The majority of Americans are afflicted with poor posture. The stagnant nature of desk jobs increases the forward head and rounded shoulders that are indicative of poor sitting posture, and this phenomenon has been exacerbated with the recent work-from-home push combined with the increase in technology use – “text neck” is a thing! Even children and teenagers are beginning to notice pain in their necks, backs, and joints related to sitting in an improper position for long periods of time doing virtual classes. And women tend to have this problem due to their anatomy, especially if they are large chested. Poor posture is not just a problem in sitting either! Poor standing posture can include slouching, weight shifting onto one side more, locking out the knees to utilize the leg muscles less, and arching or rounding the back instead of activating the glute muscles.
I gave a few presentations on this topic months ago, but then set it aside until my husband requested that I give him some exercise ideas to help with his posture related pain. I figured the exercises I gave him would be beneficial to others as well! I hope you enjoy the video despite the distractions, it was a family event and my son was very vocal throughout. I review each exercise in the YouTube video below:
The most common symptoms of poor posture are tightness in the upper cervical (neck) region and the pecs (chest), and weakness in the shoulders/upper thoracic (upper back) and cervical flexors (front of neck). I tell my patients this is a criss-cross pattern: diagonal muscles are weak, and the opposite diagonal muscles are tight. This may not help everyone to understand, but for visual learners think of a side view of the upper body with an X through it. So we want to elongate/stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles.
1.) Thoracic extension over foam roller: There should be a certain amount of curve in the thoracic spine, but when people have poor posture they fold forward and increase that curve too much which causes pain. To reverse this, lay over a foam roller* horizontally with it just below your shoulder blades. Place your hands behind your head and bring your elbows close together. Slowly lower over the foam roller in a reverse crunch, until your back is extended. Repeat 20 times.
*you can get a foam roller at any sporting goods store, but the cheapest one I’ve found is at Five Below in their exercise section.
2.) Modified fish pose: This puts your thoracic spine in a similar position to the above exercise. Recline on your elbows, arch your low back, and lean your head back. Option to do this for 5 sec 20x or 10 sec 10x, try both and see what works best for you!
3.) Pec stretch on foam roller: This chest opener feels amazing! Lay with your spine vertical on the foam roller and open your arms wide. Try to find the place where you feel the most stretch in your pecs – move your arms up and down and bend or straighten your elbows until you find your sweet spot and stay there. Option to add weights in your hands to get a better stretch. You can either do this for 20 sec 5x, or just hold this position for 2-3 minutes.
4.) Rows: These are targeting your weak shoulder girdle. The video uses theraband but you can do these unweighted or even with light hand weights. Keeping elbows close to your body, pull your shoulders and elbows back like you’re trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades. Repeat 20 times. The video demo shows rows at 3 different levels, which targets the 3 sections of the upper traps to strengthen.
5.) Upper cervical flexion: Laying on your back, bring your chin toward your chest while trying to only move the very top of your neck. Use your eyes to look down to activate those upper cervical muscles. This will be a good stretch on the muscles at the base of your skull, that are constantly being activated too much with a forward head position. Repeat 20x.
6.) Deep cervical flexor strengthening: These muscles on the front of your neck are almost never engaged and definitely weak. We use our superficial flexor muscles a lot to nod, but our deep flexor muscles get overlooked. To strengthen them, lay down and press the back of your head into the table. If you feel like you gave yourself a double chin, you’re doing it right! Hold for 10 seconds and then relax for 10 seconds, and repeat 10x.
As with all exercises, listen to your body. Don’t go past the point of pain, and if a prescribed amount of exercise feels like too much then do what you can and build up to it. Take breaks and let your muscles rest between sets and between exercises. Because your body isn’t used to these motions they will feel like a lot of work, even though you’re just using your body weight. You may be sore the next day or two!
I hope these exercises can help others who are struggling with pain related to poor posture, to start to help you return to a good alignment and to maintain that alignment while sitting and standing! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions about the above post or clarification on exercises.