Expert Q&A: Improving Posture
Q: I'm in my late 20s, and for as long as I can remember, I've been told that I have bad posture. Is it too late to improve my posture, and if not, how would I even go about it?
A: Although it is never too late to start thinking about your posture, taking steps to improve it while in your late 20s versus your late 60s will only benefit you that much more. During the days of charm school and glamorous Hollywood starlets, we were captivated by the dancer chic of Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall. Skip ahead a few decades, and the popularity of wafer thin models with slouchy shoulders and jutting architectural limbs are evidence that good posture has (sadly) lost some of its cachet.
The innumerable benefits of proper posture are too good to ignore and include:
- Improved digestion and circulation
- Reduction of aches and pains
- Improved breathing
- Better balance
- Increased confidence
- Better fitting clothing
- A leaner, taller appearance
As a trainer to celebrities, models, and those who simply want to improve their fitness and posture, I can tell you that no matter your walk of life, you are subject to the same postural highs and lows as everybody else.
The muscles that help hold you upright are a combination of your spinal and abdominal muscles. If you have weak or tight muscles around those areas, chances are that proper posture is a challenge. However, when referring to "bad posture," we're usually speaking about the shoulders and upper back.
Fortunately, you don't need to be a dancer to improve your verticality. The first step to improved posture is taking a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror--and not the soul-searching kind. This is a superficial, factual, geometrical assessment of your physique. Once you're looking in the mirror, ask your self the following questions, each of which is critical for curing any bad posture habits:
- Are my shoulders even?
- Does my head tip slightly to one side?
- Is my upper back rounded?
- Is my chest concave?
- Do my shoulders roll forward?
- Does my head sit forward of your body?
If your habits also include always carrying your bag on the same shoulder, holding your cell phone to the same ear, and frequently wearing high heels, you'll want to work on clearing those up as well. But first you'll want to begin strengthening the weak and loosening the tight.
Start up against a wall and try these three main moves.
Arm Circles on the Wall:
Stand with your feet in a small V position, with your heels together and toes three inches apart. Squeeze your inner thighs tightly together, and keep as much of your back on the wall as possible. (It's ok if you need to move your heels slightly forward, but try to keep them as close to the wall as possible.)
Inhale as you circle your arms up and open. Exhale them around and down to your side, while keeping your shoulders pressed to the wall. Imagine you are holding a heavy can of paint in each hand.
Complete eight forward circles and then reverse for eight circles.
Sliding Down the Wall:
Start in the above position, then open your heels so your feet are parallel and spread your feet hip width apart. Then walk approximately one foot forward. Bend your knees and slide down the wall into a seated position, but do not sit below knee height. It's as if you're sitting in an invisible chair. Make sure that your entire spine maintains contact with the wall, almost as if being drawn back by a giant magnet.
Inhale as you slide down, hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale as you slide back up.
After completing three slides, remain at the bottom in your seated position and do one set of arm circles as described above. Slide back up the wall.
Rolling Down the Wall:
Return to the main starting position (see Arm Circles on the Wall) and try to move your feet an inch closer to the wall. Inhale and begin rolling down the wall by bringing your chin to your chest and then "peeling" vertebra by vertebra off the wall. Only roll down to the point where the back of your pelvis remains glued to the wall.
Allow your head and arms to hang loosely in their joints and let them swing in circles loosening the tight muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders.
After eight circles in each direction, begin rolling back up the wall replacing each vertebra on the wall an inch above where you removed it thereby lengthening the space of your spine.
Brooke Siler is one of the nation's most sought-after Pilates experts and personal trainers. Her first DVD, Element: Weight Loss Pilates for Beginners is now available in stores and at Amazon.com. She is also the author of the New York Times bestseller The Pilates Body: The Ultimate Guide to Strengthening, Lengthening and Toning your Body--Without Machines and the owner of reAB Studios in Manhattan. Slier began her Pilates career in 1994 under the tutelage of Master Instructor Romana Kryzanowska (Joseph Pilates' protégé for more than 30 years). She has helped shape some of the most beautiful bodies in Hollywood, including Madonna, Kirsten Dunst, Lauren Hutton, Amber Valletta, and others.
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