string attached to the top of your head lifting you toward the ceiling to help you sit up tall. “I tell people to tuck their shoulder blades into their back pockets as a visual to get them to retract properly,” says Deane. When lying down, allow a natural arch in your lower back and draw your shoulder blades inward, and when lying facedown, focus on keeping your spine neutral. During your treadmill sessions, consciously check your posture every five minutes; you should be standing erect and be in balance, even when using an incline. “Think about walking your chest uphill, so you are constantly opening up and not rounding forward,” says Deane.
Manage Your Middle
Having a strong core is also essential to maintaining proper posture. That’s because your abdominal, hip and lower back muscles work together to keep your spine stable and supported as you train, run errands, sit at your desk at work, run to and from yoga class and cross off just about everything from your “to-do” list each and every single day. To prepare your core for this important task, make sure that you remember to strengthen it during your workouts in and out of the gym. “Big money exercises like deadlifts, squats and other multi-joint moves incorporate a ton of core work, so use those frequently to multitask, simultaneously burning fat, building muscle and improving your posture,” says Deane.
A strong core will also help to alleviate any lower back and neck pain that you may be suffering from, so remember to train it diligently. Perform two to three abdominal and core moves several times every week, training for strength on some days with moves such as weighted crunches, and training for stability on alternate days with moves such as front and side planks, says Deane.
Together with a balanced training routine and a strong focus on form during all your visits to the gym, maintaining a strong core can help you to shape up your posture and reap all the health and fitness benefits that come along with it.
Much of an imbalanced posture has to do with muscle tightness, especially through the chest, shoulders and hips. This tightness can cause a stretching and weakening of the opposing muscles. “Most people have rounded, tight shoulders from sitting all day, hunched at a computer or bending over to tend to children,” says Juliet Deane, CSCS, co-owner of a training studio in Morganville, New Jersey. “Combat this by strengthening the postural muscles of the upper back and stretching the pecs and shoulders.” Take five to 10 minutes after every workout to stretch the large muscles of the back, chest, legs and shoulders. If you’ve got a part that is especially tight, give it a few extra minutes of work to bring it up to par. Do this stretch regularly to counteract tightness in your shoulders and chest.
Setup: Lie faceup on a flat bench with your head and neck fully supported. Extend your arms out to the sides, palms facing upward.
Action: Contract your shoulder blades. Hold here, or have someone place 2.5-pound plates on your palms for a deeper stretch. Relax your upper body and allow the weight of your arms (or arms and weights) to gently stretch your chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.