How to improve my posture?
January 27, 2010 5:36 AM   Subscribe

So after watching a video of myself, I've realized that I have terrible posture. I slouch a lot. I've always known this, and periodically I'll try to stand up straighter, but after a few days I just go back to normal. Does anyone have any experience with beating the slouch for good?
posted by ben5757 to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem. I've heard the iPosture works decently, but no personal experience. A cheaper thing to do might be to set a reminder on your phone every hour or so reminding you to check your posture. My chiropractor said to try to do "chest opening" stretches, which does seem to help. I like the fish pose with a yoga block under my shoulder blades and head (a rolled-up blanket works too), and the doorway stretch. Yoga in general is a huge help.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:44 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Honestly, pay attention to it, and keep paying attention. When you walk, don't think about other stuff, think about how you are walking -- your posture, your gait, etc.

My posture improved dramatically after I had an accident where I ended up in a back brace for 3 months. While I do not recommend this as a solution, I had to pay attention to my posture (partly because the brace made me do so, partly because slouching was painful). What I took away from it was more of a sense of my body in space and its relationship to gravity. You could probably cultivate such a thing by effort, without the brace, by focusing on your posture for a few months. Day won't cut it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:44 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem is in keeping the issue present-in-mind.

Get a vibrating timer, like the VibraLITE watch or the Invisible clock. Take a few minutes to associate the buzzing with a specific positive phrase, like, "Up Straight". Set the timer to buzz every 5 minutes or so. When the buzzer seems unnecessarily frequent, extend the reminder period to ever greater intervals until you've completely internalized the habit.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:48 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Certain upper-body exercises may help--especially push-ups and planks.
posted by Prospero at 5:50 AM on January 27, 2010

I doubt that trying to keep the issue in mind will be enough. The muscles that keep you in the correct posture are probably weak through disuse. This makes it difficult to keep the correct posture even when you are thinking about it.

See a physical therapist, who will probably prescribe some exercises for you to do at home that will directly develop these muscles. This will help.
posted by grouse at 6:01 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yoga did it for me. During standing poses in yoga you are reminded to tuck your pelvis under, to bring your shoulders back and down and to root into the ground. Once I began standing this way in yoga, I noticed how much better it felt and started paying attention when I was standing or walking outside of yoga and self-corrected.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:08 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Chiming in on Yoga. It's partly an awareness problem (which both Alexander Technique and Yoga can fix), but Yoga's kind of muscle training in otherwise un-reachable areas has been especially helpful. Like, usually the lower half of the back seems to have no trained supportive muscles at all, so we slouch on our office chairs and piano benches, we even slouch in the waiting room for the physiotherapist, 'cause there's nothing there to un-slouch us. Carefully exercised, haste-free Yoga fixes that.
posted by Namlit at 6:22 AM on January 27, 2010

I had terrible posture too and wanted to do something about it when an actor friend recommended Alexander Technique. I was was super skeptical but it worked so fantastically for me that I now advocate it to everyone. If you're in NYC you can send me a me-mail and I'll pass along the name of the guy I saw.
posted by blue_bicycle at 6:28 AM on January 27, 2010

It may be the additional effort involved in straightening yourself that is the reason you stop trying after a few days, and for good reason. One of the main ideas in the Alexander technique is that if you just pull your posture straight, you can be putting extra distorting strain on your body rather than achieving good posture. This is why Alexander teachers have to physically guide your body more naturally into the right position. A proper posture should be relaxed, which may well not look like a soldier at attention, just the most efficient posture for your body shape. They also have methods for more efficient/relaxed standing up, lying in bed, walking and climbing stairs, so its worth checking out. Performance colleges (music, drama) often have courses that you might be able to join. Taking a course should also help keep your mind on it.
posted by leibniz at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2010

I've had a physiotherapist put strips of fabric tape on my back a few times when I was having slouching-induced back pain. The tape tightened up and gave me feedback whenever I wasn't sitting right. The tape stays on for three days or so and apart from making it almost impossible to put on shoes, it is pretty good.
posted by cardboard at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2010 [8 favorites]

Weightlifting, specifically deadlift and squat. You'll need a coach or at least a friend who can recognize proper spine alignment at first, since your awareness of what your spine is doing is probably not great. I find after I exercise the muscles that keep the spine aligned, my awareness stays up all day and those muscles feel good to use properly. Slouching feels more "wrong." Over time, that has improved my habitual posture to where I rarely slouch anymore unless I'm in one of those poofy sofas.
posted by ctmf at 6:32 AM on January 27, 2010

The Egoscue Method specifically addresses this. Here's a link to a blog entry from their Nashville Clinic. Shows a Japanese rice farmer's before photos, and after-1-hour-of-therapy photos.

Most westerners who aren't stooped over in the rice paddies all day have bad posture because we sit in chairs all day and drive around in cars. The deep, core posture muscles of our body then atrophy to the point where we can't stand up straight. This causes the body to be out of alignment when we move, which leads to pain and dysfunction. Pete calls this "Movement Starvation", because movement is fundamental to the human body's ability to maintain itself. And moving when the joints are improperly aligned causes them to grind and deteriorate, while proper body alignment leads to strength and resilience.

Get a copy of Pete Egoscue's book The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion: Revolutionary Program That Lets You Rediscover the Body's Power to Rejuvenate It. Lexica & I can personally attest to it's effectiveness on posture. You should see how hunched over we were in our wedding photos 11 years ago. Lexi's on the floor right this moment twisted up like a pretzel doing her daily e-cises. She used to have 15 years of back pain, opiates, canes, and bad posture. Now she's training for the Oakland 1/2 Marathon.

Not personally familiar with the Alexander Technique, but as I understand it it addresses very much the same issues.

It's not something you do for a few weeks and are fixed. We do 30-45 minutes of exercise a day, and plan to for the rest of our lives. But the alternative is bad posture, pain, restriction, and and dysfunction.

Best of luck!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:47 AM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Try to look at the horizon when you walk. It's easy to slouch if you habitually stare at the ground in front of you. It's a minor thing, but it helped me.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:59 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding yoga.

Chiropractic care has helped considerably with my posture.
posted by zizzle at 7:00 AM on January 27, 2010

cardboard beat me to it, but when I was recovering from my second back surgery, and maintaining posture was really important (something about a 14 hour series of plane flights to China) my physical therapist used the cloth tape. Specifically, she made an X across my back, starting from the bottom of each shoulder blade, crossing in the middle of my back, and ending just at the top of each buttock. Across the bottom of the two pieces, she ran a horizontal strip as an anchor. It kept my posture pretty solidly. I had family members reapply it for me (it's not something you can do yourself) before my trip. The two weeks or so I was taped kept me in good posture for months afterwards.

Just make sure that when you apply the tape (or have it applied), you have perfect posture, head up, shoulders back, back arched. Otherwise it's pointless.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:09 AM on January 27, 2010

No one has mentioned dance yet, so I will say - dance! When I started swing dancing a few years ago, I found myself paying a lot more attention to my posture. There's a certain athletic posture one must adopt in order to keep your weight distributed correctly and maintain balance. One you make your body familiar with this posture, it starts to become second nature when walking around normally. A lot of pain in my lower back went away once I made that change.
posted by lholladay at 7:59 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've always known this, and periodically I'll try to stand up straighter, but after a few days I just go back to normal.
The key point here is awareness and your thought processes. You're aware of it, you try to implement a change from that awareness into your body, but then - I find it interesting you describe it this way - you go back to "normal." So you have to change what your "normal" is. Right now, having bad posture is your normal, and having good posture is not. These are the things that Alexander Technique will address for sure. The problem with taking Alexander Technique classes is that it's pricey. If you want a no cost-option, you can read books about it. If you work in an office environment, maybe your employer can get you an ergonomic assessment to help you not slouch when you're at your desk.

You can also get Yoga videos from the library. Or take a yoga class. You can see a physical therapist or athletic therapist (again, may be pricey if you don't have health coverage) for specific exercises you can do on your own, and they may offer the option of "taping" you, which other people have described. I've done that and some people love the tape, or absolutely hate it. I loved it. The tape holds the muscles in place and retrains them to hold them in a different position. Mine lasted for 5 days, and then I had to go back and get taped. I only got taped about 3 times though, then felt I could do without.

Also, I tried this trick a few weeks ago - when walking, I imagined that a string was attached to the top of my head towards the rear (not right in the middle of top of my skull) and pulling me up. That helped me to straighten my back up (not to the point of thrusting out my chest though), square my shoulders more and engage my core muscles more. The first day I did it my shoulderblades/upper back hurt!!! The next day was much better. I keep doing that and I feel much better. The tricky part is to do it when you're sitting. I commute by public transit and would often fall asleep while slouched over. Now when I'm sitting I still imagine the string pulling me up and now I sleep on the subway with good posture. :D So my head will nod forwards a bit (just a bit!) and jerk back up but it's a lot less violent than it sounds. I can sleep lightly on the subway and still be aware of which stop I'm at so I don't miss mine. I don't have advice for good posture when driving since I rarely drive.
posted by foxjacket at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I took Alexander Technique lessons for a few months some years ago. While the sessions were very relaxing, I saw no change whatsoever in my posture and eventually stopped going. It could well be my instructor was inexperienced, so if you plan to try this make sure to get a personal recommendation.

I recently saw a physical therapist and she told me what grouse said above about weak muscles needing to be made stronger through targeted exercise.
posted by Dragonness at 8:25 AM on January 27, 2010

Nthing yoga. My yoga teacher says a few years of practice improved her posture so much that she's an inch taller now. Not sure how typical or true that is, but I have found it good for both proprioception and working the muscles that help hold you up.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:06 AM on January 27, 2010

Yoga did it for me also. There are two real benefits to it. The first is that it makes you much more aware of your body and how you are using it; the second is that it strengthens the muscles you need to have proper posture.
posted by number9dream at 9:25 AM on January 27, 2010

I noticed this about myself too, and have been trying to correct on the cheap it with the aid of this website. It recommends finding the type of bad posture you have, and either stretching or strengthening the appropriate muscles to correct your problem with exercises.
posted by inkytea at 9:41 AM on January 27, 2010

Weightlifting, specifically deadlift and squat.

Emphatically seconding this, although I'd add the standing press as an equally important movement. You can futz around with yoga or planks or extremely light physical therapy exercises and they may help some, but nothing will strengthen your postural muscles as quickly or as much as weighted barbell movements, to say nothing of the myriad other benefits of performing them.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2010

Learn, practice and perfect the "Horse Stance". Typically known from Shaolin Kung Fu, it is also used in many other martial arts disciplines. You could Google this and try learning it to start, but I would recommend finding anybody who knows it to teach it to you as there are many subtleties to perfecting the stance. Simply standing in the Horse Stance creates posture awareness and can be a real workout. You may then wish to learn the movement forms based on the Horse Stance to increase awareness of your body's bio-mechanics in general. Martial arts study is amazingly beneficial to your physical being and awareness even if you never learn bother to learn fighting.
posted by Oireachtac at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2010

I've used the suspended by an imaginary string thing that foxjacket describes a lot. I imagine myself taller. I also try to pay particular attention to my shoulders. I tend to hunch them, so I try to remember to make sure they are down.

Dance is a great idea, too.
posted by mareli at 10:28 AM on January 27, 2010

I didn't get my posture "fixed" till I started getting serious about my ballet. Being reminded of it got old so I had to keep it in mind myself. Once it sticks in the front of your mind, it becomes automatic. If you know a few people you are around often, maybe even ask them to point it out to you. I know my family had that habit at one time.
posted by grablife365 at 12:00 PM on January 27, 2010

Two things I realized from working with the Alexander Technique in college:

1. The way to get out of the "normal" dilemma that foxtrot notes is to realize that we train our body into habits. Your goal is to develop a secondary habit of good posture. Secondary because slouching will remain your primary habit for awhile, but you can still work toward good posture feeling like second best. Eventually a flip happens, and the good posture becomes the primary habit, and slouching feels a bit "off."

2. Much of the way we hold our bodies has to do with our mental picture of how our body works. Like many of the people in my class, I lived most of my life picturing my spine as being those bumps along the surface of my back, and picturing good posture as having to "hold up" the whole front of my body. My instructor pointed out, with models and pictures, that what you feel on your back are just the tips of your "spinal process," and that the bulk of your spine (and the load-bearing part) is in the center of your torso. The front of your torso and the back of your torso are much more evenly balanced than you might perceive, and good posture is just a process of centering your torso so that it balances on your spine like it's supposed to. For whatever reason, that realization made it much easier for me to practice good posture long enough to make it a habit.
posted by mabelstreet at 12:12 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

It took about 1.5 years for me to see a result from my Mensendieck therapist exercises. I had weekly sessions for over 6 months after she asked me 'how long have you not been able to walk?' Didn't I just walk in here? That obviously was not walking.... Big eye-opener.

Therapist individual or group weekly sessions for at least 6 months plus 10 minutes every day doing exercises. Important that you learn how to do them right.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2010

Another vote for Yoga. I am working on this myself right now, as I have the computer-user-desk-slouch. One of the key parts of retraining your posture is to get a sense of how correct posture feels. At the beginning when I was guided into correct posture it felt as if I must look ridiculous, like I was standing in a weird soldier-at-attention pose. But if you look at yourself in a mirror when standing correctly, you will see that actually looks fine. You need to retrain your perception of what feels right.
posted by Joh at 1:41 PM on January 27, 2010

Yoga or pilates
posted by Morpeth at 2:59 PM on January 27, 2010

Can you walk around without your shirt on? I always have real good posture when I'm shirtless.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:55 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

A combination of gyrokinesis & yoga has totally changed my posture in the last few months. I increasingly find I prefer the gyrokinesis to the yoga, but they compliment each other nicely.
posted by susanbeeswax at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2010

I used to have terrible posture.Losing weight helped a lot. I also found I had to consciously remind myself to correct it lot until it stuck. Just realising I was slouching, sitting bad etc then correcting it when I realised. And getting used to how decent posture felt and the differen between that and bad posture. Now going into bad posture, feels bad. But it takes a long time for changes like that to work, keep going and don't beat yourself up when you backslide (As it were)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:35 PM on January 28, 2010

Just while reading this question and the responses, I have realized that working on my laptop at a table contributes to bad posture, because the screen is too low when I sit up straight. According to the ergonomics people, the center of your computer monitor should be about 2 inches below eye level. With a laptop on a table, my eyes are 6+ inches above the top edge of the screen! Slouching seems to be my natural response to help correct that. I guess my point is to make sure your work environment is set up in an ergonomically correct way, so that the places where you spend lots of time aren't contributing to bad postural habits.
posted by vytae at 6:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Ride a motorcycle long distance" probably isn't practical, but the book Stretching probably is.
posted by talldean at 9:02 PM on February 3, 2010

I am in the process of correcting my bad posture, which for normal people is a pain in the butt and for a classical singer is a deal-breaker (noone wants to listen to a slouching singer, and slouching actually makes you sound shitty).

I've tried a little bit of everything - Alexander technique, stretching, weightlifting, running, whatever - and there has been only one thing that has dramatically helped and *stayed*, and that's Feldenkrais technique. You go to a Feldenkrais teacher, they lightly move your joints and things in some weird manner, and an hour later, you can suddenly stand up straight for the first time in your life. Not pumped-up chest-forward "good posture", but the posture where you feel lighter, taller, and more grounded than you've ever felt before. It's an amazing experience.

Now the problem with these sorts of things (for me, I felt similarly with Alexander technique) is that they're great for a day or two and then you fall back into your normal habits. Feldenkrais has shown the most sticking power of any movement technique I've tried. I went in 2 weeks later, and made another huge step forward (ha), and then again 2 weeks after that.

Here's the wikipedia article

I don't know where you're located, so I can't give you specific practitioner advice. I know good people in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles. Message me if you want some more info on the subject.
posted by sdis at 5:27 AM on February 9, 2010

« Older King and Queen of the Road   |   Anonymous counseling? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.