Life has a way of putting our bodies into a poor posture position. From sitting all day at a desk, driving several hours, and looking down at your phone for long periods of time spread throughout the day, everything tends to have us hunched over and bent over from the hips and lower back. If you are having pain in your lower back from too much sitting, pain in your neck from too much smart phone, or slouching forward at the shoulders, you have a postural imbalance.
Correcting a Bad Habit
If you think about it, an imbalance is a bad habit. Our body gets used to a certain position and it will want to stay in that position, making simple activities like stretching and walking painful. As with anything, to see success we typically have to stop a bad habit and start a good habit. Correcting your posture is no different. In fact, think of it this way: you have to start stretching one muscle group and start strengthening the opposing muscle group in order to fix any imbalance you may have.
Typical Imbalances and Ways to Correct Them
The most common imbalances in the body are front and back side imbalances. Whether the chest and rear shoulder / upper back, abdominal muscles and lower back, front and back of the hips, or thigh and hamstrings of the legs, these combinations of muscles need a mix of stretching more and exercising more. These imbalances do not just plague the sedentary. They can actually wreak havoc on highly active people as well IF their programming is not addressing opposing muscle groups. Take for instance the guy who only goes to the gym to only do bench press or the young teen who only does pushups when his interest in fitness starts to grow. Both are building imbalances in their chest and front deltoids, and triceps by neglecting the rear deltoids, rhomboids, and other upper back muscles that oppose the chest pushing movements.
Here are some exercises and some other tips to help you start new habits and break the bad habits that are slowly devolving you into pre-Homo erectus status:
Fixing Internal Rotation – The forward rounding of the shoulders, forward tilting of the head and neck, and sunken in chest are all caused from 100 percent of our life is in front of us. We sit in this position, drive in this position, and, if we exercise only the front side of our upper body, we will exacerbate this position. Do more stretching of the chest and shoulders, but also do more flexing (strengthening) of the rear shoulder and upper back muscles with exercises like reverse pushups, reverse flies or TRX wide rows, and DB or TRX rows.
TIP: If you are exercising regularly, make sure you are pulling as much as you are pushing. Pullups make for a great natural pulling exercise. However, the row will directly balance out bench press and pushups imbalances that are pretty common for those beginning fitness.
Muscles to Stretch More – Stretching and foam rolling (or massage) are great ways to loosen tight muscles grown use to sedentary living. Warmup the body with a short walk or bike to get the blood flowing and then lightly stretch the chest muscles, back of the neck to trapezius muscles, front of the hips (hip flexors), and the back of the legs (hamstrings). Focus on the spine / hips first, then continue down into the legs, and up into the shoulders and chest.
Muscles to Strengthen Regularly – Keep doing your normal routine, but remember each muscle group you work has an opposing set of muscles that also need to be exercised. Add in more exercises to your daily routine to strengthen the core (upper back, lower back, and abdominal region). Notice the core is not just stomach muscles! If you do a lot of abdominal exercises or are training to pass sit-up tests, make sure you balance those exercises of the lower front torso with the opposing muscles of the lower back. Plank poses and swimmers are excellent exercises to work the back side of the core.
Hip Imbalances – The hips are critical to our posture. Loosen the hips with thigh stretches but push the hips forward to stretch the hip flexors too. To exercise the hips try hip thrusts, dirty dogs, and hip rollers. Also continue stretching with glute stretches, butterfly stretches, ITB stretches, stomach, lower back and hamstring stretches (all can be found in the lower back plan below). The Lower Back Plan is a free downloadable that has stretches for the legs, hips, torso, and chest, as well as exercises for the upper back, lower back, and abdominals. Most people use the lower back plan as a cooldown after a workout with many of the upper back and lower back exercises and all of the stretches. Some also do the charts in full and create a challenging full core workout as well.