Wish you had better posture? It may just be a stretch (or four!) away. Learn how to improve your posture from Sukie Baxter, a posture and movement specialist and the author of Perfect Posture for Life. Sukie helps people change their lives by changing the way they move. Get her free guide to easing aches and pains here.
Up to 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to make sure you’re not among them. And, fixing your posture is at the top of the list.
While sore muscles and aching joints are usually the first symptom of posture problems, slouching can also lead to other health issues like digestive upset, shallow breathing, fatigue, stress, and even anxiety.
In addition to relieving aches and pains, standing up straight can help you feel happier, more confident and even improve your focus, productivity and problem-solving abilities.
If you’d like to reap the benefits of good posture and protect your body from unnecessary wear and tear, here are four simple stretches that can help.
The Mid-Back Stretch
This posture-correcting stretch both opens the front of your chest and releases tension between your shoulder blades to help you stand up straighter.
- Place the palms of your hands against a wall, stepping back until your arms are straight.
- Keeping your palms against the wall, walk your feet back while folding at the waist until your head is between your arms and you’re looking down at your toes.
- Engage all the muscles of your arms and shoulders, using 100 percent of your strength to press into the wall, pulling slightly downward with your hands (don’t actually slide them, though).
- Hold this isometric contraction for 15-20 seconds and then relax, deepening the stretch. You should be able to press your chest forward and down further.
- Repeat this 2-3 times, deepening the stretch a little more with each repetition.
The Back of the Hip Stretch
Most people have tight hips because modern humans recline in chairs instead of squatting or sitting on the floor, both of which build strength and flexibility in the hip joint. This stretch will help improve your range of motion and also relieve lower back tension.
- From your hands and knees, cross your right leg in front of your left leg so your shin is contacting the floor.
- Extend your left leg back. You should feel a stretch down the back of your right hip.
- Let your hips be heavy and sink down into the stretch on the right side. You can either keep your chest upright or come down onto your forearms.
- Stay here for thirty seconds to a minute at least, breathing deeply into your hip to release any tension.
- Repeat on the other side.
The Frog Stretch
Tight adductors (inner thigh muscles) limit hip mobility, tug on your lower back, and can even be the root cause of a stiff neck. I recommend that all my clients stretch their inner thighs regularly.
- On a yoga mat or on the floor, come onto your hands and knees. Slide your knees out to the sides as far as they will go, opening up the inner thigh area. Keep your ankles in line with your knees.
- Lower your arms down until you’re resting on your elbows. You should feel a stretch along your inner thighs and up into the groin area. Only sink as deeply into the stretch as is productive — there is no benefit to over-stretching.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, but longer is better to allow your nervous system time to relax. Remember to breathe deeply.
The Contract-Relax Neck Stretch
Neck tightness is surely one of the biggest posture-related complaints that I hear in my office. Fortunately, this simple stretch that can be done anywhere — even at your desk — loosens tight neck and shoulder muscles in a flash.
- Place your right hand on your left ear and bend your head to the right as far as you comfortably can.
- Then, contracting the muscles on the left side of your neck, press your head upward into your right hand while resisting the pressure with your hand so that your head doesn’t move. You’re holding an isometric contraction in all of the muscles on the left side of your neck.
Hold this contraction for a count of 20.
- At the end of the count, do not release your hand from your head. Relax your neck muscles and use your right hand to press your head further down, deepening the neck stretch.
- Then, release your head, bringing it back to center.
- Switch sides and repeat the stretch on the left.
Used regularly, these four stretches will help you stand up straighter. Of course, the more often you do the posture-correction stretches, the easier it will be to avoid slouching and the related negative health effects.
Don’t wait until you’re in pain to stretch — set a routine and do these regularly throughout the week. –Sukie Baxter