THE BLOG

Top 10 Posture Mistakes and 17 Tips to Get Better Posture

05/17/2013 03:42 pm ET | Updated Jul 17, 2013
  • Ben Greenfield Author of the New York Times bestseller Beyond Training book; fitness expert; Get-Fit Guy podcast host

Growing up, many of our parents would demand that we sit up and stop slouching, for no other reason than it might make us look bad. But there are so many other elements to the importance of posture, elements that are affecting millions of us every day. From neck and back pain to blood flow and respiration, posture can have a major impact on how we live and how we feel every day.

So here are 10 of the top posture mistakes, followed by 17 tips to get better posture (you're welcome, Mom).

1) Sitting and working at a computer -- Our bodies are designed for movement, not sitting for long periods of time.

2) Talking on the phone, texting, etc. -- Most folks tilt their head while talking on the phone or slouch the head forward while texting on a smartphone.

3) Tight front (anterior chain) of the body -- We all need to focus on opening and lengthening our front, while performing exercises and movements that strengthen our back. So treat yourself more like an athlete and less as a desk jockey.

4) Slouching while driving, flying, or taking the train -- Studies show that the vibration created by engines can oscillate at a frequency that relaxes and sedates your muscles, so your body is in a poor position and your muscles have to work extra harder to support you.

5) Wearing over-weighted backpacks or purses -- These posture killers can be particularly stressful, especially those worn always over the same shoulder.

6) Previous injuries to neck, back and or shoulders -- These old high school or college sports injuries can cause the body to adapt by shortening or forming scar tissue in the muscles and soft tissues, creating chronic stiffness and poor posture.

7) Working with arms out in front -- Constantly "reaching" for the computer uses large shoulder, chest and arm muscles that when over-used and under-stretched can begin to pull your shoulders and head forward.

8) Bending forward from your back (e.g., while brushing teeth or lifting things from floor) -- The muscles around your hips are the biggest and most powerful in your body, so always hinge (push back) from the hips when bending forward, while keeping your weight toward your heels to activate the muscles that protect the natural "S" curve of your spine from turning into a "C" curve that ruins your posture.

9) Weak feet -- If your feet are weak, they will roll inward and cause something called "serial distortion" -- which causes a global collapse of efficient support for your body. In other words, having weak feet can make you slouch!

10) Stress -- As you probably know, some stress is good for us, but if stress is an ever-present part of your life, your body can become a window to your thoughts. Stress can cause your "fight or flight" mechanisms to work overtime, creating tension in the muscles you use the most. These are the exact muscles that affect your posture and pull you into the land of the slouchers.

Considering many of these posture mistakes are daily activities, I'll bet you're wondering what you can do to address the issue. The good news is there are many solutions. Here are 17 tips for better posture:

1. Turn the tables. Get a standing desk. Your goal is more movement, so don't just stand there -- breathe deeply and maintain good posture, since your muscles are like tiny hearts that need movement to pump blood and enhance circulation.

2. Do stretches and movements that open and lengthen the muscles in the front of your body, such as your chest, forearms and biceps and the big muscles that are at the front and sides of the hips. Try reaching for the sky while lunging.

3. Exercises for the upper body (backside) that simulate rowing or pulling, and require you to pull your shoulder blades down and. At the same time, go easy on bench press-type exercises or excessive push-ups. Focus instead on seated rows or standing rows, and pull-ups.

4. Breathe slowly -- in through your nose, and fill your belly. Hold for a few full seconds. Then, with your tongue held lightly against the roof of your mouth, slowly let the breath out. Practice this throughout the day to decrease stress and improve posture. Check out this blog for more breathing tips.

5. For best posture practice, do these three movements. Roll your shoulders down and back, then pull your elbows back toward your back pants pockets (this presses your scapula up against your ribs, as though you were using them to push your heart up and out).

6. Learn to do wall angels.

7. Stand on your entire foot. Most people stand with weight over their heels, which causes your feet to become weak and turn in, which increases stress on your weight-bearing joints (ankles, knees, hips and lower back).

8. Whether standing or sitting, become ergonomically sound with your computer setup. Keep your eyes level with the top of monitor, elbows and wrists straight at 90-degree angles.

9. Take a picture. Print photos of proper posture and put them up where you can see them easily, and even set a timer to be reminded every 20-30 minutes to correct your posture. In time, this will become automatic and you will self correct with very little effort.

10. Use props and tools, such as lumbar support pillows and seat wedges that help maintain normal spinal curves when sitting to decrease posture stress.

11. Wear posture-enhancing shirts and sports bras that support proper posture and cue your posture muscles to engage, while training your upper back and core muscles to become stronger and more posture fit.

12. Have your doctor or therapist use posture taping to help you become more aware of your current posture-improvement needs.

13. Move often and use all of your motion. Try every day to play with the kids, your pets or even play around in your garden. Remember to never bend over, but instead hinge from your hips.

14. Challenge your balance. Walk on sand, any safe uneven surface and use a balance or wobble board. Use bare feet or the most thin sole possible, so nerve receptors in your feet can help your nervous system, brain and muscles connect more efficiently to create better coordination. This helps your posture and helps to smooth your quality of movement.

15. Go thin to win. High heels and thick-soled shoes are terrible for posture. Try to spend most of your time not wearing shoes because it builds the muscles in your feet that are the foundation for your posture and quality of movement. Strong,aligned feet equate to a strong, aligned body. Walk on the sand or grass to help build up mobility, stability and strength in your feet -- or try wearing shoes like Vibram five-fingers, Skoras, or Merrells.

16. See a professional, such as a chiropractor or physical therapist who specializes in improving posture using a proven science-based approach. In my experience, everyone is a unique case, and if you are having posture issues or chronic pain, improving your posture can be a life-changing gift.

17. Get a TRX or suspension strap and put it up in a spot where you walk often during the day. Use it frequently to stretch and open up your tight muscles. You can also do pulls and rows for your shoulder blades when you use a suspension strap.

Do you have your own posture tips to add, or posture mistakes that you think people tend to make? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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