Part 2: Corrective Exercise
In Part 1, I talked about how your body will mold itself to the dominant, rounded posture you hold at work all day while at your desk. When you go to the gym, it is important to avoid exercises that will reinforce this posture. It is imperative that you correct postural imbalances before beginning a weight training program, or injury can occur. Simply stretching the tight, contracted muscles on your front side and the long, rounded muscles of your back is not enough. This is because of the laying down of collagen fibers, which are not elastic like muscle tissue. Body work is necessary in order to break down these bands of tissue before you can fix your posture. I’d now like to outline some corrective exercises you can do to encourage lifelong, healthy posture.
A good place to start is to increase the range of motion of your muscles by doing static stretches as well as active stretches while moving through various planes of motion. A good assessment will identify which muscles need more attention, so you can use your time wisely and address the obvious imbalances first.
Next, it is important to address the range of motion, or mobility, around your joints. Starting at the top, you need to mobilize the upper back (thoracic spine). Then you want to open up the hips with internal and external rotations. Finally, ending at the feet, you will need to loosen up the ankles. While most people would benefit from mobilizing all of these joints, an assessment can identify where to spend most of your time as well as check for any left to right asymmetries that may need extra attention.
Here are some examples of active stretches and mobilizations for key muscles and joints:
- Hip flexors stretches (3 way)
- Hamstrings (3 way)
- Calves (2 way)
- Back series: cat/camel; child/cobra; side lying open arms; prone lateral reaches
- Upper back, Hip, & ankle mobility
Once you have stretched the tight muscles and mobilized the locked joints, I suggest doing some postural resets.
- Begin by lying on a foam roller with your spine lined up vertically against the roller and your head resting on it as well. Then, spread your arms out (palms up) and do some snow angels, bringing your arms up over head then down to your side.
- Next, stand with your back against a wall for about one minute. Keep your chin tucked, head against the wall, and shoulder blades retracted and pressed against the wall. At this point, it is common to arch the lower back to get into position, so make sure you maintain your neutral lumbar spine position and do not compensate. Use the wall as a guide for your shoulders and head so you can feel true, erect posture. This will feel like an exaggerated posture that is difficult to maintain, but it is simply a way to reset your posture. Don’t worry, you won’t have to walk around at work all day like a toy soldier!
You then should activate the muscles that have been turned off after years of neglect. Most importantly, I recommend working the gluteal muscles, or butt. Not only will you look better in your jeans; but once the butt works properly, it will take pressure off the low back and knees, which always compensate and work overtime when the butt does not do its job.
Here are some excellent exercises to activate your gluteal (butt) muscles:
- Glute bridges
- Dirty dogs
- Tube walks
- One-leg squats
Neck, Upper back, & Posterior Shoulder Activation
The goal here is to reverse your upper body desk posture. Start by doing neck-strengthening exercises to bring your head back into alignment over your shoulders. Next, you should do exercises that work the scapular muscles that will help retract your shoulder blades. Finally, you will need to work on the external rotator muscles of the shoulders to help counteract the tendency to stay rounded.
It’s best to start by doing an isolated exercise to target the muscle. Then, move on to a multi-joint, full-body exercise that integrates these muscles in the way they might move in real life, so that you can get the muscles to fire in the proper sequence.
The following exercises will help tighten up these postural muscles:
- Shoulder external rotations with elastic tubing (start at side, then with arms elevated)
- Neck retractions with towel
- Prone cobra
- YTWL with dumbbell
Finally, do some core stability exercises by working on the deep muscles of your trunk (core) first. These muscles are not the glamorous 6-pack abs you’ve admired on the cover of Men’s Heath, so you don’t have to do 5,000 sit-ups! I’m referring to the muscles underneath that attach to your spine and keep you stable. (Try gently drawing in your belly button towards your spine to feel the action of the transverse abdominis, one of these deep stabilizer muscles). Start developing core stability by working to prevent movement – the very essence of stability. Then, do some balance exercises to develop stability during movement, again in an attempt to integrate stability in a more realistic scenario.
Try these core stability exercises on for size:
- Hover plank
- Side plank
- Cable push outs
- Single leg multi-plane reaches
Putting it all Together
If you follow the exercise sequences I’ve explained, you will be well on your way to permanently improving your posture and reducing your chances of chronic injuries. Besides the physical problems caused by bad posture, an additional benefit will be a longer and leaner figure. Your friends will most likely think that you lost weight or just look better. You are now ready for strength training in the gym without fear of compensating, contributing to bad posture, or creating chronic injuries.
In case you missed my post last week, check out “Get Inside Your Trainer’s Brain: How to Design Your Own Workout (Part 1),” in which I explained how to maintain these gains through a proper warm-up and movement prep exercises before you start each strength training session.