Poor posture, sedentary practices and muscle imbalances are generally thought to be precursors of low back pain, and it’s estimated that up to 80% of adults have experienced some level of back discomfort. And, it’s not limited to adults – statistics say that between 17% and 50% of all children and teens have experienced back-related problems (The Montreal Gazette, August 2010).
What causes “bad” posture? Here are some common culprits:
Slouching, or hunching your back over
Holding your head and neck forward and/or down
Arching your lower back too much
Commonly carrying a heavy purse, briefcase or backpack on one side of your body
Sitting on a wallet in your rear pants pocket
Holding a phone receiver between your neck and shoulder
Slumping forward while seated
And while today most of us do not think of a mild slouch as a health risk, in the early 1920’s and 30’s, we were much more concerned about bad posture, particularly among our youth. In fact, the While House Conference on Child Health of 1932 reported that over 80% of American children had bad posture. The problem did not end as one grew older, for 75% of our population had bad posture at the time.
So what are the benefits of standing straight and tall? Enthusiasts claim that the correct posture can instantly make you look 10 pounds lighter! Additionally, sitting or standing upright is the key to looking confident and displaying that confidence to others. With the correct posture you can look taller and at ease with who you are. One easy way to improve your posture is to sit less and move around more. When you sit, the muscles that support your body, like the spinal muscles and abdominals, do not work very much. The more you sit, the weaker they become.
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines good posture as, “the state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity irrespective of the attitude in which these structures are working or resting.” To really address posture, you’ll need to take inventory of any muscle imbalances that you may have (these are commonly associated with poor posture). A common example might be tight chest muscles, which can lead to weak back muscles and rounded shoulders.
There are many muscles involved in posture. Here are some of the most effective exercises for strengthening the muscle groups that aid in posture (front and back): the rhomboids, rear deltoids, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis minor and major.
Butterflies: Lie face down on a mat with your head turned to one side (ear to the mat). Reach your arms out to the sides and raise them to up so that your body forms a “Y” shape. With fingers and arms fully extended, lift your arms up off the floor, pinching your shoulder blades together as you lift. Lift and lower (like a butterfly’s wings) 20-30 times, then turn your head to the other side and repeat.
Kettlebell Row: Take a staggered stance. The KB will go next to your front foot. Drive the elbow up towards the ceiling. Keep the elbow in close to the body. Bring the kettlebell up to about even with your stomach. In all of these variations, visualizing your back muscles working while you do the exercise is very important