Sunday, September 26, 2010

Improve Your Posture, Improve Your Workout

For some of us growing up, our mothers stood behind us and pulled our shoulders back every time we slouched. And so we attributed a good posture to being proper. And then technology took over, and with it came computers, promoting the round-back and neck-squishing syndromes. So it has just become normal to walk or sit with a slouch. But apart from an improper appearance, bad posture has two very big negative effects. For one, more strain is places on your spine, your muscles, and your supporting ligaments promoting strain, backaches, muscular pains, and stress on the joints. Secondly, if your posture is not right, you are not getting the most out of your workout.

Here are a few tips for fixing your posture to get the most out of your workout:
  • Do it ALL the time: Don't just stand right. Sit right, lie down right, drive right. Try working on your posture in everything you do.
  • Balance: Ever do the switcharoo? I sometimes put all of my weight on one foot, and then move all of my weight to the other while I'm standing. This really messes up our postures. Rather, try balancing your weight equally between your two feet.
  • Don't curve your shoulders in: Mother said it best; stick your shoulders back. Pulling your shoulders forward is somewhat of a defense mechanism we learn when we are young. It's like we're subconsciously trying to protect ourselves from our environment. 
  • But don't overdo it: In pulling our shoulders back, we sometimes overdo it, and instead of being straight, we notice that we are pushing our bums out as well. This is bad because it curves the lower back into a forward position that is very difficult to get out of. So as you pull your shoulders back, try to tighten your stomach as well so you don't stick your stomach forward or your bum back.
  • Sit upright: I think most adults are guilty of curving our shoulders forward while we stare at the computer. Instead, pull your head up like a string is attached to it from above, and pull your shoulders back. If your chair has a back, rest on it. Trust me, you'll see just as clearly if you sat back in your chair as if you put your face right in front of the screen. And if you don't, you probably need glasses.
  • Walk around: If you find yourself standing or sitting in the same position for hours, you need a break to walk around and get your joints and muscles out of that stiffness. Maybe even stretch out every hour to increase the blood flow.
  • Car mirror alignment: I know most of us are used to our car mirrors a certain way and we don't like to introduce change. But moving your mirrors just a little could improve your posture by a lot. Try out different angles and see which works best for your neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Move things around: From your work desk to your couch to your TV screen, try moving things around once in a while. You may notice that you have to slouch less if you just move your TV screen an inch higher or puff up your couch cushion. So introduce little changes around you consistently to break the stagnation and you may see changes in your body as well.
  • Lift well too: When you want to lift an object, do not bend forward at the waist with your knees straight. Rather, lower your knees and hips and keep your back straight.
  • Babies don't know it all: Unlike what is recommended for babies, do not sleep on your stomach as it causes strain on your neck. And do not sleep on your side hugging your knees like most of us do. Lie on your back with some support for your knees and lower back, or on your side with only a slight bend in your knees. The key is to keep your lower back straight.
And here are a few exercises to help improve your posture:
  • Mid-Back Makeover (from 'Better Homes and Gardens'):
    Extend your arms out and up to about shoulder height, bent at elbows with palms pointing up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. You should feel a stretch along your chest and the front of your shoulders. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times. If you feel sharp pain, ease off until you feel only mild tension. If this hurts, hold your arms a bit lower; after doing this exercise a few weeks, gradually raise them.

  • Port de Bras (from 'Womens Health Magazine'):
    Stand with your heels touching and your toes turned out. Brace your abs. Keeping your shoulders down, raise both arms overhead. Bend forward, reaching your hands toward your toes while keeping your back flat. Go only as far as you can without losing your form. Brace your abs again, stand up, and, with arms still raised, arch backward slightly. Repeat 8 times.

  •  Extended side angle (from 'Yoga Journal'):
    In the standing position, open your legs until your feet are about 4 feet apart. Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Rotate your upper torso back to the left. Firm your shoulder blades against the back ribs. Extend your left arm straight up toward the ceiling, then turn the left palm to face toward your head palm facing the floor. Stretch from your left heel through your left fingertips, lengthening the entire left side of your body. Release your right shoulder away from the ear. Press your right fingertips (or palm) on the floor just outside of your right foot. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Come back up and repeat on the other side. 

Having a perkier posture definitely makes you seem more energetic, more approachable, helps you exercise better, and keeps you looking younger and healthier. Try working on your posture this week and give me feedback on how much better you feel.

Cheers 'Eights' and 'Weights'!

PS. If you are in Nigeria, buy a copy of Y! magazine this week. I have an article in there on body odor.


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