Train and live for good posture

Susan Dawson-Cook

Improving and maintaining optimal posture takes effort. When your body feels tired, gravity can quickly drag you into a slouch. Eventually, poor posture can become chronic. You can improve balance by changing your workouts and becoming more mindful about posture throughout your day.

People with optimal posture have a balance of muscle tissues that support and protect the body’s structures from deformity and injury. In this ideal scenario, the forces on the body’s joints are balanced so an upright position can be maintained with minimal energy expenditure. When there is a balance of postural muscles in the body, each of the four spinal curves lend shock absorption, flexibility and range of motion to movements.

Poor posture saps energy from the body. It also inhibits breathing quality. When the spine is improperly aligned, certain muscles have to work overtime, while others gradually weaken. Imbalances and misalignment of musculoskeletal structures impair movement efficiency. Workouts that emphasize chest exercises can contribute to poor posture as can spending sustained time slouched in front of a computer. Poor posture can contribute to health issues such as headaches, digestive problems, lower back pain and shortness of breath.

One of the most common postural issues people experience is forward head, where the center of the earlobe sits in front of, rather than directly over, the center of the shoulder. For every inch the head shifts forward, the muscles in the upper back and neck must work proportionately harder to keep the head from falling forward. This can lead to disk damage or compressed nerves.

Pilates and yoga classes teach participants how to optimize posture during poses and movements. By stretching and opening tight frontal muscles and strengthening upper postural muscles, your body will begin to feel more balanced. Attend classes regularly and notice your body alignment throughout the day and you will begin to see and feel improvements.

Whenever you exercise, imagine magnets connect your ankles, knees and the tops of your thighs and that a weight is attached to your tailbone. When standing, sitting or moving in an upright position, try to keep ears stacked over the shoulders, to lift from the crown of the head and to keep eyes levels.

To strengthen the cervical extensors in the back of the neck, place your splayed hands at the back of the head and gently press back against the fingertips, using the hands to resist the movement. To release shoulder tension, raise the shoulders toward the ears and roll them down and back into imaginary pockets on your upper back. Imagine your shoulder blades are anchors holding your shoulders down away from your ears. You can strengthen the scapular muscles by squeezing the scapula in toward the middle of your back. Taking these simple steps can help you stand taller with less effort.

Susan is an author, AFAA certified personal trainer/instructor and 200-RYT Yoga Alliance certified instructor. She has worked for Vital Moves (850-4089) since 2006.