By: Sammy Cusimano
Stand tall and walk confidently! These simple phrases apply to living well on so many levels. Good posture is beneficial to the health of the body, especially the back, neck and shoulders, while also enhancing a person’s confidence and overall presentation. We live in a truly amazing time of immense technology, but it is important to be aware of the hazards of poor posture, while enjoying all that the world has to offer. In today’s modern society of the technological age, there are so many jobs in which a person sits for a long period of time. Even the commute to work or school involves long periods of sitting. Simply going to the movie theater can be a tempting opportunity to slip into bad posture habits for a couple of hours. So many health issues can be prevented and even corrected with simple changes in body alignment and posture.
It is so important to make the extra effort to maintain excellent posture while sitting, standing or walking so that the body builds good, healthy habits that will ensure comfortable, pain-free living. Muscles are designed to remember and repeat movements. This phenomenon known as “muscle memory” can have a positive impact when the correct posture and movements are utilized; however, it can lead to bad, unhealthy habits when incorrect posture is the norm. The key to good posture is awareness followed by action. Knowing how the body is supposed to look and feel while in correct position is the first step towards taking the proper actions towards maintaining healthy posture.
The benefits of good posture affect so many different aspects of the human body. The most apparent being the orthopedic benefits such as keeping bones and joints in proper alignment, thus helping the muscles to work most efficiently, while decreasing any wear-and-tear on the joints, ligaments and tendons. When the muscles are being used properly, the body puts out less energy and will experience less overall fatigue. This also positively impacts the body’s immune system. The less energy the body has to expend on keeping joints in alignment, the more energy is available for other systems of the body, such as the immune system, to work as efficiently as possible. Proper posture is even effective in preventing headaches and migraines. Before taking over-the-counter pain medications for chronic discomfort, try adjusting the posture of the neck, shoulders and lower back. Tension in one or even all three of these areas very well could be the root cause of the chronic pain.
Strong muscles lead to strong posture. When the muscles of the body are strengthened, the joints that they support become very efficient for pain-free movement and correct alignment. The main muscles that help maintain excellent posture are the muscles of the lower back, abdominals, neck, trapezius(upper back) and shoulders. It is important to strengthen these muscles regularly in order to develop healthy posture.
Lower back- The lumbar muscles of the lower back aid in holding the spinal column upright while standing and sitting. One of the best exercises to safely strengthen the lower back muscles is the plank. The beauty of the plank is that it can be performed anywhere! There is no equipment necessary except a stable floor or platform. Begin by kneeling on the floor. Then place both elbows down on the floor under the shoulders. Extend the legs into a straight position, while supporting the body with the elbows on the ground. The torso should remain as straight as possible throughout the entire exercise. It is basically a push-up position performed on the elbows rather than the palms of the hands. Always make sure that the lower back does not cave in, even the slightest bit. Try to keep the entire body as straight as a board (hence the name, “plank”). This is an isometric exercise (no motion) so the sets are timed. Try to start with small sets of 10-15 seconds and work your way up to 3-5 sets of one minute each per day. The plank makes a great warm up and cool down exercise because there is very little cardiovascular exertion.
Abdominals- Strong core muscles are the key to excellent posture. The core includes the lower back muscles, along with the obliques (side abdominal muscles) as well as the upper and lower abdominal muscles on the front of the torso. The upper abdominals are the muscles that help lift the body when you sit up and rise out of any lying position. Crunches are an excellent exercise to strengthen the upper abdominals. The lower abdominals are responsible for helping to lift the legs up and engage the hip flexor muscles. A great routine that works both the upper and lower abdominal muscles is the combination crunch routine.
Begin by lying on the floor and place both hands either gently behind the head or arms crossed in front of the chest. The first set is the straight leg crunch exercise. Raise the legs straight up perpendicular to the upper body. Perform each repetition of crunches by rising up just slightly off of the shoulder blades, while continuing to keep the legs straight in the air. Try 10 repetitions the first time.
The next set is the bent leg crunch. From the straight leg position, simply lower the legs to a bent position with the knees at a 90 degree angle. The body should look like there is an imaginary coffee table supporting the calves and ankles. Perform 10 repetitions in this position as well.
The final crunch is in the standard flat position. Place both feet flat on the ground with knees slightly bent, and perform 10 repetitions. As you build strength in the core, feel free to add more repetitions and more sets to your workout. This crunch routine simultaneously tones and strengthens both the upper and lower abdominals, thus creating a much stronger core to help with attaining perfect posture.
Neck- Proper neck posture is extremely important for overall health of the spine and supporting muscles. With every inch that the head moves forward in bad posture, there is actually an increase of 10 pounds of pressure on the neck and upper back muscles. Forward head posture is a common problem in today’s society; however, it can be remedied with awareness and daily exercises that target the neck muscles.
The exercises that can fix forward head posture problems are surprisingly very simple. The first is the head tilt. Simply tilt the head forward as if you are trying to make a “double chin” with your neck. Hold this position for 10 seconds then rest in a neutral position. Repeat a few times each day. The second exercise is the head turn. Rotate the head by turning to the left until you feel a stretch on the neck muscles and hold the position for 5 seconds. Alternate the head turn exercise on the right side as well. Repeat a few times times each day. The third exercise is the head tilt. Begin by simply tilting the head to either the right or left side and holding the stretched position for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position and alternating each side equally. Repeat a few times per day. These three neck exercises are excellent ways of strengthening and stretching the neck muscles without any need for equipment. They are very effective motions that engage the neck muscles, while also building body awareness to avoid the pitfalls of bad posture that affect the alignment of the neck.
Trapezius and Shoulders- One of the biggest culprits of bad posture is the combination of underdeveloped trapezius and deltoid (shoulder) muscles. The trapezius muscles of the upper back aid in movement of the shoulder blades. When the trapezius muscles are strong, they help pull the shoulders back which aligns the spine and leads to good posture. The deltoid muscles function very similarly. Strong shoulder muscles keep the scapula (shoulder blades) in the proper position so that there is no slouch in posture, which potentially may lead to misalignment.
A very effective exercise for working out the trapezius and the deltoid muscles is the three-part combination raise with dumbbells. First, begin by holding a pair of dumbbells at your side. Gently raise the dumbbells in front of the body, while maintaining straight arms. Stop at shoulder level. While the arms are straight out in front of the body, retract the dumbbells by bringing them backwards and continuing to keep the arms straight. When the arms are even with the sides of the torso, begin lowering the dumbbells down at the sides of the body in a lateral motion. Repeat 10 times for 3-5 sets per day.
Maintaining healthy posture will change your quality of life in so many beneficial ways. Fitness that focuses on the strength of the supporting muscles of the neck, shoulders and lower back is crucial to laying a foundation of proper alignment of the center of the body. The human body is designed to feel good. Begin your day with awareness and action that results in good posture, and your body will reward you with the positive energy and healthy results that will make each moment of your day as full of life as possible.