How many times have you noticed yourself slouching, pulled your shoulders back to fix your posture, and then found yourself right back where you started, minutes later?
The reason this occurs is that there’s an imbalance in the muscles of your back and chest. Your chest muscles are short and tight, and your back muscles, specifically your shoulder blade area, are long and weak. This pulls your shoulders forward and your shoulder blades away from each other, creating a rounding of the upper back, and protrudes the head forward. This causes an excess strain on the spine, and leads to back pain.
To improve posture, the chest and back musculature must be balanced by stretching the chest muscles and strengthening the back. The following exercise will help accomplish this.
Inhale as you lift your arms to the sides, to an upward angle between shoulder height and straight up, palms of the hands facing forward. Exhale as you press your hands and arms gently backward, until you feel a stretch in the chest and shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Inhale as you release the stretch and lower your arms to shoulder height. Exhale as you press your arms back and squeeze your shoulder blades together again. Inhale, release the stretch, and lower your arms until they’re half way between shoulder height and straight down. Exhale as you press back again, keeping your hands facing forward. Repeat this a few times, stopping if you feel any tingling in your arms, hands or fingers. You will probably feel the effects of this exercise immediately. Take time to notice the changes, and do it often.
Some personal trainers are trained specifically as posture specialists. They are taught how to assess stance and make appropriate, sometimes subtle, adjustments to exercises to improve posture. If you exercise on your own, take time to learn what proper exercise form is. Make sure you work your back and chest equally, and stretch at the end so your muscles don’t shorten, creating poor posture. It’s not uncommon for posture to worsen from performing exercises incorrectly.
Correcting your posture while doing your normal daily activities will help. The problem is, we can only remember to fix our posture for a short amount of time. We need to train our muscles correctly so they comfortably hold the body in the appropriate position without focusing on it. People with good posture don’t think about it because their muscles naturally hold them there.
If you want to improve your posture, start by performing the exercise I suggested above, be aware of your posture throughout your day, learn the details of proper form as you exercise, and exercise! Your posture will improve, you'll look better and feel better!