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Without even looking at you, I’m pretty sure you have a posture problem. That’s because almost everyone I see has a posture problem.
After years of evaluating as a personal trainer and registered strength and conditioning coach, I’ve learnt to spot an anatom-ical abnormality from the way a guy walks, sits or stands. The trouble isn’t just that slumped shoulders make you resemble a Neanderthal. Over time, your poor posture takes a tremendous toll on your spine, shoulders, hips and knees. In fact, it can cause a cascade of structural flaws that result in acute problems, such as joint pain throughout your body, reduced flexibility and compromised muscles, all of which can limit your ability to burn fat and build strength. But don’t worry – all these problems can be corrected. Are you ready to straighten yourself out? Use this head-to-toe guide to make sure your posture is picture-perfect.
Analyse your alignment
Strip down to a pair of shorts and ask a friend to take two full-body photos, one from the front and one from the side. Keep your muscles relaxed but stand as tall as you can, with your feet hip-width apart. Now compare your photos with the illustrations on the next page to diagnose your posture problems. Then see the repair plans below.
Where pain strikes: Your neck.
The problem: Stiff muscles in the back of your neck.
Fix it: Stretch with head nods daily: moving only your head, drop your chin down and in towards your neck while stretching the back of your neck. Hold for a five count; do this 10 times to ease tension.
The problem: Weak front neck muscles.
Fix it: Do this neck “crunch” every day: lying face up on the floor, lift your head so it just clears the floor. Raise your head and hold for five seconds; do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Where pain strikes: Neck, shoulder or back.
The problem: Tight pectoral muscles.
Fix it: Try a simple doorway stretch: place your arm against a door jamb in the high-five position (that is, forming an L), your elbow bent 90 degrees. Step through the doorway until you feel the stretch in your chest and the front of your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds. That’s one set; do a total of four daily.
The problem: Weakness in the middle and lower parts of your trapezius.
Fix it: Use the floor L raise: lying face down on the floor, place each arm at a 90-degree angle in the high-five position. Without changing your elbow angle, raise both arms by pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds; do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Where pain strikes: Neck and shoulders.
The problem: Your trapezius (the muscle that runs across your upper back) is shortened.
Fix it: Perform an upper-trap stretch. With your higher-side arm behind your back, tilt your head away from your elevated side until you feel the stretch in your upper trapezius. Apply slight pressure with your free hand on your stretched muscle. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat three times.
The problem: A weak serratus anterior, the muscle just under your pecs running from your upper ribs to your shoulder blades.
Fix it: Try chair shrugs. Sit upright in a chair with your hands next to your hips, palms down on the seat and keep your arms straight. Without moving your arms, push down on the chair until your hips lift off the seat and your torso rises. Hold for five seconds. That’s one rep; do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Where pain strikes: Neck, shoulder and back.
The problem: Poor upper-back mobility.
Fix it: Lie face up on a foam roller placed about midback, perpendicular to your spine. Place your hands behind your head and arch your upper back over the roller five times. Adjust the roller and repeat for each segment of your upper back.
The problem: Weak muscles in your back.
Fix it: Perform the prone cobra. Lie face down with your arms at your sides, palms down. Lift your chest and hands slightly off the floor, and squeeze your shoulder blades together while keeping your chin down. Hold for five seconds; do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Anterior pelvic tilt
Where pain strikes: Lower back (because of the more pronounced arch in your lumbar spine). The tilt also shifts your posture so that your stomach pushes outwards, even if you don’t have a gram of belly fat.
The problem: Your hip flexors, which allow you to move your thighs up to your abdomen, are tight.
Fix it: Kneel on one knee and perform a front hip stretch. Tighten your gluteal (butt) muscles on your kneeling side until you feel the front of your hip stretching comfortably. Reach upwards with the arm that’s on your kneeling side and stretch in the opposite direction. Hold this position for a count of 30 seconds and repeat three times.
The problem: Weak glutes.
Fix it: The glute bridge is your solution. Lie on your back with your knees bent about 90 degrees. Squeeze your glutes together and push your hips upwards until your body is straight from knees to shoulders. Hold for five seconds; complete two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Where pain strikes: Knee, hip or lower back.
The problem: Tightness in the outer portion of your thigh (your tensor fasciae latae).
Fix it: Stand up, cross your affected leg
behind the other and lean away from the
affected side until you feel your hip stretching comfortably. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
The problem: Weak gluteus maximus and medius muscles.
Fix it: Use an exercise called the side-lying muscle shell. Lie on one side with your knees bent 90 degrees and your heels together. Keeping your hips still, raise your top knee upwards, separating your knees like a muscle shell. Pause for five seconds; lower your knee to the starting position. Perform two or three sets of 12 reps daily.
Where pain strikes: Hip or lower back.
The problem: You lack flexibility in all the muscles in your hips.
Fix it: Drop to your hands and knees and place one foot behind the opposite knee. Making sure you keep your spine naturally arched, shift your weight backwards and allow your hips to bend until you feel the stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds,repeat three times, then switch sides.
The problem: Weakness in your oblique muscles and hip flexors.
Fix it: Try the stability-ball jackknife. Assume the top of a push-up position but rest your feet on a stability ball. Without rounding your lower back, tuck your knees under your torso by rolling the ball with your feet towards your body. Roll the ball back to the starting position. Do two or three sets of 12 reps daily.