It seems that whenever I tell people that I am a movement analyst that they immediately sit up taller, pull their shoulders back, and then sheepishly tell me that they know they have bad posture. Rest assured, I’m not judging your posture. But I do know that there are a lot of people who would like to have better posture.
Good news, folks! There are some simple stretches for better posture that you can do in less than five minutes a day.
Stretching for better posture
Achieving better posture usually is a result of a number of factors. Core support, muscular imbalances, tension patterns, body connectivity, and the like all play in our alignment. And ultimately, our posture needs to be seen as dynamic or mobile instead of static. Thinking of posture as a position will only lead to tense muscles. Rather, better posture is achieved when we remember the body’s inherit mobility.
But I often get people asking me for simple ways to improve their posture. And while stretching can produce some amazing results for a lot of people (and generally help all people to some degree), just keep in mind that if you want to see lasting and transformative results, you may need to dig a little deeper.
Common “bad posture” issues
First, let’s look briefly at what typical bad posture looks like. Again, this is very generalized, but the most common issues I see result in the following alignment:
The shoulders are pulled forward. The head is jetting forward. The core is passive. How many of you are sitting like this right now? (Hopefully none, right?) During my classroom teaching days, I saw plenty of students slumped like this at their desk (and they were all dance majors who should know better!).
The real problem is that overtime this habitual position begins to attack on our muscles. The pectoral muscles get very tight. The back muscles get weak. And when those two things happen, this posture not only feel like a bad habit, but it can create ongoing back pain as well.
Stretches to combat this posture
1. Lift and release the shoulders
This first activity isn’t so much of a stretch as it is a preparation and mental exercise. Begin by lifting your shoulders up high, imagining them coming up toward your ears.
Next, release the shoulders downward, allowing gravity to do its thing. Don’t push the shoulders down, just release. Feel your spine long and free as you do this.
This simple exercise is a great way to bring more mobility into an area that often gets “forgotten.” It also reminds your brain that your shoulders are designed to hang. You don’t have to hold them up.
2. Shoulders back
This stretch helps open up the pectoral muscles, expands the heart, releases the back, and gets your blood flowing.
Stand firmly on two feet. Interlock your fingers behind your back and then slowly lift your arms. Only lift your arms as high as they can go without lifting your shoulders. Again, feel your spine lengthen as you stretch. Imagine your heart pouring forward and your shoulder blades and tailbone dropping down toward the earth.
A variation of this stretch is to stand in a wide position, bend at the hips, and let gravity help release the shoulders as it pulls your arms downward. However, if your hamstrings are too tight that you find yourself bending at your lower back instead of at your hips, stick with the standing stretch.
3. Pectoral Stretch
This stretch is really important if you have tight pectoral muscles. Simple stand at a wall with one palm on the wall. Keeping the arm straight but not locked, slowly rotate your body around until you feel a stretch across your shoulders and collar bones (clavicle). Don’t worry if you can’t rotate very far. A good stretch should not be painful, but do take it as far as you can while maintaining a comfortable breath.
At least 3 times a day for better posture
You can perform each of these stretches in just a minute or two. Try the shoulder lift and release 3 – 5 times, and then hold the other two stretches for 15 – 30 seconds (making sure to do both arms on the last stretch). For best results, try to do all three exercises at least three times throughout the day. It’s also a great boost anytime you are feeling “weighed down.”
So there you go, 3 simple stretches for better posture.
Want to learn more about posture, movement, and how both can lead toward a pain-free life? Make sure to check out my book Pain Free.