Sit up straight, pull your shoulders back, stick your chest out. These are all things that we have heard when people speak about correcting bad posture. These postural cues are effective at getting people to recognize their bad postural habits, however they do not fix the weaknesses or dysfunctions in the body that cause poor posture. We can address this issue with specific exercises that can alleviate pain and lead to better overall well-being.
I myself was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis at a young age, a disorder that causes severe curvature of the spine. As a result of this disorder, I had the posture resembling the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Following surgery I focused on maintaining my corrected posture through numerous exercises and stretches. To this day my posture has improved tremendously by using some of the exercises I will share with you below.
Poor posture is typically brought on by the effects of poor daily habits that are displayed in the musculoskeletal system. These habits can include chronic sitting or staring at the computer, prolonged driving, lack of exercise, backpack use, working only your mirror muscles or an overall lack of activity. Muscles on the back side of the body are typically under worked, while muscles on the front side of the body, the mirror muscles, are overworked. As a result of these imbalances your head starts to lean forward, your shoulders round, your pecs become tight, and your hips loose alignment. Any one of these issues can force the body to compensate by recruiting other muscles, which over time can develop into larger issues and possibly even an injury.
Pain is commonly displayed in the neck, shoulders, lower back, knees and heels. Your body is programmed to avoid pain, so the body tries to regain the strength and stability that should be present from the muscles in the posterior part of the body by tightening the posterior muscles to protect the body from injury. This is one of the main reasons the majority of the population claim to have tight hamstrings and calves. If we can strengthen these muscles while increasing their flexibility, your posture will improve. Thus, the pain in problem areas will go away and your overall feeling of well-being will improve dramatically.
Pain in the neck can be attributed to lack of strength in the musculature surrounding the neck and upper back. As we sit at the desk all day, our head slowly starts to drift forward. These muscles from our neck, down to the middle portion of the back become fatigued and are not strong enough to support the head. Neck pain is typically located in the upper traps or levator scapulae, whose function is to hold the head in a upright position. Strengthening these muscles will help alleviate neck pain and allow you to maintain an upright posture.
Try these exercises to strengthen the muscles of the neck.
Weakness in the muscles that pull your shoulder blades together contribute to rounded shoulder posture. This also occurs if you train the muscles of the chest more often than the muscles of the back. By training your back muscles more often, specifically your rhomboids and lower traps, while stretching your chest muscles you can correct your rounded shoulder posture. Generally a ratio of 2 back exercises to 1 chest exercise is recommended to correct muscular imbalances.
Try these exercises to strengthen the muscles on the back side of your body.
Try these stretches for your chest
Lower back pain is a complaint that the majority of the population will have at some point in their life. This commonly occurs because the glutes and hamstrings are not strong enough to support the body and keep the pelvis in proper alignment. Weakness in the posterior chain (the muscles located on the back of the body) causes the pelvis to rotate away from a neutral position, which puts excess stress on the lower back to maintain an upright posture. If you experience lower back pain, strengthening your glutes and hamstrings will help take the stress off of the lower back by keeping the pelvis in a neutral alignment and keep your back healthy.
Do these exercises to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings
Poor posture is something that plagues us all. Life is stressful and the stress of life can manifest in your body and lead to chronic issues if your poor posture is left unchecked. Luckily the majority of postural issues can be corrected with simple exercises a couple times a week. These exercises alone will help you target the problem areas, however if you do not change your daily habits, postural issues will plague you for the rest of your life. So get up off the coach or from behind your desk and get moving, ride a bike instead of drive to work and work all the muscles of your body not just the ones you can see in the mirror. Most of all enjoy what you are doing, because if you do not find a feeling of enjoyment from exercise it will always feel like burden.
Falling off the wagon and failing to get to the gym on a regular basis is common and occurs for many reasons. They may include an approaching deadline for work, a recent injury, family commitments, or a general lack of motivation. Getting back into an effective exercise routine can be easy but it requires patience. You will be more successful starting slow and being patient than if you dive in full speed ahead with unrealistic expectations. A reference to a popular children’s story seems to help people in this situation. In the story of the tortoise and the hare, you want to be like the tortoise. He consistently worked to the best of his abilities to get to the finish line, whereas the hare whom may have been able to jump out to a larger lead out of the gate was distracted and could not consistently perform to finish the race.
Time away from the gym effects your body on many levels. First, when you stop exercising you are simple not burning off as many calories as if you are working out. Because you are burning fewer calories your body will be begin to store them as fat. Also the more time you take off from the gym the less efficient your cardiovascular system becomes at performing its function and subsequently the lower your VO2max will be. (more on this later) Because the cardiovascular system does not perform as efficient as it did in the past you can not workout as hard and gain the benefits of those efforts.
Another issue that occurs is less stored energy in your body called glycogen. Glycogen is a complex form of energy that is stored throughout the body primarily in the muscle cells and in the liver. Glycogen is one of the primary sources of fuel you use when you are exercising. Also occurring at the cellular level is a decrease in mitochondrial density within your muscles cells. The mitochondria is the power house of a cell, it produces the energy needed for the cell to carry out its specific function. A person with a higher mitochondrial density will be able to exercise longer and at a higher intensity than one with a lower density. This allows you to burn more fat and sculpt the body you are striving to achieve
All of these issues can compound and contribute to a lower fitness level once returning to the gym. Typically when returning to the gym following a layoff you may feel dizzy, light-headed, nauseous, short of breath, or a general weak feeling. These symptoms occur due to the reasons I have highlighted above. First your body has become less efficient at bringing in and using oxygen and less efficient at dispersing the byproducts of exercise: carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Lactic acid is generally associated with the burn you feel while exercising. The more you workout the more efficient your body becomes at eliminating these byproducts of exercise and subsequently you can exercise at a higher intensity longer to burn more fat. Another adaptation of exercise is the bodies ability to store glycogen more readily. Having higher storage levels of glycogen enables you to workout for longer and harder.
As I stated above, when you take time off from the gym your VO2max decreases. This is a measurement used in the exercise physiology field to describe a person’s highest level of oxygen they can use during sustained aerobic efforts. A higher VO2max is generally correlated with having a higher level of fitness. Intense exercise whether it is cardiovascular in nature or resistance training derives adaptations in your body to become more efficient. In general your body gets better at bringing oxygen to the cells and taking the carbon dioxide out. All of these adaptations allow you to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time. This in turn burns more calories and helps you come leaner.
The best plan of attack to returning to the gym is to start at a lower intensity in which you can complete a specific workout. From there you can establish a baseline fitness level and progress your workouts.Workouts can progress by increasing any of the following: duration, workout intensity, and workout frequency. An effective method to progress your workout routine is by manipulating your work to rest ratio. For any given exercise you may work at a 2:1 work to rest ratio. Meaning your work for twice as long as you rest. For example, if you were performing step-ups a proper work to rest ratio would be 2:1, meaning you would perform the exercise for twice as long as you rest; thus, if you exercised for 60 seconds you would rest for 30. As you become more fit you would change the ratio to where you are working much more than you are resting. For someone returning to exercise a 1:2 ratio would be appropriate. You would then progress to 1:1 and so forth. This method can be utilized with any type of exercise whether it is resistance based or cardiovascular in nature.
Another very effective method of exercise progression is lactic threshold training. Using lactic threshold training you exercise using a progressive program that gets harder the further into the workout you get. I like to describe these workouts in terms of pushing back a curtain, an expression I learned from Juan Carlos Santana a strength and conditioning coach who trains several high level athletes. The curtain is your highest perceived level of exercise you can reach. The workouts in which you are pushing back the curtain you push yourself to the point of reaching the curtain and pushing it back slightly. Each day you push this curtain back a little further. However you do not want to break through the curtain because more than likely you will not be able to complete the workout which will not allow you to be progressive.
Returning from a layoff can be physically and mentally challenging. You return ready to work at the same intensity as you left, however your body has changed and you may not be able reach the same levels.Take it slow at first, to gauge your fitness level, and then continue to progress from there. You will be more successful than diving headfirst into the same routine expecting to pick it back up instantaneously. The most important piece of information you can take from this article is to be patient. Patience and consistent hard work will lead to the results you are looking seeking. Always remember the story of the tortoise and the hare.
Imagine waking up every morning with the mentality that you are going to be better today than you were yesterday. Truly live each day as if it were your last. How do you think your day will be compared to just waking up with in your typical and everyday routine? I learned from a mentor, Coach T.A. three words, “Better Every Day”. He taught me that excellence is not being the best, but being YOUR best! I challenge you to do just that in all walks of life. Take some time to think about what you are best at doing and what could you be a little better at? Maybe it is to eat breakfast every morning, spend some more time on yourself instead of everyone else, or making that commitment to workout daily.
I give everyone credit for showing up at the gym, it can be tough some day, but when you show up, you need every part of you to show up with you. Are you there to socialize or maximize? How well you work in the gym has a greater impact on every aspect of life in and out of the gym. I was told this story about a CEO from Panda Express and while he was walking a potential new employee out to his car after an interview. The potential employee was really impressed that the CEO himself was walking him to his car. Little did he know that what he really was doing was checking how clean and organized the inside of his car was because, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything”.
Making the decision to eat better isn’t about instant perfection. As long as you continually strive to make the right choices each day, you will start to feel better and gradually develop your will power. Choose foods that provide your body with essential nutrients, such as whole grains, chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, low fat dairy and eggs. Make sure you’re getting plenty of dietary fiber, and try to drink clean fluids such as water, diluted juice or plain tea each day. Try to avoid the foods that wreak havoc on your body, such as fried and processed foods, white bread and pasta, sugar, trans fats, candy, and cream sauces. Accept the fact that you have to be flexible in your diet and you will not be able to eat healthy 100% of the time. But if you become conscious about what you put into your body and make an honest effort, you will begin to experience remarkable benefits.
How are you going to get Better Every Day?
Written by certified personal trainer, Alicia Obriecht