This is what your local health provider won't tell you!
Some of the most pervasive myths in fitness come from the topic of posture. We’ve been instructed that there is a ‘perfect posture’ out there, one where the spine is tall, the chin is slightly tucked, and the shoulders are rolled back. We’ve also been told to do 20 different exercises to achieve this elusive pose. Go to your local trainer and you'll likely be doing chin tucks and shoulder rotations to fix your ‘rounded frame’.
While any type of mobility and strength movement is usually welcome, as long as it’s safe, we must realize that achieving a perfect body position while sitting should never be our #1 goal. Believing this faulty paradigm has led us to choose many ineffective exercises and waste precious time. Contrary to popular belief, the perfect posture as we know it has 3 major flaws:
- Sitting upright is a less mechanically advantageous position to be in. If you’re struggling through a 9–5, it’s going to be far more efficient from an energetic output standpoint to slouch a little and move around more.
- The ‘perfect posture’ prevents disc fluid movement. If we’re so caught up in staying as tall as possible, it’s much harder to get proper discal fluid shifts. This is where frequent movement is so vital. Even the slightest change in position will alter the gradient of pressure within the spine to freshly circulate chemicals, contributing to homeostasis between the discs.
- Posture isn’t as tied to pain as you think it is. Back pain is far more complex than we give it credit for and it’s usually not tied to ‘bad posture’. There is good evidence to show that this faulty belief can create or worsen pain, far more than the actual posture you’re in. Even if posture isn’t the problem, our faulty perceptions will create an issue on their own. That’s why proper education around posture is so vital to our health!
All of these points lead to one major finding: your specific posture isn’t actually all that important. What is crucial, however, is how often you change your position, how much exercise you’re getting, and how healthy your mindset is around pain.
The truth is, perfect posture doesn’t exist. If we’re doing 10–20 ‘quick fix’ postural exercises to achieve this elusive state, we’re doing something wrong. While you may find pain relief and health improvements in the process, there is a much more efficient approach to improving outcomes.
Now, what could it be?
The top 2 exercises for improved posture.
It's key to remember just how powerful physical activity is. When we move our bodies more frequently, there is virtually an immediate improvement in stiffness, pain, and overall wellbeing. The 2 exercises that always find their way into evidence-based programming are the row and deadlift. This is due to their ability to foster whole-body strength and stability, especially throughout the posterior chain. Even if you’ve never had gym experience, don’t fret. There are modifications available for everyone, regardless of skill level.
Even the smallest dose of resistance training is exactly what you need to improve postural outcomes and increase your capacity to complete all of your daily activities. Even the simple act of completing each movement twice a week (a total of 10–15 minutes max) can improve your life drastically.
Will weight training immediately put you into a perfect, tall posture? Nope. But that should never be the goal. What we should prioritize is becoming stronger and feeling better.
Before we jump in, please check in with your health provider if you have a history of musculoskeletal injuries or chronic conditions. Like with any form of movement, resistance training comes with its risks, so approach with caution. If you struggle with severe scoliosis or other complex back issues, you may need professional assistance and additional movements to assist your journey to pain-free living.
While there are many modifications to each movement, included below is the main movement with a progression for each. This should be enough to cover the capabilities of those who aren’t already training with these. These are all exercises you can perform in the home, as accessibility is the #1 priority, so if you’re looking for gym-specific cues, there are guides here (seated row) and here (DL). Without further ado, let’s dive into these 2 movements!
Cues: 2 x 15 reps. Attach the band around an anchor or door and ensure it’s secure. Next, set up a chair to allow for a seated row feel. The goal is here is to engage through the core and exhale as you pull the band towards you. As you pull, drive the elbows back behind you and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for 1–2 seconds at the fully contracted phase and then slowly release to the starting pose. As you move through your reps, keep the shoulders down to ensure the neck doesn’t take over.
Cues: 2 x 15–20 reps. If you’re recovering from an injury, please start with a light weight and slowly progress over time. If you don’t have access to weights, try finding 2 equal household objects of moderate weight. Start by engaging the core so that the pelvis and ribs are stacked. Next, slowly hinge the hips and lower the dumbbells until they reach knee height. Once your hamstrings are stretched, begin bending the knees until the dumbbells reach the floor or just above.
To return to the starting position, extend the knees and drive the glutes forward as you slowly lift the dumbbells back up. Remember to exhale during this phase. Additionally, ensure that you keep your spine/neck neutral throughout and keep the weights close to your legs!
If you’re looking for modifications, you can try a Romanian deadlift (RDL) or single-leg deadlift. If you want to progress this movement, add weight by jumping to a barbell or perform a deficit deadlift. As always, please listen to your body and only push as far as you feel comfortable.
Improving your posture has never been about achieving the perfect seated or standing position. While this proud pose may look nice, it’s not nearly as healthy as you think. What’s far more important is prioritizing frequent movement and building strength in functional exercises like the row and deadlift. No, you won’t magically change the look of your posture, but I can bet you’ll feel much stronger, safer, and functional.
It’s time to throw away your ‘quick-fix' exercises and start doing simple movements that will actually transform your capacity to live a full and vibrant life!
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