On this article I will explain to you in simple terms, the importance of good posture and how you can fix yours without overcomplicating yourself with boring lessons.
The Power of Posture – Aesthetics & PerformanceThings like walking, breathing and standing are so automatic that we take them for granted.
But our sedentary lifestyles are creating many dysfunctions in our natural patterns. One of the most affected aspects is posture.
Improving posture is the fastest way to look more aesthetic, immediately.
Not only your muscles will stand out, but you will also stand out as an individual.
Is scientifically proven that correcting your posture has an immediate effect on confidence. Your mind feels good and your body follows. Studies show that postural improvements lead to increased testosterone levels in men. People who slouch express low energy levels and signs of depression while people who stand tall express higher status and well being.
If you aren’t tall, it’s even more important to maintain proper posture to give off the illusion of being taller.
(Not only we want to appear taller, but wider too.)
One of the most common examples of bad posture is rounded shoulders. This makes men who aren’t naturally wide look even narrower.
On the female side, while looking wide isn’t the goal of the average woman, the effect of correct posture is the same. A woman with good posture has more presence, looks more attractive and more interesting.
But posture is not only important and underrated for looks and social life but also for health and performance; poor postural habits will break your body sooner or later. Many people are always in pain and in most cases, bad posture is the root of that pain. Don’t let it take control of your life.
This article is not only about looking good in the short term, it will also help you feel good and perform better in the long term.
It’s also a guide to improving functional movement.
Bad Posture – Common Issues, Causes & ConsequencesAnother common example of bad posture we see is excessive kyphosis (hyperkyphotic).
(Hyper)Kyphosis is an excessive rounding of the upper back. Besides looking ugly from the side, the shoulders will round and your chest will not stand out. This can lead to shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries.
Elevated shoulders are another common issue caused, among other things, by weak abs and poor breathing patterns.
Excessive anterior pelvic tilt is also commonly seen and it will ruin your core control and hip extension patterns.
Lack of core engagement and hip extension, combined with heavy compound lifts is a gradual but sure way to send your back to RIP in peace, double dead.
Explosive hip extension is the basis of most athletic movements. Tight hip flexors will make you run slower, jump lower and lift less.
If the hips are tight, the glutes won’t fire. And if the abs (obliques) don’t set the hips, well, nothing around there will be firing at all.
That means your lower back and knees will pay for it. And not even the hamstrings can save them because all that sitting for hours a day leaves them too tight and unable to fire properly.
Oh, but they will let you know they are there, nothing gets as tight as the hamstrings when you have excessive APT.
If you continue to go all no-pain-no-gain on this, you will eventually blow your hips and discs. Tendonitis, tendinosis, tears and herniations can and will happen.
Another common issue: forward head posture. I used to look at guys who had it and ask myself how they could allow their heads to go that way until I started suffering it too. It is a real pain to fix and it will give you some headaches and neck pain that will make your life suck.
“Every inch of forward head posture can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds”. Not good.On the lower side of your body, poor feet positioning like ‘pigeon toes’ and ‘duck feet’ are common also caused by hip tightness and weak obliques. The list goes on.
We really f&cked up at some point, didn’t we.
Ironically, people go to the gym to improve but what they do there may be causing even further damage to their bodies.
These muscle imbalances we’ve been talking about that make you look, feel and perform bad can be accentuated by your workouts.
For example, there is a push / pull ratio you have to maintain in order to stay healthy and injury free. Too much bench pressing and not enough rowing is taking your body even more out of balance.
But let’s get positive, let’s get proactive now that you are #aware. There are many ways you can start correcting your posture.
The human body is an interdependent system; a chain only as strong as its weakest link. It’s better to step back and fix those issues that could keep you out of the gym for days, weeks, months or even the rest of your life.
Fix Your Posture – What Is Good Posture Anyway?Before attacking the symptoms, we need to treat the cause.
We’ve been talking about bad posture but, what is good posture?
“Stand straight” is a vague cue. The spine isn’t supposed to be ‘straight’. It has natural S shaped curves.
Instead of straight, think neutral.
You need to put your spine in a neutral position and remember how it looks and how it feels to then carry it over to every exercise.
A broomstick can help, try doing different tasks while holding one against your (neutral) back.
We know rounded shoulders is bad posture. But good posture is not what many people think it is.
In a general sense, this is the cue that has confused so many people: “chest up, shoulders back“.
The first thing people do is lift their chests up but what they’re actually lifting is the rib cage and this distorts the curve of the thoracic (mid) spine and kills upper body stability (core and shoulders).
I was a ‘victim’ of this advice. Always forcing my shoulders back and pushing my chest out. My teenager self knew there was something wrong with that but didn’t knew what it was.
Chest up and shoulders back posture alters rib cage positioning which creates too much hyperextension in the thoracic spine, causes more strain on the lower back (lumbar spine) and puts the shoulders and other upper body muscles in a poor position to function.
As you see, most people’s fix for good posture is actually causing more harm to their bodies.
Now that we have established that rounding the shoulders a.k.a. internal rotation is bad posture, and forcing the shoulders back combined with rib cage tilting is also bad posture, let’s see what good posture looks like.
- The shoulders are still back but he’s not actively squeezing his upper back together.
- He isn’t tilting his chest and rib cage toward the ceiling, it stays neutral. This is key.
Everything clicked to me when I started thinking ribs down. No more “inflated” chest.
Is very important to note that you should not be straining to maintain that position. Good posture should be effortless. That’s why I always felt that straining to keep my shoulders back wasn’t right.
Old habits die hard. Like with any movement pattern, you get to the point where it happens naturally by practicing good posture over and over.
Coach Yourself – Learning To Hold Proper Posture
- Stand up and flex your glutes. This alone should get rid of a lot of posture flaws like the anterior pelvis tilt we talked about (and buttwink while squatting).
- Now flex your abs slightly, enough to maintain proper pelvic position so you can relax your glutes and support your lower back as well. Keep your abs flexed when you’re moving, its easier that it sounds. With a few months practice, this will become more natural. Keeping the abs flexed ensures maintaining a neutral rib cage.
- Tall, aligned, neutral head and neck, as if you were pushing the top of your head toward the ceiling.
- Open your hands and twist your thumbs all the way out so they almost point behind you while allowing your shoulder blades to go back a bit.
- Now you need relax the arms without losing that shoulder position. You’re going to do this using the muscles in your upper back. It’s like having a barbell racked across your chest / shoulder shelf like in a front squat and your upper back keeps you from rounding so the bar doesn’t fall off.
- And remember, rib cage neutral (ribs down).
Is important that you keep teaching the body what proper posture feels like. Practice in the mirror, hold good posture for a minute, relax and repeat, etc. Do this several times a day until you can hit good posture instantly.
Next practice hitting proper posture without the mirror. You still use the mirror but you close your eyes, align yourself and then look to see if you did it right. Make corrections, hold and repeat.
Eventually, good posture will go from being a “pose” you hit to become your natural stance.
Next step will be incorporating good posture into your everyday activities. Start walking, sitting, etc. with good posture and be aware of it when you’re working out.
There are many muscle imbalances (partially as a result of bad posture) that prevent us from achieving and maintaining good posture.
Head-to-Toe Deep Tissue Massage & Myofascial ReleaseFoam Rolling:
Foam rolling will loosen up your muscles, allowing you to move better and hit the right positions. It’s meant to mimic a deep tissue massage. It should take you between 30 seconds and 1-2 minutes per body part.
The more it hurts, the more you need it.
IMPORTANT: To avoid injuries, foam rolling should be applied on areas with dense muscle. Not on bony parts like the knees and lumbar spine.
Be careful when rolling out your neck. Dig in lightly to find any tight spots. Look side to side, up and down to release any trigger points.
The neck tends to be very stiff in the morning after waking up so it’s better to treat it later in the day to avoid tweaking something.
Thoracic Spine / Upper Back / Shoulder Blades / TrapsPut your hands behind your head, roll out your mid-upper back going from the ribs to the shoulders. You can lean a bit to either side and put more pressure on it.
When you sit for hours in front of your laptop, like me, your thoracic spine is in constant flexion. The roller allows you to stay there and work on thoracic extension to get a nice stretch that balances things out.
You may not feel it, but if you have bad posture the lats will get very tight.
Lie on your side with the roller under your armpit and roll down the lats.
This one is a natural transition coming from the lats.
Move around pushing the pecs against the roller to find any trigger points.
On your side, look for tender spots, stay on them and breathe.
This one is huge.
The obliques play a very important role in functional movement and if you have bad posture they will get very tight.
From there transition to the lower back.
However, we will NOT use the foam roller directly on the lumbar spine, it’s too much pressure.
Instead, we will use a ball on the lower back muscles next to spine. We will get to that.
This one is a bit tricky but I prefer to do it on the floor than against a wall because I can apply more pressure.
You need to find a position that really hits your delts.
I only roll the triceps when I feel tension there, a.k.a. most of the time.
Lie on the floor with the roller in front of you and use your body weight to put pressure on the muscles.
Bicep tightness will affect your front rack position and overhead work and I feel it also contributes to rounding the shoulders.
Lie on the floor next to the roller and use your body weight to put pressure on the muscle.
Wrists / Forearms
It works well for the wrists. But if you have constant forearm pain when crushing and gripping hard, you may need something that hits them more directly.
I use a 10 lb oldschool iron plate on my forearms, it hurts but it works.
Find those tender spots around the hips and work them.
Piriformis / Glutes
Sit on the center of the foam roller, cross one foot over the opposite knee and roll over the glute of your bent leg then switch.
Use your hands for support.
IT Band (Iliotibial Tract)
On your side, put the foam roller beneath your lower leg and support yourself with your elbow / forearm and bent upper leg.
Roll the outside of your thigh from the hip joint down to above the knee. Go slow and steady, stay on any tender spots for a few seconds and add movement at the knee to hit deeper areas.
Position yourself face down with legs partially spread. Rest one knee on the floor and roll back and forth the area between the knee and the groin of the other leg using your forearms and hands to support yourself. Roll very slowly or you can tweak something down there.
Sit on top of the foam roller (butt in the air) with both hands on the floor behind you.
Initiate the roll with your heels and work the hamstrings.
You can shift your weight between legs to increase intensity.
Calf / Shin
Transition from the hamstrings to the calves as the image shows.
Roll back and forth from the top of the ankles to just below your knees, keeping the legs straight. Shift weight accordingly and cross your legs at the ankles to increase intensity.
For a deeper massage, cross the legs and move the lower leg side to side.
You can also apply a little bit of pressure on the achilles tendon.
Then turn around a roll the shins back and forth kneeling on top of the roller.
So much lifting, standing and walking can leave your feet very sore.
Hold on to something for balance, stand on the roller and push with the feet.
Foam rolling the feet is very underrated but it can actually help you lift heavier and jump higher.
A ball may do a better job with the feet than the roller, though.
**Special thanks to my girlfriend, the real mvp here for making the pics even though we forgot the mat.
This homemade device is basically two lacrosse balls duct taped together.
A “peanut” is a great mobility tool to get into small, deeper areas that the roller can’t hit effectively.
Use it accordingly. You can buy it or find a tutorial online on how to make one.
Lastly, don’t be this guy:
Head-to-Toe StretchingWe’re not going to get into specific stretches here as there are hundreds of variations and I think you should find those that work for you.
Just make sure to use a full body approach that includes both dynamic and static stretching for the following:
- Thoracic area
- Hip Flexors (High priority.)
- Adductors (Groin)
- Quadriceps (DO NOT STRETCH your quadriceps if you have Posterior Pelvic Tilt (butt tucked in, “sway back”). Instead do activation and strength exercises for the quads and focus on stretching the opposite muscle, in this case the hamstrings.)
- Hamstrings (DO NOT STRETCH your hamstrings if you have excessive Anterior Pelvic Tilt (butt sticking out). Do activation and strength exercises for the glutes instead and focus on stretching the opposite muscle, in this case the quadriceps.)
- Ankles & Feet (Dorsiflexion, Plantarflexion, Eversion, Inversion)
- Too much flexibility in the lumbar spine can be a bad thing. In a general sense, it’s best to avoid stretching the abdominal and lower back muscles and train them for stability and endurance instead.
- Don’t do static stretching before training, dynamic stretches work better.
Head-to-Toe Exercises & DrillsThe following is a list of exercises and drills you can use in your warm up / cool down routines or use as assistance / auxiliary work and also as individual exercises throughout the day for mobility, rehab and/or prehab purposes.
Rollovers to V SitsSit down and touch the ground behind with your feet then roll forward and spread your legs apart forming a “V” and touching your toes to increase the stretch.
Fire Hydrant CirclesOn all fours, lift one knee and make 10 big circles. Then do 10 more in the other direction and switch legs.
Try to increase the range of motion each time bringing your knee all the way up to your chest, to the side and behind you.
Mountain ClimbersStart in a push up position then jump and bring one foot next to the hand of that same side of your body. Spiderman style.
Then switch, bring that foot back and the jump the other forward to the other hand in one movement.
Aim for 20 reps at least.
(I’m referring to the one @ 00:17 on the video below.)
GroinersSame as the mountain climbers but jump both feet at the same time and land them outside of your hands.
Do 10 reps.
DeadbugsAb exercise that’s also good for lower back and hip health.
– Don’t flare up the ribs.
– Lower back should touch the floor (no arch).
– Breathing is essential. Take a massive breath inhaling through your nose and then forcefully exhale through your mouth until all your air is out.
– Do 10 on each side.
Deadbug progressions (remember to focus on breathing).
Prone CobrasThe prone cobra is an endurance exercise that helps increasing the strength and endurance of the scapula muscles (shoulder retractors), the external rotators of the shoulders and the lower back muscles.
Do multiple holds and increase the duration as you progress.
Superman HoldsSimilar to the prone cobra, you start by lying face down on the floor with arms and legs extended. Full body extension.
Hold this position for a few seconds and repeat, progressively increasing the duration every time you do the exercise.
Keep your neck in neutral position.
Wall SlidesHarder than it looks if you focus on keeping the rib cage down.
Stand against a wall with your head, upper back and glutes touching it. Place your arms overhead with elbows, wrists and hands against the wall in the high-five position.
From there slide your elbows down toward your side as far as you can without losing contact with the wall and then reverse maintaining contact.
Put your feet in front of you to help maintain proper position.
Do 10 reps with short isometric holds.
This exercise is specially good to get rid of rounded shoulders.
Cable Shoulder External Rotation (Low Pulley)Pull away from the body as far as possible by externally rotating the shoulder. Return and repeat, then switch.
Maintain the elbow fixed at your side with the forearm and upper arm as close to a 90 degree angle as possible.
You can do it from mid pulley if you like. Don’t use too much weight.
FacepullsNo they’re not for your face. But they will do wonders for your shoulders, specially if you bench press a lot.
Using the rope attachment with the pulley set at chest level, grab both ends of the rope using a neutral / underhand grip. Step back until your arms are completely stretched and bend the knees slightly for a stable base.
Start the movement by retracting the scapula, squeezing your upper back together and pulling the rope apart toward your face. As the rope approaches your face, externally rotate your shoulders so your knuckles are facing the ceiling at the top of the movement. Hold there for a second, lower under control and repeat.
Avoid using too much weight, don’t drop the elbows, don’t do it too fast and don’t push your head forward to meet the rope.
Reverse Dumbbell FlyBesides hitting your rear delts, this one is great to work the smaller muscles that stabilize the scapula.
Done sitting or standing.
Don’t go too heavy and don’t raise the arms past shoulder level.
PlanksPlanks are a simple but effective exercise.
Position yourself like you’re about to do a push up. Neutralize the neck and spine and squeeze the abs and glutes to stabilize the body.
Hold your plank for as long as possible without compromising form or breathing. Don’t let the head drop and don’t reach up with the hips and butt or let your lower back collapse.
For an easier variation, support your body with the forearms instead of the hands.
As you get more advanced you can start adding weight and using single leg variations.
A great variation that targets the obliques without adding hypertrophy is the side plank. This will help if you have trouble stabilizing overhead lifts.
The most important thing when planking is maintaining proper alignment.
T Push Ups with DumbbellGood exercise with many benefits.
T Push Ups work your chest, shoulders, obliques, triceps and many of the smaller stabilizers.
They will also improve your coordination which makes them good for any sport and everyday life activities.
Grab the dumbbells and take the normal push up position, execute the push up and when you push back up raise one arm to the ceiling so your body ends forming a T. This is similar to the side plank position.
Don’t go too heavy.
Thoracic BridgesThese, along with T Push Ups, will do wonders for your thoracic mobility.
Y RaisesGreat for the lower traps.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie face down on an incline bench. Raise arms overhead to make a “Y” with the palms facing each other. Lower and repeat.
Do 12-15 reps.
Behind The Head Shoulder Band Pull ApartGood for overall shoulder health and mobility.
Single Arm Mid Pulley Standing Cable RowsA more athletic variation that also helps improving shoulder health and function.
Pull to the abdomen.
Swiss Ball PikesFor core stability. Good for developing the V lines / Adonis Belt.
Keep the thoracic area from rounding.
Here is the advanced version with the hands balancing on a bosu ball.
Stomach VacuumsThis one activates the transversus abdominis (your body’s natural weight belt) well. These muscles are extremely important to support your spine and entire core during heavy lifts such as squats and deadlifts.
Suck in your stomach as far and hard as you can, pulling your belly button to your lower back, squeeze and contract.
Hold for a few seconds, that’s one set.
Also great for the adonis belt.
Side Lying ClamshellVery easy glute activation exercise.
Lie on one side with bent knees and heels together. Then open up the knees like a clamshell.
Pause for a few seconds and then lower your knee to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Reverse CrunchesMake sure head, neck and upper back stay on the ground.
This helps to correct excessive kyphosis and will make your abs burn.
Iron Cross (Lower Back Mobility Warm Up)Shown @ 00:43 below.
You may hear some cracks while doing it.
Look to the opposite side of your legs to increase the stretch.
Deep Neck Flexor exercises.You can start by doing chin tucks and then progress to quadruped chin tucks.
Do a 2-3 seconds hold on each rep.
Don’t hyperextend your neck.
Scapula Dips (Elevation & Depression)This will get rid of elevated shoulders posture.
Dumbbell Farmer WalksBesides being a great full body strength and conditioning exercise, farmer walks encourage good posture.
You need to walk while flexing your glutes, bracing your core and keeping the shoulders and rip cage down.
Use a pair of heavy dumbbells that you can hold for a distance of 50 m approximately. Don’t go to failure.
Quadruped Thoracic Extension / RotationOne of the best movements for thoracic spine mobility.
Do 12 reps.
- All exercises can be performed for multiple sets, depending on the context you’re doing them. The prescribed reps are just for you to have an idea.
- These exercises can be done as part of a preworkout mobility / warm up routine or as a separate mobility / rehab / prehab workout during the day.
- You should work on your mobility everyday, multiple times if possible.
Conclusion & Final Tips
Life Outside The Gym
You can’t expect to be mobile and flexible if you only move for one hour a day when you go to the gym.
Sounds obvious but many of us are actually doing that.
The human body is not designed to be stuck in one position for very long.
One may think that putting together a badass workout, taking pain killers, foam rolling and warming up is enough to go train like a beast and get away with it, but that’s really programming for disaster. What you do outside the gym is what’s going to make a difference in your posture and pain levels. We can’t expect to fix in 1 hour what we f&ck up in the other 23.
The first steps to being mobile, pain free and properly aligned 24/7 are:
Training More FrequentlyAlmost any motion is better than none for those with bad posture. The more often you train, the more often you do your daily mobility circuits: foam rolling, stretching, warming up, etc. You don’t even need to add more work, simply break your current training into smaller sessions.
Sleeping BetterStop sleeping on your stomach, it puts your body in lumbar hyperextension and cervical extension / rotation for hours. That means hundreds of pounds of pressure on the lower back. Alternatively, try to sleep on your side or on your back with the legs elevated to keep the lower back flat.
Breathing BetterIf worrying about how you stand and how you walk wasn’t enough, now you have to worry about breathing too. We all breathe but few of us do it well and it can really affect your
Sitting BetterMany people think that sitting at the edge of a seat is good posture. But this actually forces you into extension, of which too much is a bad thing just like too much flexion. To prevent this, sit all the way back into the chair to support your lower back properly.
Balancing TrainingAt the beginning of this article, a.k.a. a long time ago, I briefly mentioned the push / pull ratio. When you train, you need to balance your efforts; pull more than you push using a 2:1 or 3:2 pull-to-push ratio. Simply adding a few extra sets of rows for the upper body and deadlifts for the legs should do the trick.
Now Keep Doing ThatAs you can see, good posture is about good habits more than anything.
Being aware is the first step, then comes the corrective work.
The best fix for bad posture is forcing yourself to maintain good posture.
Regardless of what you’re doing, get up, stand up…No seriously, stand up and walk every few minutes.
TL;DR: there is no tl;dr. Don’t be lazy, these are your gains and health we’re talking here.
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