As I writer, I spend a lot of time sitting behind a desk – an activity which tops the list of ‘Causes for Bad Posture’ – and once upon a time, I had the perpetual slouch to prove it! As the years went by, the pain in my back and neck grew steadily worse. I knew I had to do something or face the reality of a herniated disk and back surgery in my not-so-distant future.
After a several talks with professionals in the fields of massage therapy, personal training, acupuncture, chiropracty and modeling (yes, modeling), I managed to gather enough knowledge to fix the problem and save my back without drugs or surgery.
Nowadays, as a gal with the ultimate desk job and excellent posture, every so often someone will ask me, “What’s your secret?”
Well, there are quite a few actually – 14 to be precise – and here they are, starting with…
Five Tips For Perfect Posture
All of these tips will probably require a lot of practice at first. Keep reminding yourself, though. Be diligent and before you know it, they will become habit and you’ll no longer have to remind yourself to have good posture.
1. Know the Shape of Your Spine
Under perfect conditions, the bones of your spine create a graceful S-shaped curve with the neck and lower back being slightly concave (forward) and the upper and middle back being convex (backward). Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in perfect conditions and years of bad posture tends to displace vertebrae – especially in the neck and lower back.
If you can, try to pay attention to your spine whether you’re sitting or standing. Is it in the right shape? If not, stretch your back, neck, shoulders and legs to see if you can get your spine back into its natural position.
2. Listen to Your Body
More often than not, constant aches and pains in specific places (e.g., between your shoulders, your neck muscles, your lower back) or loss of circulation in your legs or fingers is actually your spine trying to send you an important message: “You’ve got bad posture!”
Bad posture often leads to misaligned vertebrae which in turn causes circulation and nerve problems in other parts of the body. If you do find that you frequently experience aches like those listed above, you’ll definitely want to speak with your doctor about it. Have him or her examine your spine for potential problems.
In the mean time, pay attention to what causes the pain or makes it worsen. Then find a way – through stretching, changing your sitting position, or other means – to make the pain stop or lessen. Keep reminding yourself until it comes naturally and your posture will improve.
3. Stretch Often
Sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time can wreak havoc on your posture – especially when you’re working at a table or desk at the same time. If your day-to-day life requires a lot of sitting or standing, sneak in stretch breaks as often as possible. This will keep your muscles from cramping up and help you to maintain better posture.
4. Take Movement Breaks
If you have the liberty, don’t just stretch throughout your day. Get up and move. Go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, run in place or waltz around your office with an invisible partner. Do whatever strikes your fancy. Just remember to get up and move. Not only will this improve your posture by working out stiff muscles, it’s also a great way to keep your energy level high through the day. (Here are 22 more!)
5. After You Use Your Back, Exercise Your Front
This one is for all of my fellow gardeners out there.
Activities like bending over, lifting heavy objects, or leaning over your work surface are an easy way to damage your back and develop a permanent forward slouch. Fortunately there is a super simple way to prevent this: After you use your back, exercise your front.
This particular piece of advice was gifted to me by a master rose gardener who – at an age considerably older than my own which I shall not specify – still had an incredibly fit body and some of the best posture I’ve ever seen on a human being. Her secret? After working in the garden, she would immediately do a few sets of abdominal crunches to compensate for the back strain. A few days after she told me this, I tried it for myself and was absolutely stunned by how well it worked.
Three Little Tricks for Perfect Sitting Posture
6. The Balloon Trick
Several years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting an instructor for the Millie Lewis modeling school and talent agency. While the exact conversation which led up to it has long since been recycled out of my brain, there was one piece of advice that I never forgot – the “Balloon Trick”. Here’s how you do it:
- Stand in front of the mirror with your back straight and your feet spaced hip-width apart.
- Look straight ahead and touch the tip of your finger to center of the top of your head. Imagine that there is a helium balloon attached to that exact spot then lower your arm.
- Roll your shoulders back so that your spine is in its natural curved position.
- Let the imaginary balloon slowly lift your head up toward the ceiling.
Once you’ve practiced this one a few times and gotten the hang of it, you can start from step three (roll your shoulders back, etc) and perform the balloon trick from your desk at work, sitting in traffic on your way home, or anywhere else you find yourself sitting down a lot.
When done correctly, this ‘exercise’ stretches the neck and actually improves overall posture, as well. Not only that, but in my personal opinion it also feels absolutely wonderful!
7. Pull Your Shoulders Back
This little trick – taught to me almost a decade ago by a massage therapist and good friend – has been the ultimate savior of my upper back.
Stand with one of your shoulders facing a mirror and take a look at your profile. Do your shoulders slump forward?
If the answer if ‘yes’ then you’ll want to start practicing this one right away. Fortunately it’s very easy to do.
- Firm up your stomach muscles, stand or sit up as straight as you can (optionally employ the balloon trick here)
- Roll your shoulders back so your shoulder blades are pressed together firmly but not painfully.
- Raise your arms straight out to your sides with palms facing upward until you feel a deep stretch in your biceps.
- Take a deep breath then slowly exhale.
Of course, if at any time while performing this or any of the other exercises on our list you feel sharp pain, you should stop doing it immediately and consult with a medical professional before continuing.
8. Get the Right Chair
While this may not be an option for everyone, investing in a good chair can make a huge positive impact on posture – not to mention save your back! Most office supply store have a showroom area where you can try out their desk chairs before you buy one. Take some time to pick out a chair with good support and sit in it for a while to really get a feel for it.
(Remember, a couple hundred dollars now just might save you thousands on future medical bills!)
Six Exercises for Perfect All-Around Posture
While the idea of doing them may make a lot of us groan, the fact is that squats are one of the best exercises for almost every aspect of fitness – posture included.
You can read all about them in 18 Impressive Reasons You Should Start Doing Squats which includes a brief tutorial and video (scroll all the way to the end) on proper form, as well as recommendations on repetitions, sets and frequency for this exercise.
10. Abdominal Crunches
Balanced core strength is one of the biggest secrets to good posture. Most people already have a strong back, but neglect their abs by comparison. If you’re sitting there nodding your head, consider adding a brief abdominal crunch routine to your daily schedule. It will only cost you about 10 minutes of your time and your back (and posture) will thank you.
Just follow these simple steps for proper form and number of repetitions:
- Lie on the floor or on a yoga mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart.
- Cross your arms over your chest or lace your fingers together behind your head.
- Keeping your arms relaxed, focus on using only your abdominal muscles to pull your upper body off of the floor and part-way into a sitting position. You should feel the exercise in your stomach muscles, but not in your arms, back, or thighs. (Breathe out as you do this.)
- Hold this pose for up to 10 seconds, then lower yourself back to the floor. (Breathe in.)
- If you aren’t used to doing abdominal crunches, start slow and only do one or two sets of ten repetitions. After a couple of weeks, your abs will get stronger and you may want to add more reps or sets to your routine.
(For more great exercises that improve core strength and reduce strain on your back, check out these 10 Simple Exercises That Ease Lower Back Pain.)
11. Triple Abdominal Crunches
Once you get good at crunches, add a little twist to your ab routine. After you initially pull your upper body off of the floor, hold the pose for a second then drop part-way back to the floor and pull forward again. Hold that position, then do it again. After the third ‘crunch’, slowly lower yourself back to the floor. One triple ab crunch equals one repetition.
Pretty intense, right? Okay, now do nine more. (Remember to breathe!)
12. Glute Squeezes (aka “The Butt Crunch”)
Glute squeezes – which several of my friends have affectionately nicknamed “butt crunches” – are a great way to keep the muscles in your butt and lower back from cramping up if you have to sit for long periods of time with no breaks. They also go a long way toward toning and shaping no matter what your jeans size may be.
The best thing about glute squeezes is that they’re inconspicuous. You can do them at your desk and chances are pretty good that no one will ever notice. All you have to do is flex your butt muscles, hold for a second or two, then release and repeat. The motion will lift you a little higher in your seat, but the movement is very slight.
Once you get good at them, try flexing each side individually for a little variation. As your glutes get stronger, you’ll find that you have less lower back problems as well as better sitting posture. It’s a good way to tone your bottom, too!
If you’re a member at a gym, you can use the rowing machine for this one. However, if you’ve never done it before, you may want to inquire with one of your gym’s resident experts as to the proper positioning for using this machine. Also, keep the weight low. Repetition is the key in this instance while too much weight can actually hurt your back more than it will help your posture.
If you don’t have access to a rowing machine, you can still do rows at home. Pick up a resistance band like this one which includes a door anchor. Sit on the floor with your feet stretched out in front of you and position in the anchor so your resistance band is at shoulder height. Keep your stomach muscles firm (but not too tight to breath) and your back perpendicular to the floor. Pull back with both arms at once and keep your elbows up around shoulder height as you do so.
You should be able to feel the muscles in your shoulders and upper back working as you perform this exercise. Do these in sets of 8 – 10 repetitions and roll your shoulders between each set to keep them limber.
14. Stretch and Cool Down
I saved this one for last because it is by far the most important. Tight muscles cause pain and pain inevitably causes bad posture. So after you use your muscles, stretch them. Also, when you finish working out, don’t just stop abruptly. Slow down gradually (walking is a good way to do this) and let your muscles cool down before you go back to your desk, hop into your car or head for the nearest bench. This will help your muscles to stay limber and prevent them from stiffening up or cramping later on.