– “Stand up straight, stop slouching.”
Your mother was right, poor posture not only looks bad, but can lead to chronic back pain and spinal problems later in life. It’s really not difficult to correct, first:
1. Strengthen Your Core
To improve your posture and correct your back problems, strengthen your core. The core muscles surround and support your spine and are responsible for helping you to stand upright and rotate your trunk at the waist.
Core muscles include your abdominals, the muscles of your lower back that connect your spine to your pelvis, your obliques (just under your “love handles”), your diaphragm below your lungs, and the muscles of your hips and pelvis.
2. Train in 3 Dimensions
You should always be training and strengthen your core muscles from ALL directions as they completely surround your spine. As your core provides support from all directions, you should exercise your core from all directions.
3. Avoid and Correct Muscular Imbalances
Training your abdominals without training your lower back leads to imbalances that affect your posture, either causing you to lean forward or curve (arch) back.
By training ALL the muscles of your core in ALL directions (front, back and sides), you’ll provide a balanced, solid trunk that supports good posture and prevents back pain or problems.
Before you begin your posture exercises, start with these two stretches:
Neck Stretch – This stretch lengthens the cervical spine, your neck and upper spine and should be performed slowly – no jerking or bouncing. Sit upright and slowly lower your chin to your chest as you inhale and pause briefly. Now tilt your head back as far as you can and pause briefly and relax and return to the start position. Repeat 5 – 10 times, chin down, chin up at the ceiling.
Neck Rotation – For core training, always include rotational exercises and stretches, twisting and turning.
Sit upright with your hands at your sides or on your thighs, inhale and slowly lower your chin down to your chest without leaning forward. Now rotate your head and neck slowly to the right and perform one complete rotation (circle). Pause briefly and reverse the movement and rotate in the opposite direction.
Complete 5-10 slow and controlled rotations in each direction.
Follow your stretches with these bodyweight core exercises:
Knee Planks – Knee planks will teach you how to properly perform “planks”, the simple, yet effective core exercise.
Start from a pushup position on your knees with your elbows bent and your weight on your forearms. Concentrate on keeping your back straight and not allowing your hips or arms to move. Hold your knee plank for a minimum of 30-60 seconds and increase the time each workout until you reach 1-2 minutes.
Bird Dogs – Start this exercise down on your hands and knees with your back straight. Lift and extend (point) your left arm while you extend your right leg straight back behind you.
Hold for 20-30 seconds. Lower your arm and leg back to the mat and point (extend) the opposite arm and leg. Keep your arm and leg straight and in one line with your body. Increase holding your arm and leg extended until you reach a total of 1-2 minutes.
Crunches – Start on an exercise mat on your back with your knees bent and arms across your chest. Do Not interlace your fingers behind your head or neck as this may cause injury as you pull forward.
Using your abs and core, lift your upper body off the mat and touch your elbows to your knees and hold briefly and then return to the start.
Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. As a crunch variation, add a slight turn or twist as you lift up and touch your right elbow to your left knee and alternate.
Reverse Crunches – Another abdominal movement with lower back involvement. How to do: Begin flat on your back on the mat with your arms at your sides and palms down on the mat for support.
Lift your legs above you until they are at a right angle and hold. Lift your pelvis and buttocks off the floor and push your legs and hips up toward the sky and hold briefly.
Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Full Planks – Planks appear simple, but the longer you hold the position, the harder (and more effective) it gets.
How to do: Start from a pushup position with your arms directly below your shoulders and lower your upper body onto your elbows and forearms placed flat on the floor. Lift and straighten your body until it forms a straight line from neck to ankles. Your weight should be supported on your forearms and toes. Don’t allow your hips to lift or drop as you hold your plank for a minimum of 30-60 seconds.
Repeat 3-5 times and extend your time with each workout.
Side Planks and Plank variations – shift your weight to your right arm and leg and reach for the ceiling with your left arm and again, hold for 30 to 60 seconds and alternate sides.
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