For most of us, making sure we have good posture simply means being sure to carry ourselves in a certain way. Stand up straight! Shoulders back! Don’t slouch! But improving your posture isn’t just about changing how you sit or stand. It’s also about strengthening your core so you carry your body in the best way possible for your health and comfort.
In addition to your abdominal muscles, your core includes muscles in your back and hips that work together to stabilize your spine and keep it in alignment. When your core muscles are weak, your spine doesn’t have adequate support to maintain perfect posture naturally. Your other muscles begin to compensate to help you stay erect, which can lead not just to a slouchy stance, but a host of other issues: instability; neck and shoulder tension; lower back pain or injury; digestion issues; breathing difficulties; fatigue; restricted movement; headaches; chronic pain and joint problems. That’s a lot of impact for something that most of us only equate with good manners!
You can see, then, why putting effort into improving your posture is so important. Here are a few things to help you stand taller:
Strengthen Your Core with Exercise
Core-strengthening exercises work all of the muscles of your torso from top to bottom and front to back, helping you stand tall with your limbs in alignment.
There are dozens of ways to improve your core strength; talk to your exercise physiologist or trainer to choose a method that you will enjoy. For example, you can improve your core strength with a Pilates or yoga regimen (some target the core more than others). Sports like rowing and swimming are also effective. In addition, you can use tools at the gym, such as a Bosu®ball, kettle bells and resistance balls to recruit your core muscles to your workout. (Beginners: Be sure to ask for help the first few times you use these tools.) The possibilities are endless.
Increase Your Posture Awareness
While increased core strength will organically change the way you carry yourself, you can also improve your posture by being mindful of how you hold your body. Try these two helpful mental exercises, which you can do at your desk, while you’re walking down the street or anywhere.
- Rise like a balloon. Most of the muscles that hold the body up are vertical. Think of good posture as an energy flow that creates a feeling of expansiveness, like a balloon, up from the earth through your body. Think about rising and becoming lighter.
- Imagine a string. Wherever you put your head, your body automatically finds the most efficient way to support it. Aligning your head over your shoulders and lifting it up, as though a string is pulling it from the top, allows your shoulders to drop and open while pulling in the abdominals. This holds true whether you are sitting, standing or walking. Just try it and see.
Practice Putting Your Body in the Right Position
It might seem unnecessary to practice sitting in a chair, but doing so with proper posture may actually feel quite different. In order to minimize back pain and other physical conditions, try these simple positioning exercises—which will naturally engage some of your core muscles—and pay special attention to how your body feels when you’re maintaining proper form.
- Standing position: Hold your chest high and keep your shoulders back and relaxed. Try not to tilt your head forward, backward or sideways. Engage your abdomen and buttocks. Distribute your body weight evenly over both of your feet, with your knees in a relaxed and unlocked position. Try to keep your feet parallel, whether you’re standing or walking.
- Sitting position: Sit with your back straight, your body weight distributed evenly over your hips and your shoulders back. Your head should be directly over your shoulders. If you’re in a chair, your buttocks should touch its back. Your knees should be a right angle and your feet flat on the floor.