My husband's posture is the worst!
January 13, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My husband has HORRIBLE posture. How can I help him change this without being a total nag and / or sounding like his mother?

He is literally starting to look like a hunchback. While I find it unattractive, I am more concerned about potential back / neck / spinal issues that are sure to plague him as he gets older (he's 33 now).

Sometimes I tell him that he's slouching, and he corrects his posture temporarily. Like I said, I don't want to nag him, but I also don't want to spend a kajillion dollars down the line fixing something that was entirely preventable. Help me, MeFites!
posted by onceisnotenough to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Does your husband actually want to correct this? If not, then you are nagging, regardless of what you do.

All you can do is bring it up as a discussion- not when he's slouching- and say what you said here at the end: "I don't want to nag [you], but I also don't want to spend a kajillion dollars down the line fixing something that was entirely preventable."

Telling him that that he's slouching in the moment is a) never going to work b) always nagging.
posted by spaltavian at 9:11 AM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

He needs to lift weights. He probably lacks both muscular strength and kinesthetic awareness -- i.e., his muscles are underdeveloped and he doesn't know how to engage them or to feel when he's using them correctly. Building strength in movements like the squat, the deadlift, and the press will correct these problems, as well as confer myriad other benefits in health, functionality, and appearance.

But it'll take consistent effort to address and he's not going to do it if he doesn't want to. The best you can do is to buy him a copy of Starting Strength and a gym membership and start lifting with him.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: He admits he has awful posture, but I am assuming it's not something he really thinks about - because otherwise he would fix it, right? I mean, who WANTS to slouch?
posted by onceisnotenough at 9:15 AM on January 13, 2011

A lot of people with poor posture have weak abdominal muscles. Generally, people become much more self aware of their posture when doing some sort of lifting or yoga.
Is there anyway you could get him to do either of those things, hopefully with you? Even once a week will help correct the imbalance and leave him better off in the health department.

On preview:
Anatoly is going a bit all-in. It's sound advice but even just having your husband do planks is something that could help correct this.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would go a different route. Rather than say something to him when he's slouching, tell him how hot he looks at times when he's not slouching. Don't say, "babe, you look so good standing up straight like that," but wait for him to be standing up straight anyway (maybe when he's getting dressed in the morning and has to contort his body from normal anway) and then say, "damn you look good."

If you make him a little bit vain about his looks, he might start holding himself better naturally.
posted by phunniemee at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let it go. This is the man you married. You've got to accept that there are some basic qualities about him that you wish were not so but which do you or the relationship no harm.

(If my spouse nagged me about my posture I would be really, really bummed.)
posted by serazin at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

i think he needs to bring it up with his doctor. make an appointment.
posted by lester at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also have terrible posture and beg my partner to nag me, but he is unwilling! Personally, I'm looking into the iPosture device, because I think the problem is that I simply don't notice, and actually standing up straight feels so arrogant. I figure it would be a temporary method which might help keep me more conscious, and get over the feeling that good posture is somehow wrong. Whatever the reasons behind his bad posture, maybe that could help him (if he is actually interested in changing his posture.)
posted by asimplemouse at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2011

Best answer: This sounds like something that's better addressed by changing your husband's daily routines and work environment. Most likely, he's slouching because that the least uncomfortable position his body can assume, given the demands of his daily tasks and the physical resources his body can call upon. It's the same kind of response that leads to altered gait in people with chronic hip pain.

As Anatoly suggests above, a fitness training program is probably a great idea in any event. It doesn't have to focus on the muscles of the back and upper body, but a lot of people tend to ignore them in favor of "obvious" exercises that train biceps and abs and so on. A whole-body exercise routine that's been put together with the help of a trainer is best.

Another area where bad posture tends to originate is furniture that's a bad fit for your husband's frame. Office chairs that are too high or provide ineffective back support; tables and computer desks that are too low; monitors that are not directly in front of the face, too close, too far, or require you to hold your head at an angle — all these things contribute to and reinforce poor posture. As a first, your husband should adjust his office chair. Then, both of you may want to look into healthier office furniture. There are lots of good options for chairs. Adjustable desks and desks designed for standing are becoming more popular in places. You may want to work with your husband's employer on these issues — if it's an employer that values its workers' health and well-being. At the least, you should inspect your husband's home office/work area/study and make changes to it to help him develop a better posture.

Talking about it is not something that will be effective in getting results. It's like talking him into losing weight or not losing hair or something. Posture is a physical thing and needs physical adjustments to correct.
posted by Nomyte at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

It could be weak abs. It could also be weak spinal erectors, or thoracic extensors, or mostly a kinesthetic thing. If he's sedentary it's probably all of the above. Any training is better than nothing, but lifting is something everyone ought to be doing anyway, and this seems as good a reason as any to get started. Positive physical changes generally come about in proportion to the effort one puts into them.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 9:31 AM on January 13, 2011

My boyfriend has terrible posture too. I have tried getting him to do 100 pushups or some other exercise program but he doesn't do it. What has helped is when I notice he is slouching I rub his incipient hunch as a reminder for him to sit up straight. This is only after talking about his slouchiness, of course, and him acknowledging that he doesn't want to have a hunchback. He evidently doesn't care too much about it, or he would be exercising, so I have sort if had to let it go in order to not be a nag.

At any rate, I think you should talk to your husband and see if he thinks it's a problem. If he agrees suggest exercising and the back-stroking as a subtle non-naggy reminder.
posted by apricot at 9:34 AM on January 13, 2011

He admits he has awful posture, but I am assuming it's not something he really thinks about - because otherwise he would fix it, right?

It's more than just mindfulness. There's exercise that has to happen. Bad posture is habitual- it's the new "normal" their body has, and it takes significant amounts of work to train the muscles and strengthen them for the person shift out of it.

If you want to be supportive, maybe see if there's a pilates class or similar postural classes that both of you can go to. Then it becomes something you do together, and you can help each other practice at home as well.
posted by yeloson at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Related to the strength/fitness angle - my posture magically got a lot better when I started rock climbing, and I'm assuming it's because my poor, neglected back/shoulders/core got stronger. I dunno what sort of activities your husband enjoys, but for me, climbing's a lot of fun, and I find it easier to do that regularly than to motivate myself to lift weights (though lifting can be pretty fun). If he doesn't want to lift, maybe there's something that he'll find more fun (maybe that you could do together?) that would also help improve his strength/fitness.
posted by Vibrissa at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Praise. "That jacket looks great on you when you stand up straight like that."
Collaboration. "Sweetest, would you be willing to join me in a weight-lifting class/program? I want both of us to be healthy and strong."
posted by theora55 at 9:41 AM on January 13, 2011

Don't say, "babe, you look so good standing up straight like that," but wait for him to be standing up straight anyway (maybe when he's getting dressed in the morning and has to contort his body from normal anway) and then say, "damn you look good."

Most people see this coming a mile away. Often when I compliment my partner's appearance, he remarks, "You're only saying that because I shaved," because he knows I hate his scraggly beard growth.
posted by hermitosis at 9:44 AM on January 13, 2011

This sounds terrible, but it worked for me. My husband took photos of me, on the sly, when I was standing with shoulders down, tummy out, and I looked about 20 years older. I hadn't seen how bad I looked. Yoga classes helped me strengthen my core and back, and I'm much more upright now. I also have more energy, as the slouch compressed my airways and I was always feeling out of breath--even just sitting around.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have heard friends say they had good luck taking a class in the Alexander Technique, which I guess is sort-of posture re-education for adults, with muscle retraining and stuff. I live in a really, really small city and we have Alexander Technique classes, so they must be pretty accessible.

And yeah, I'd look at chairs and desks and things -- if he sat at his desk on balance ball it'd be good to strengthen his abs and make it much harder to slouch, for example. Or he could watch TV in the evening (or whatever he does) and sit on a balance ball. Choose a different chair/couch for lounging in so he can't lapse into his normal posture and practice being in better posture while in that chair. Things like that. My husband had a terrible tendency to get into a particular slouchy position on our couch that would hurt his back ... so he sat in a chair for a couple months as his primary lounging chair. Now he can sit on the couch again without automatically going into that slouch. (I type as I sit in MY couch-slouch!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm with phunniemee. Appeal to his vanity and manly pride. Whenever I see a guy with really bad posture, I assume (often wrongly, of course) that he's wimpy and has no self-confidence. That's not a good thing to be projecting to the world.

I remember reading an interview with Martha Stewart a couple years ago and she said that whenever she had employees with bad posture, she'd take a surreptitious picture of them and put in their Christmas card. God, what a bitch. But their posture improved immediately and she claimed that they always thanked her later. None of them had any idea how they looked and were horrified to see how the outside world was perceiving them every day.

So can you take a picture of your husband in full slouch mode and then show it to him?
posted by venividivici at 9:48 AM on January 13, 2011

If he's willing, put a tall mirror where he will see himself frequently, ideally where he works. If he works with a computer, automated reminders to sit up at his desk.
posted by anaelith at 9:49 AM on January 13, 2011

I have this problem as well, and am trying to fix it. I have been lifting weights for 4+ months using the old Stronglifts program, but it has only been a minor help.

I recently read a write-up on how to actually fix this. I plan to implement this in place of the ab work I already do.

There's also a few tips on this in the new book "The Four Hour Body", and luckily the chapter is available free online.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:09 AM on January 13, 2011

My posture was terrible for a while because I was a nerdy self-conscious tall girl, and somehow standing up straight seemed like it pointed big flashing arrows at my head. I still sometimes feel awkward being taller than 75% of my coworkers, but realized that 2" of slouch won't make me feel less awkward, so I may as well be tall and treelike as tall and trolllike. This wasn't even an option though until I'd started learning where my body was - yoga and dance classes, not so much because they "strengthened my core" but because I had to find out what it really felt like to hold myself up. If he's got the idea that he can fix his posture just by putting his shoulders back without paying attention to the spine, his version of "good posture" will always feel uncomfortable and look slightly awkward, and has ~0% chance of becoming second nature.
posted by aimedwander at 10:26 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

See if he is open to the idea of replacing his office/work chair with a swiss ball.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:49 AM on January 13, 2011

Yeah, as venividivici says, you've kind of got two choices here: let it slide, or come across as kind of a bitch. There is no subtle or gentle or quick-fix way of improving posture. It's even more ingrained than an eating habit as the body's normal.

Unfortunately, also like diet, I think the statistics on people successfully improving their posture long term are not good. Essentially, we can improve our posture when someone reminds us, but we then immediately go back to our normal slouching when we think about anything else. By definition, posture is the position you assume when you're *not* thinking about your posture. If you're going to nag him about this, you literally need to be nagging him constantly. As in dozens and dozens of times a day (I tried to get my partner to do this but he wouldn't, perhaps understandably). The key here is making a fundamental long-term change to his body. If you're not doing that, then forget about just reminding him every couple of days or weeks. It's just annoying and won't do a damn thing.

That said, I've improved my standing posture (sitting is still shit) hugely over the past year, after over 5 years of trying without success to improve it. What I did differently was start hitting the gym where I improved my back/abs/shoulder strength, and also simply the gained mindfulness that comes from doing little else but watch yourself in full-length mirrors, regularly every couple of days. I combined that with making an all-out effort to improve my posture during evening walks.

I've heard anecdotally that corset-style undershirt restraints may also work, but haven't tried them.
posted by dontjumplarry at 10:59 AM on January 13, 2011

I enjoyed reading this article on "forward head" posture - and the cartoon illustrations have really stuck with me as a reminder of what not to do. I have no idea whether the recommended program is effective, but just the cartoons are a good motivator for me.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I tell him that he's slouching, and he corrects his posture temporarily.

The tone of a nag is something that can change it's reception and effectiveness. Instead of accusing him, "You're slouching!" you can help him remember to "Sit up straight."

Also, adjust his collar when you say it, or straighten his tie. Like the suggestions above to praise his looks when his posture is straight, this is a way you can positively encourage his good posture while associating it with good things (you touching him, praising him).

Use in conjunction with exercise et cetera mentioned above.
posted by carsonb at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2011

Yeah, as venividivici says, you've kind of got two choices here: let it slide, or come across as kind of a bitch.

No, those are not the only two options. Communicate with each other; find out what your husband can stand before resentment sets in, and work to restrain yourself from going beyond that point. Encourage him to tell you when he's getting fed up, or needs help.

Another tactic for easing nagging is to establish a safeword that you can use in place of the nag. Like when secret lovers mention Paris and mean 'last night', you can say 'Slartybartfast' or whatever instead of nagging.
posted by carsonb at 11:07 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Posture is deeply ingrained; compliments-with-an-ulterior-motive or nagging or hey-look-how-awful-you-look! photos are not going to do anything other than be irritating and, frankly, condescending.

(Seriously -- if the question had been "my husband is overweight!" would people be suggesting "take a picture of him and show him how terrible he looks! That'll totally help!"?)

He admits he has awful posture, but I am assuming it's not something he really thinks about - because otherwise he would fix it, right? I mean, who WANTS to slouch?

This is not at all a helpful attitude. Sure, nobody WANTS to slouch, just like nobody WANTS to be overweight or have bad skin or poor fashion sense or weak muscles or any of dozens of other things. But it's not easy to change your posture, just like it's not easy to lose weight. (Go ahead, try to remember to hold your body in what feels like a completely unnatural position, every waking hour of the day. Easy, right?)

If he wants to correct his posture, he can make an appointment with a physical therapist who will give him some exercises and instruction on how to correct it. It's not terribly expensive, since that seems to be a concern. Alexander technique is good, good desk ergonomics are very important too. But if the situation is just that you want him to want to correct his posture -- which is really what this question sounds like -- my advice is to back off.

Yes, it's true that the thing that will likely be the incentive for him to get around to correcting his posture will be the lower back pain that will start in a few years. Pain is a pretty good motivator. At most, have a conversation about that with him, if you think he for some reason isn't already aware of it. Express your concern for his health and comfort. And then try to respect whatever choices he makes about how he holds his own body.
posted by ook at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I came in to suggest yoga if you're husband would be into trying it out. It not only works on the core muscles, but if you do a yoga style that focuses on alignment, it just makes you more aware. I didn't notice that my posture was horrible pre-yoga, but what I did notice was that when I'm taking yoga, I have less shoulder pain/discomfort when I'm sitting in a plane or movie seat and I am less prone to what I like to call "museum back" after hours of looking at art. Also when I'm more consistent about my yoga practice, I will more frequently, automatically "self-correct" my posture and bring my shoulders down from my ears.
posted by kaybdc at 11:17 AM on January 13, 2011

I'll add one more thing here on the topic of addressing this sort of issue via exercise. A lot of stuff you'll read about fixing this type of thing comes at it from what is basically a physical therapy perspective, the idea being that you need to locate the individual muscle that's deemed to be dysfunctional and find an exercise that isolates it. Typically these are not muscles that function in isolation in the course of regular physical activity, so the exercises used to work them will not resemble things you do in sports or everyday life, and they will necessitate the use of very light weights or no weights at all.

Despite the popularity of this kind of thinking, there are lots of folks would say that for someone with no neurological impairment who is not rehabilitating an injury, this sort of approach misses the point and is an inefficient use of time. An alternative approach would be to learn to perform movements that stress many muscles at once in accordance with their normal anatomical function, and in doing so strengthen all of the muscles proportionally -- for instance, picking a heavy object up off of the floor and putting it over your head. In learning to perform these exercises you are learning how to utilize all of those muscles in a practical, coordinated manner and experiencing the benefits of making your entire body stronger and more useful. The "downside" to this is that it takes hard effort.

Some people do have specific injuries or deficiencies that may need to be addressed individually, but for the general population, I think this more functional approach amounts to treating the disease, rather than the symptoms. You can remind someone constantly to sit up straight, but at the end of the day a person who sits around all day and never exerts himself will look like it, and likewise with a person who regularly moves heavy objects through space. I've never seen anyone with a strong press and deadlift who had bad posture, or who needed to use special exercises to target their transversus abdominis. This doesn't mean your husband has to gain 50 lbs. of bodyweight and get his deadlift to 200kg, but that a more holistic approach might be beneficial.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 11:29 AM on January 13, 2011

I second the Yoga suggestion. It would be a more gradual change, but in the end, there are several yoga poses that can ultimately help to strengthen core muscles and improve balance. They can also help with back problems. This video on yoga for posture might help...
posted by baronessa at 11:29 AM on January 13, 2011

In addition to basic recommendations of exercise and stretching, I would recommend several sessions of Rolfing (aka structural integration). It's a type of deep therapeutic massage, almost like assisted yoga. It's based in part on pseudo-sciencey notions of bad posture caused by stiffened connective tissue, which the massage is intended to soften and release. Despite dubious theoretical underpinnings, my posture was better after being Rolfed. It's common practice for Rolfers to photograph their clients in their underwear before their first session and after the 5th and 10th sessions. In my case, the changes were very obvious.
posted by Mendl at 12:41 PM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: So many great answers!

I probably should have mentioned that he is 6'2" - so furniture and television / computer monitor placement is likely a huge part of the problem..... can't believe I didn't think of that.

Yoga is a great idea too. He is already pretty muscular in his shoulders and arms, so maybe it really is just a matter of strengthening his core muscles.

Thanks for the tips.
posted by onceisnotenough at 2:00 PM on January 13, 2011

heh, Lifehacker must have read this post and was inspired to write this article. Maybe you can link him to that article.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:35 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi Oncei,

It's interesting that you ask this question because I very recently dealt with this same issue, except in myself. I also am a guy in my 20s who hunches and is tall. I will tell you what I have done.

I wanted to have good posture, but I always fell into the habit of slouching. I would think about it every now and then and sit up straight, but five minutes later, I would be busy thinking about something else and hunched again.

I was able to find a solution to this problem by using the Motiv-Aider. This ridiculously expensive (at $50) device vibrates every so often. I set it for 10 minutes. Every 10 minutes, it vibrates, and I assess my posture. If I am slouching, I straighten up. If I am straight, I applaud myself.

The key here is that it reminds you CONSTANTLY to attend to your posture, because posture is an always thing, not a once-a-day thing.

I also highly recommend stretches and exercise and furniture. But beyond that, this does a great job of reminding me to pay attention. After a couple months, I was able to develop new habits of good posture, to replace the bad habits of slouching.

I hope that helps!
posted by rebent at 3:55 PM on January 13, 2011

You mention that he is already muscular. My husband's slouch was from tightness from over-working his shoulders and chest. A good massage therapist helped him learn what not slouching felt like by loosening that tension and teaching him some stretches that opened his chest up.
posted by hilaryjade at 6:09 PM on January 13, 2011

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