4 Ways to Get Rid of Slouching for Good
When you read the words “good posture” you probably instinctively and immediately assumed your version of “good posture.” If you didn’t, then go ahead and straighten up now. What did you do to improve your posture? Did you thrust your chest up or did you pull your shoulders blades together? Perhaps both? Well, doing that may give the impression of good posture but more accurately all you did was lift your rib cage forward by sheering your vertebra and mashing your shoulder blades together. Doesn’t sound good, does it? When you are slouching forward, simply misaligning your ribs like this does not actually create the movement in your (thoracic) spine in the way that you think or feel that it does. All it does is take that slouching forward curve of your upper spine and tilt it into an upward position. The curve is still there, it is simply pointing in a different direction.
You see, many of us stand at least slightly lazily at all times, trying to conserve energy and feel relaxed. To do that we stand with our neck jutted out, our shoulders slumped, our rib cage collapsed, our weight shifted into one hip or the other (or thrust forward into both), and our feet flared out like a duck. Take a look down at your body, are you standing like that right now?
Step 1: Stretch and loosen your pushing muscles.
Just like those rounded shoulders we talked about, tight chest (pushing) muscles can come from sitting at a desk for several hours with your hands on a keyboard, or from riding your (well aligned) bike in the aero or drop position, doing strength training, or even from swimming. The problem is that once your chest is tight, these muscles can pull you forward into that rounded-back slouch. If you have tight pushing muscles, stretching them out on a regular basis is a good place to start. Some good stretches to loosen tight chest muscles are:
Doorway pectoral stretch
Stability ball stretch
Elbow wrap stretch
Hands-behind-the-back chest stretch
You can also loosen your chest muscles by using a massage tool like a ball or a foam roller. Doing this before or after the stretches can help make that loose feeling last longer.
Step #2: Strengthen your pulling muscles.
Some of the most popular exercises for strengthening the external rotators (pulling muscles) is to use an elastic resistance band to work your shoulders and back in all the different directions. Another way is to do bigger, multi-joint exercises which have the added advantage of getting your heart rate up and working other incidental muscles at the same time. This can include regular or assisted pull-ups, lat pull-downs, reverse flies, seated rows, cable rows, and single arm dumbbell rows.
Pro tip: Make sure that you are focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades back while maintaining a long and tall back as you do these exercises.
Another favorite of mine is the Superman or Prone Y Extension. With these exercises, you strengthen the shoulder blades, upper back and lower back at the same time.
Step #3: Work the core.
I know, I know. We have all heard it a million times but this is how it works: when you’re walking down the street, riding your bike, swimming, or just sitting at your desk, the one thing that happens right before you start to slouch is that your core poops out. And let’s face it, that happens a lot sooner for some of us than it does for others, right? If your core is strong, it takes a load off your shoulders, which allows you to display much better posture for much longer.
Pro tip: I personally like planks for this because they are a great way to strengthen both your core and your shoulders at the same time.
Step 4: Hang loose.
Think back to the beginning of the article when I asked you to assume your version of “good posture.” Did you feel relaxed? Were you loose and comfortable or were you holding your breath and rigid to the touch?
Instead of snapping to attention like a guard being inspected by the Queen herself, I prefer to think of it like this. Imagine that you have a string coming out of the top of your head. One end of the string is running down your spine and attaching to your coccyx (tailbone). The other end is attached to a large helium balloon that is floating above your head. You, my little marionette, are standing straight and tall, stacked nicely above your heels, not through sheer force but instead with the ease, grace and lightness of that helium balloon.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a nice way to move through the world? I think so.
When you’re working on your alignment and posture, don’t worry if each change feels small and insignificant. A couple inches (or centimeters) of shifting your hips back over your feet or bringing your rib cage down toward your hips for even just a few minutes a day is a great place to start. Even though these changes are small and subtle, as we learned today, every move toward good posture is a move toward being more aligned. And like the wheel on your bike, your body will last a lot longer if everything is pointing in the right direction.