Don’t be a Slouch

By Lisa Rhea

There are several exercises that can improve posture. A big thank you to Danielle Heiser for modeling for this article.

There are several exercises that can improve posture. A big thank you to Danielle Heiser for modeling for this article.

Good posture says a lot about a person. If you’re not standing tall, you’re immediately giving social cues of weakness and subordination. Sad, but true. And beyond giving cues of social prowess, better posture is more attractive and slimming. But working on your posture goes beyond the simple reminder to stop slouching.

There are several factors that can have you slumping over and slouching, and working a desk job certainly doesn’t help. Muscle imbalances and lack of mobility/flexibility can be huge factors. You may find your chest and mid-upper-back muscles are tight and make it a strain to pull your shoulders back. Or even if you have the flexibility, your shoulder muscles may be too weak to sustain holding your shoulders back. It’s best to work on both for optimal results.

I recommend first stretching the chest and opening up the upper back, then activating the rear deltoids. Next, complete a couple scapular exercises, followed by rear deltoid strengthening exercises to  build the muscles that pull the shoulders back.

These exercises can be done several times a week, in isolation or as part of an upper body workout. Combine this with an increased awareness and focus on your posture throughout the day, and you should be standing tall in just a few weeks.

Shoulder Rolls
Simply roll your shoulders to the front and to the back. Try for at least 10 rotations in each direction.

Chest Stretch
Using a wall or some unmoving surface, pull your arm back and lean forward to create a stretch through your upper chest. Hold for 30-60 seconds and switch sides.

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Myofascial Release of Upper Chest (with Lacrosse Ball or Manual Massage)
Yes, I’m telling you to give yourself a chest massage – upper chest that is! You’d be amazed at how tight those muscles are, and just like your neck or back feels so much better and more relaxed after being rubbed, so will your pectoral muscles.

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Foam Roller – T, Y, I
Place a foam roller on the ground and lay on it with the roller positioned vertically, rather than the traditional horizontal position. Keeping the roller in line with the spine, move your hands from up in front of your chest to out by your sides – do this 10 times in the T shape, the Y shape and the I shape to further relax the chest and mobilize the upper back.

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Scapula Pull-ups
It doesn’t matter if you cannot do a regular pull-up, you can still do a scapular pull-up. Simply hang from the bar and pull your shoulder blades down, engaging them as you would at the beginning of a pull-up. Hold for 1-2 seconds and release. These are difficult. Do 5, rest and repeat 3 times. The range of motion is very small, but you should feel like you’re pulling your shoulders away from your ears and tucking your shoulder blades into your back.

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Scapular Rows
Much like the pull-ups, scapular rows involve a very small range of motion and simply pulling the shoulder back and engaging the scapula, pulling the shoulder blades into the back. Keep an upright posture, focus on keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears. This can be done on a cable low row machine or simply with elastic bands (as pictured). Repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets.

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Band Pull-aparts
Using an elastic band, raise your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Keep your elbows soft and pull with the back and shoulders to separate your hands. Be sure to keep an upright posture, shoulders down and away from your ears. This isn’t a big movement and should be felt solely in the upper mid-back, back of the shoulders (rear deltoids) and through the shoulder blades as they pinch together. Another mental cue is to think about squeezing a lemon between your shoulder blades behind your back. Repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets.

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External Rotation
Using very light weights, hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder-height in a T-position, with your elbows bent. Rotate your hands from by your sides into a “field goal” position, while keeping your elbows bent and your arms at the same height. Think of rotating through the shoulder and pulling the bottom of the shoulder blade towards the chest through your back. Really pause at the top of the movement, feeling that “tuck” of your shoulder blade. Release back down and repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets.

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Rear Delt Rows
Using a barbell or free weights, bend at the waist keeping your knees soft. Place your arms out wide, elbows bent and pull towards your chest. This is a higher row than your typical bent-over row for the back/lats. The focus and feel should be in the back of the shoulders (rear deltoids). Squeeze at the top of the movement and release back down. Be sure to use a light enough weight that you’re not straining through the neck or recruiting the back for help. Complete 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

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Bent Over Rear Delt Raises
Again, pick a pair of light weights, bend at the waist and raise the arms out to the sides, parallel with your shoulders or slightly in front. Keep your elbows soft and pull with the back of the shoulder. Use a light enough weight that you can pause at the top and control the release down. Do not engage the back muscles and do not strain through the neck or jaw. Complete 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

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