Stand Up Straight: Four Exercises To Improve Your Posture

By Fiona J. Kirk

Good posture is important for more than just looking good and giving off an air of confidence. In fact, bad posture can seriously (and negatively) affect your health by diminishing your lung capacity and even putting you at an increased risk of falls. So, why not ring in the New Year with some exercises and stretches designed to keep you standing tall?

When you spend your day working in front of a computer, sitting in a car or walking in high heels, it can be really hard to maintain good posture. You can remind yourself to pull your shoulders back and lift your head up, but if the muscles of your mid and upper back are weak and your chest muscles are tight, you won’t make much progress. Rather, you need to work your deltoids, upper trapezius and rhomboids, in order to draw your shoulder blades together, as well as the mid and lower trapezius, which draw the shoulder blades together and downward. According to Robert Keller of Keller Kinetics in San Diego, CA, “The combination of appropriate stretching and strengthening of these muscles contributes significantly to maintaining proper posture.”

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4 exercises for a healthy posture:

Lat Pullover. Lie face up on a mat, knees bent, feet flat and about hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell with both hands (can be a light to moderate weight) up over your chest, arms reaching long, but be careful not to “lock” the elbows. Exhale and draw your shoulder blades down into the mat as you pull the weight over your head toward, but not actually touching the mat. Inhale and stay there for 1 to 2 seconds. As you exhale, slowly draw the weight up toward the ceiling, to the start position. “Make sure to keep the neck muscles long,” advises elite trainer Phyllis Levi of Bedford Pilates & Fitness in Bedford, NY. “Draw the chin toward the chest and imagine holding an orange in place there.”

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Basic Back Extension. The purpose of this exercise is to develop movement throughout the entire vertebral column (all the muscles along the spine) rather than isolating movement to the lower back and putting undue stress in that vulnerable region. Lie face down with the forehead on the floor or mat. Keep the arms by the sides with the palms pressing against the legs. Legs should be pressed together but can be separated slightly to relieve pressure on the low back. Exhale and lift the upper trunk, head and chest slightly off the mat. “Keep your head aligned with the spine by focusing on the top edge of your mat, not the wall in front of you,” says Levi. Inhale and lower to the start position.

Single Arm Dumbbell Row. Hold weight in your left hand. Right leg is forward, knee bent. Bend from your hips until your back is almost parallel to the floor. Place your right hand on the seat of a chair, keeping your arm and your back straight. Inhale. Lift left arm, bending 90 degrees at elbow. Keeping arm close to your side, squeeze shoulder blade toward the center of your back. Exhale and return to start position. After 10 reps, repeat with right arm.

Letter T Stretch. Lie on your back with a 6″ diameter, 3′ long foam roller running along the length of the spine, from the sacrum to the back of the head. Allow the chest to open up by forming the letter “T” with your arms. “Allow the arms to relax and drop towards the floor,” says Keller. “This stretch works well because gravity is working with you, not against you, in striking proper posture.”

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