passive or idiot-proof posture improvement?
February 16, 2010 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I have bad posture, but I'm not sure how to get it right. Looking for passive or idiot-proof tools/tricks for posture improvement.

I know that I slouch and that I have bad posture, but when I straighten up or try to throw my shoulders back a bit, it often feels exaggerated/stiff/tiring,and I'm still never sure if I have the angles right--even if I'm looking in a mirror. Are there tricks that will lead me to have "correct" (muscle/back-healthy) posture without having conscious, deep understanding of what's going on? Specific exercises? Would MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology) shoes help? Other weird tools? I'm mostly talking about posture when standing, though I'm open tips that relate to sitting as well.

I'm not klutzy but I am not very coordinated (I'm always out of step in the few dance/aerobics classes I've taken). When I was 19 (I'm 26 now) and adult acquaintance told me that I have "forward shoulder" (?) from having bad posture and that it was too late to do anything about it.

I'm young, flexible and fairly active, if that matters. I don't have unlimited funds or the sort of insurance that would cover anything related to this but I can put some money into something if it will help. I want to take care of my back now so it doesn't hate me when I'm older.
posted by needs more cowbell to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
You might find the Alexander Technique useful, though I think it's difficult to learn alone so a teacher is important.
posted by anadem at 5:30 PM on February 16, 2010

I had terrible posture until I bought a chin-up bar and used it a few times. YMMV.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:33 PM on February 16, 2010

Yoga and swimming are both great for posture. If you don't want to actually take up either of those activities, just repeat this to yourself when your feel your posture getting droopy: Lengthen the back of your neck. Bring your shoulder blades toward each other and move them down your back. Inhale. And there you are. Now just do that 15 or 20 times a day, every day.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a couch or a chair can help too. It forces you to use your abs in a subtle way, which reinforces good posture.
posted by zizzle at 5:36 PM on February 16, 2010

As a woman, if you pass the pencil test, a proper bra is esstential to posture.
posted by saucysault at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: anadem, have you had experience with the Alexander Technique? I could afford a few sessions perhaps but it seems that 20 or more are recommended and I'm not sure 3-5 sessions (about my budget) would help.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:42 PM on February 16, 2010

posted by MillMan at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

To generalize a theme that's already showing in some of the previous comments: core strength is important for good posture. There are lots of ways to strengthen; I recommend you pick a few and mix them, or pick something well rounded--just situps isn't the route to go, as there is more than just abs to your core. Working with a trainer is always a good idea. You may need to work on stretching to loosen the muscles that have been compensating for existing bad posture.

I started typing a paragraph of tips on finding good posture, but really think it'd be much better if you do a session or two with a professional who can see and evaluate you. Really, honestly. Ideally it would be a physical therapist, but something like a Feldenkreis practitioner, even a good massage therapist or yoga instructor could be enough.

I've always kinda wanted to implement a computer vision app that would watch me from the side using a webcam and make my computer beep at me when I slouch at my desk. :-p
posted by mvd at 5:47 PM on February 16, 2010

Well, there's iPosture. I thought it sounded interesting when it first hit Gizmodo, Engadget, etc, but I never tried it myself. Seems a little gimmicky, unless it works to increase mindfulness like it's supposed to.

As it is, I just tell the gf to yell at me when I'm slouching too badly. (She doesn't.)
posted by supercres at 5:51 PM on February 16, 2010

Sorry. That doesn't really help with the problem of not knowing how to get into correct posture. Without that knowledge, it would just force you to... I don't know, lean back more?
posted by supercres at 5:52 PM on February 16, 2010

As to alignment, just imagine that you're a marionette, and that there's a string coming from the top of your head that leads all the way down to your sitz bones or your heels, depending if you are sitting or standing. Now imagine someone's pulling the string. Don't forget to engage your abs. It might feel weird at first, but that should get you more or less sitting up straight.
posted by Lycaste at 5:53 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: I'm definitely open to the idea of a few sessions with some sort of professionals, so to tack on to my original question, if anyone can recommend good posture-helping professionals in San Francisco, do share!

And now I will stop moderating my own question and just listen to people's answers.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:56 PM on February 16, 2010

A few little tips that are helping me improve mine a lot (this question is very timely for me):

1) Don't think about pulling your shoulders back, think about "opening up" your collar bone.
2) Make sure you aren't sticking out your butt and curving your back by thinking about the way your position yourself when you're squeezing between resturant tables that are close together (or something similar).
3) Imagine you're a display skeleton hanging in a lab!
4) Train yourself to check in often on how you're standing or walking. Every time I stand up now, I ask myself "am I doing this right?"

I got these from Tim Gunn's 'A Guide to Quality Taste and Style'! Don't laugh! It's actually a really useful book!
posted by crabintheocean at 5:57 PM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Hmmm, that tip I gave above about "lengthen the back of your neck... do this 15 or 20 times a day, every day" I should have added "Do it 15 or 20 times over the course of the day." You will eventually just correct yourself automatically. I hear my yoga instructor's voice in my head when I do it. Also, you could imagine there is a book on top your head and press up into it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:00 PM on February 16, 2010

See previously.

-iPosture seems interesting
-Yoga works wonders
posted by melissasaurus at 6:18 PM on February 16, 2010

I slouch, and my mother went looking for a clever thing that she used back in the 70s in the US. It was a small widget that you attach to the back of the bra. When you slouch that thing hurts, and you automatically correct your posture.

I've not been able to find such a thing (I'm in Sweden), but it sounds very clever.
posted by dabitch at 6:20 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done Alexander Technique a few times over the years, usually in response to an externally-induced crisis and so far always with the same (excellent) teacher. I recommend it extremely highly, though you'd want to be sure you were happy with the teacher. As well as helping with crisis management it's made me a lot better at spotting when something is going wrong in my posture and improving it by myself. (I'm doing this about something at the moment, in fact--memail me if you'd like details.)

Now that I'm actually earning a salary I would consider--am considering--doing a longer series of lessons for my general well-being, though I'm now in a different town to my old teacher (who's in Edinburgh). But I think you can still get a great deal of benefit from a small number of lessons.

Oh--and a lot of the other suggestions people are giving here sound really useful, and several are the sort of thing an AT teacher would suggest. Especially the things that improve physical self-awareness.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:21 PM on February 16, 2010

... have you had experience with the Alexander Technique?

only a little - a friend became an Alexander trainer and gave me a couple of lessons. Even the first was useful, but we moved overseas so I didn't continue.
posted by anadem at 6:31 PM on February 16, 2010

nthing yoga, but to be more specific, if you do an hour of Yoga for 3 days in a row, you'll magically understand what good, effortless posture is.
posted by acidic at 6:36 PM on February 16, 2010

I had terrible posture when I was a teenager. Standing up straight for any amount of time was very painful, in part, I think, because I didn't have the core and back strength to really support myself without slouching. I've been doing yoga for six months and the change is amazing. My shoulders are back and lower, my spine is straighter, my back pain went away.

(My yoga teacher has the straightest back I've ever seen. Just watching him walk around a room is enough to get inspired)
posted by OLechat at 6:49 PM on February 16, 2010

The Egoscue Method of postural alignment therapy is wonderful stuff and sounds like exactly what you need. Since you say a couple of sessions with a professional are feasible, you might contact their clinic in SF (Market Street, near Montgomery BART). Or, if you want to check it out without paying for a session, you could take a look at either of the two main books (The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion or Pain Free) — I'm pretty sure the SF library has them both. This interview with Pete Egoscue gives an overview of the method and how it works.

I recommend Egoscue rather a lot because it's made such a big difference for me. I haven't had an episode of back pain since I started doing the exercises, I look better (taller, more aligned), I feel stronger and more flexible... it's wonderful. I have to fight the urge to run up to strangers on the street to say "you look like you're in pain/you're all torqued out of alignment/your normal posture has your nose pointing at your shoes — but I know something that can help!"
posted by Lexica at 6:57 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seeing a physiotherapist could be very helpful (I am an Occupational and Physiotherapist Assistant student, and in my second semester in the program, in *every single* OT/PT skills class, we have worked on postural assessment). They would probably assess your posture (doing things like checking that your shoulders, shoulder blades, etc. are level), conduct various tests to determine *why* your posture is/may be poor (i.e. functional issues vs. structural issues), and give you exercises to do that would address whatever issues they diagnose.
posted by purlgurly at 7:16 PM on February 16, 2010

I find that just pulling my body up by my head, so to speak, as described by a few people above helps. I then roll my shoulders forward, up and back in a circular motion, and they sort of fall into place.

I used to have a hard time of this as a teenager, always slouching about, but these days it feels natural to have a straight posture. I suspect a higher core strength helps.
posted by tomble at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2010

As far as sitting is concerned, 135 degrees is ideal: 1 2 3.
posted by user92371 at 8:19 PM on February 16, 2010

Yoga helped me a lot with this problem. Try checking out Yoga To The People. It's a donation based yoga studio (and trust me, they are totally cool if you just can't give some weeks). Mats are $2 to rent. I've only been to the one in NYC, but there is one in San Francisco too. Do it and feel better!
posted by bloody_bonnie at 8:28 PM on February 16, 2010

If anyone's still paying attention: would pilates work as well as yoga?
posted by nostrich at 8:55 PM on February 16, 2010

How to solve it in one session with a pro: Make that pro a weightlifting coach. Have the coach teach you to deadlift properly. The deadlift will teach you what your spine is SUPPOSED to be shaped like and give you an awareness of what it it REALLY doing. Seriously, most people just do not have the body awareness to just know what their spinal position is like they can just know where their foot is without looking. It's only once you get a muscle-memory feel for the right way that you can correct yourself throughout the day.

If you're slipping back to old ways, go deadlift at the gym (don't overdo it, though). The (light) soreness of the muscles are a good reminder.

Bonus: if you learn to deadlift, then also squat and press, and then if you actually DO those regularly to work out, you're working the same muscles you need for good posture.
posted by ctmf at 9:48 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

replacing "like they can" with "in the same way they" makes that sentence work better, sorry.
posted by ctmf at 9:52 PM on February 16, 2010

For a really passive method, I now wear MBTs (the curve-bottomed shoes that Sketchers just ripped off...not sure about the Sketchers quality). They kind of teach you to lean back on your heels a bit when you are just standing still and walk more forward on your toes when you move around.

I've found that when I walk around in other shoes (when not at work) I tend to walk better and more upright.
posted by nursegracer at 11:32 PM on February 16, 2010

ballet! just basic barre work. no need to learn dancing.

i'm the only one in my family who has good posture because of ballet.
posted by buka at 1:14 AM on February 17, 2010

I wear MBTs, but unlike nursegracer's experience, they don't do a thing for my posture. I wouldn't recommend the expense as a method for improving posture. (I have arthritis in the ball of my foot and can't bend it: I'd recommend MBTs or other stiff-soled shoes for that sort of condition.)
posted by telophase at 11:41 AM on February 17, 2010

What ctmf said, which is also what he said the last time this was asked two weeks ago. And this is what I said then, too.

Deadlifts, squats, and presses performed with barbells require you to keep your spine neutral against a load. By performing these exercises, beginning with appropriately light weights and gradually increasing the weight, you will be strengthening all of your postural muscles by making them work according to their anatomical functions. You will also be strengthening the rest of your body.

Or you could do yoga like everybody else and their mom.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:48 PM on February 17, 2010

I've been doing pilates for a couple of years and it's made a huge difference in my posture, mostly through giving me better body awareness and strengthening my core muscles. I'm happy to recommend the pilates studio I use in SF if you're interested.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:08 PM on February 17, 2010

« Older Photoshop for compositors?   |   How do you get your self respect back after being... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.