So You Want to Improve Posture, Right? Lets’ deepdive on ‘Strengthen and Lengthen’
Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, made the first rule in his book 12 Rules For Life: “stand up straight with your shoulders back”. In this chapter he touches on more than the fact that good posture is aesthetically pleasing; he discusses how, when we adopt good posture, we are perceived by ourselves and others as more confident, dominant and worthy of respect. Did you know that when you improve posture you will even change your physiology, increasing the release of serotonin, which literally makes us more confident and more likely to feel positive emotion – rather than just looking it? This is why adopting a powerful pose has been shown to increase test performances in a variety of different situations.
Unlike many other things in your life that you may have no control over, your posture is completely decided by the way you spend your time – and genetics. Therefore, if you’re looking to improve an element of your life, start by improving your posture. Unfortunately, the age we live in has caused many of us to develop routines that draw our body into unfavourable positions; our heads and shoulders get pulled forward, our shoulders round inwards and our spines are excessively arched. Fortunately, there is something you can do about this, which is where I come in. This article is going to teach you the foundations for what drives our poor posture, as well as the corrections to develop a better posture.
To start improving our posture we need to do two key things:
1. Lengthen the muscles that are drawing you into a bad posture
2. Strengthen the muscles that hold you in a good posture.
Study the image on the following page (refer to figure 1); I have highlighted the muscles that you will need to lengthen in blue, and the muscles you will need to strengthen in green.
Notice the interesting dichotomy, if you are familiar with the Joint-by-Joint theory you may have picked up on the trend. The need to lengthen vs strengthen alternates predictably from one joint to the next. For example, from the back view of our body we see that the neck needs lengthening, the shoulders need strengthening, the torso needs lengthening, and so on and so forth.
Also, the muscles on the front side of the body at one joint, require the opposite action to the muscles on the back side of the body at that same joint. For example, at the hip joint we need to lengthen our hip flexors on the front side of the body, and strengthen our major hip extensor (glutes) on the back side of our body.
After studying the image, continue down the pages to see an example movement you can do to strengthen and lengthen each joint to improve your posture. The exercises provided are only one of many that could be done, feel free to choose your own if you have other preferred movements but, be careful not to change the muscle groups being worked. For example, at the shoulders I suggested the Y-W-T-A as the movement of choice as this targets the back extensors, shoulder retractors and external rotators of this joint. An exercise that seems like a reasonable alternative would be a Lat Pull Down, as this targets a very similar area. But notice, a Lat Pull Down will predominantly target the lats and biceps, both of which have been highlighted as muscles that need to be released, not strengthened thus you must be careful in your choices of modification.
Disclaimer: technically the hamstrings are a hip extensor, however their origin serves as an unfavourable mechanism of action due to the torque forces they can put on the lower back, thus we would be better suited to target the glutes for strengthening and the hamstrings for lengthening.
|Figure 1 Postural Muscles (Edited image sourced from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/science/human-body)|
Blue = Lengthen Green = Strengthen
NeckMost people have tightness in the back of their neck, which raises their chin and gives them that forward head posture. We must then, stretch the back of our neck and work on movements that will pull our chin down and back. Note: excessive neck strengthening is often less valuable than neck lengthening, prioritise the chin tuck stretch here.
Lengthen by: Chin tuck stretch Strengthen by: Chin tucks
|Figure 2 Chin Tuck (Image Courtesy of Life of PT: https://www.lifeofpt.com/chin-tuck-exercise-when-and-how-to-perform-it/)|
|Figure 3 Neck Stretch (Image Courtesy of Information PVT: https://www.informationpvt.com/2019/02/neck-stretching-tips.html)|
Most people have tight pecks and weak backs which draws their shoulders forward, to correct this we must lengthen our pecks and activate our upper back and external rotators of the shoulder girdle. Check the link under “Y-W-T-A” to learn this movement in greater detail.
Lengthen by: Peck Stretch Strengthen by: Y-W-T-A
|Figure 4 Y-W-T-A (Own picture)|
|Figure 5 Peck Stretch (Image Courtesy of Pinterest:https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/364087951118101245/?autologin=true )|
Excessive curvature of the lower back and tightness through our lats cause what is known as the duck posture, as well as inwardly rotated shoulders that make us look like gorillas. Stretching the lats will help bring the arms back to a better position while turning on the core will align the spine in a more neutral posture. Check the link under “Posterior tilt/Marching” to see how to correctly train your core for posture.
Lengthen by: Lat Stretch Strengthen by: Posterior tilt/Marching
|Figure 6 Lat Stretch (Image Courtesy of BodBot: http://www.bodbot.com/Exercises/772/One_arm-Lat-Stretch)|
|Figure 7 Hip Flexor Stretch (Image Courtesy of Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/235453886742407564/)|
The following are probably the highest yielding movements out of this whole article. Most people have tight hip flexors that need lengthening and underactive glutes that need activating. Check the link under “Glute Bridge” to learn extra tips for performing the exercise.
Lengthen by: Hip Flexor Stretch Strengthen by: Glute Bridge
|Figure 8 Glute Bridge (Image Courtesy of Pinteresthttps://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/243335186103197918/)|
|Figure 9 Hip Flexor Stretch (Image Courtesy of Row Perfect https://www.rowperfect.co.uk/stretching-hip-flexors-for-rowing/)|
The thighs are of lower importance when it comes to posture, these movements therefore are certainly lower yielding compared to the others mentioned in this article, but those looking for an extra couple percentage points of improvement, these are for you.
|Figure 10 Hamstring Stretch (Image Courtesy of Pop Sugar https://media1.popsugar-assets.com/files/thumbor/V79mWjf6Xjup28tDXPGzoWBUVcU/fit-in/1024×1024/filters:format_auto-!!-:strip_icc-!!-/2013/03/12/2/192/1922729/2a8d7475eae1d6a3_propped-up-hamstring-stretch/i/Advanced-Standing-Hamstring-Stretch.jpg)|
|Figure 11 Standing Knee Extension (Image Courtesy of Power School Learninghttps://misshalls.learning.powerschool.com/cmcanespie/athletictraining1/cms_page/view/34357009)|
Lengthen by: Hamstring Stretch Strengthen by: Knee Extension
There it is, the way to improve your posture; the way to make yourself look better, be perceived better and ultimately feel better. Try out the suggested movements, incorporate them into your daily or weekly schedules and see your posture, and thus the rest of your life, improve.
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