“Posture” is probably the most powerful word in the English language, because it literally has the ability to cause people to react on demand and stack their shoulders. (“Sleep,” I wish you could do the same.) Whenever anyone utters the word—or even if my eyes come across it in a book or on a website—I immediately straighten up and so does everyone else I know.
Although most of us understand that having good posture is important and all that, it’s just really hard to maintain—especially since most people are hunched over computers all. damn. day. And TBH, having good posture—with your back straight and shoulders back—isn’t even that comfortable. So I sent some stretching and body mechanics pros an SOS.
“More often than not, poor posture is a result of repetitive stress,” explains Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d. “Typically, ‘repetitive stress’ makes people think of activity—lots of working out, walking, running, and so on—but in this case, inactivity can often be to blame.” That inactivity is primarily your nine-to-five state, with your head and neck down staring at a screen and shoulders rounded forward. “As we do this, our heads and shoulders are falling forward, our back is arching, and our hips are tightening,” he says. All of this can lead to us feel like we’re slacking the posture department.
To readjust, he says it’s key to address each one of those positions. And you don’t have to sit or stand there like a robot in pain in order to do it correctly. “Isolating specific muscles is especially helpful when dealing with poor posture because we need to address the body in a comprehensive way to realign and stand taller,” says Brannigan. That primarily involves active stretching and fundamental corrective exercises. “Rather than trying to force yourself back into proper posture after years of slouching, these movements will help to change the resting state of the muscle and get you back to standing straight,” he says.
His recommended stretches: a chest opener, neck stretches, stretching the upper back and rear shoulders, stretching your quads, stretching your hip abductors, and your abs and back.
Of course, he acknowledges that it’s hard to sit and stand straight 24/7 if you haven’t been doing these stretches and are tight. “In addition to working with corrective exercises, small reminders can be very helpful to improving better posture,” he says. “Simply shrugging your shoulders on a regular basis and remembering to do short stretches once every few hours are also ways to get out of the slouching habit.”
The good thing about the stretching, though, is that a natural consequence is that your muscles learn how to have better posture on their own. “It actually teaches your muscles to correct themselves—over time you can see an improvement,” says Brannigan.
Coach and chief running officer of Run-Fit Dr. Jason Karp also advises to work on strengthening your back muscles so that your posture will naturally improve, and to use a pillow in the arch of your back when sitting to help. “And always remember your grandmother’s words about sitting up straight,” he adds. Naturally.
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