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My grandmother is a stickler for perfect posture. Anytime she catches someone standing with rounded shoulders or seated with a slouched spine, she’ll poke them between the shoulders and sharply say, “Stand up straight!” To her, perfect posture conveys confidence. Standing up straight tells the world you’re strong and poised. (It also doesn’t hurt that good posture helps you look taller, longer, and leaner.)
How you carry your body can impact far more than your appearance. Studies have suggested a connection between posture and emotions — your body tells the world when you’re angry even when you’re trying to hide it — cognitive function, and even your breathing! Plus, your posture can interfere with your sense of proprioception, or your body’s ability to sense where you are in relation to what’s around you.
“Perfect posture” isn’t reserved for ballet dancers and Pilates instructors — we mere mortals can learn how to get “perfect posture,” too. Keep reading for tips on learning how to have “perfect posture” (and what the heck it looks like in the first place)!
What Good Posture Looks Like
If you think you know the definition of “perfect posture,” brace yourself. “’Good’ posture depends on the individual, explains Marianne Ryan, PT, OCS, a New York City-based physical therapist with over 30 years of experience.
“The old-fashioned idea of an ideal posture is not easily attained by all people especially if there’s a long history of slouching or bending backward,” she says. “I do not teach people to stand up and stick your chest out because it causes muscle imbalances. I teach clients to ‘align their body so they feel balanced.’”
“Perfect posture” is subjective and it may look different for everyone. So, how can you check your posture?
“Standing with your hips, shoulder blades, and head against a wall represents as close to ‘normal’ or ‘good’ as you’re going to get,” says Tom Biggart, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS, a physical therapist and strength coach in the greater Boston area. Whatever doesn’t touch is going to give you (or your physical therapist) an idea of which areas might be out of balance.
Biggart says working on your posture might even help with some aches and pains, including:
- neck pain and stiffness
- difficulty turning the head and neck
- shoulder pain and decreased range of motion
Poor posture can cause a ripple effect throughout your body, he explains:
- The thoracic spine (aka your mid-back) rounds forward and becomes tight.
- The ribs attach to the spine. Their position is adjusted, and they may also become stiff.
- The shoulder blades, which sit on the ribs, shift up and forward (typically).
- The relationship between the ball and the socket of the shoulder is off.
- This new position makes raising the arms above shoulder height difficult, which can lead to shoulder impingement and other rotator cuff issues over time.
“Having worked with a lot of people that have had neck and shoulder pain, I can tell you that adjusting and improving their posture helped to resolve their pain,” says Biggart.
How To Get Perfect Posture
“Good posture is incredibly important, and it can be learned,” says Biggart. “Posture, in general, is a learned behavior.”
That’s why simply sitting up straighter doesn’t cut it, he says. “It is a multi-step process but can definitely be improved.”
Ready to start working on your perfect posture, so you can sit, stand, bend, and move with confidence, comfort, and ease? The tips below can help — and you don’t have to walk around with a book on your head, as my grandmother used to suggest!
1. Stack your bones
“One of the easiest ways to improve your posture is to think about stacking your ribcage directly over your pelvis,” says Ryan. “This will help the inner core muscles support your body.”
You can practice this anytime, anywhere, while sitting or standing. Try it while waiting in line for your morning coffee or in your next work meeting.
2. Find your center of gravity
Start to observe how you carry your body while sitting, standing, and walking:
- Do you shift your weight onto one hip?
- Is one shoulder lower than the other?
- Does one side of your back feel pinched?
“Most people tend to either bend forward, and look slouched, or bend backward, but it is best to try to align your body with the center of gravity,” says Ryan.
3. Don’t forget your feet
Everything in your body is connected, and your posture problems can start — and end — in the feet.
“I explain to my clients how to restack their ribcage over their pelvis and rebalance so that they feel the weight evenly on their feet,” says Ryan. You shouldn’t feel like you’re standing on your heels or toes.
4. Practice makes perfect (posture)
Whether you work with a physical therapist, take up Pilates for a stronger core, or simply bring more awareness to your own “perfect” posture throughout the day, be patient.
“Symptoms can start to improve in as little as a few weeks,” says Biggart. “For true ‘correction,’ it will probably take months of consistent work. This is another reason why people fail to resolve posture-related issues. They give up too soon, looking for some other quick fix.”
5. Keep moving
Fidgeting and being restless may be beneficial for your posture. A 2014 study in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that sitting for only 15 minutes can start to compress the vertebral discs.
“When sitting, it’s best to choose three to four different positions to change into throughout the day,” says Ryan. “Sitting just in one position is not recommended.” As often as you can, stand up, stretch, move around, or simply change your position.
6. Strengthen your core
If you’re working to achieve “perfect posture,” don’t skip your core workouts — or Pilates class. “What I’ve seen clinically is that better posture or better alignment can influence how well core muscles work to support the body,” says Ryan.
7. Enlist some help
It can be hard to notice your imbalances and misalignments unless they are severe. If you suspect that less-than-perfect posture is causing aches and pains, working with a physical therapist or another trained professional can help you identify the root cause. Biggart develops individual plans for each client but uses the same four steps:
- Re-educating them on posture — how to carry their bodies properly.
- Improving mobility of the thoracic spine — loosening up the mid-back.
- Mobilizing soft tissues — working on the muscles and other soft tissues that might impinge movement.
- Exercise — starting with supported supine movements, then progressing to standing and more dynamic movements.
As a first step, ask your trainer, strength coach, or Pilates instructor to point out anything they notice about your posture.
8. Walk the walk
Don’t forget about your body position when you’re on the move — keep checking your perfect posture when you walk.
“If you lean a bit forward in the chest, that will activate the supporting muscles in the pelvis, such as the gluteus maximus, to work optimally to support your body,” says Ryan.
9. Put down your phone
On average, we spend 2 to 4 hours a day looking down at our phones and reading. Over time, this can cause “tech neck” — premature wear and tear, pain, and degeneration of the neck, according to research published in 2014 in the journal Surgical Technology International. Take that as a cue to put your phone down, get up, and start working on your perfect posture!