My mother never told me to stand up straight.
September 1, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

How do you improve your posture as an adult after a lifetime of slouching?

I don't want to be hunched over by the time I'm 40, but I feel like I'm headed in that direction.

What are some exercises, stretches, or improved habits that I can do on a routine basis in order to strengthen the good-posture muscles and gain the muscle memory to freaking stand up straight?

I won't be purchasing a gym membership and don't want to have to rely on classes, so suggestions for things I can do throughout the day, every day, would be most helpful.
posted by mudpuppie to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 135 users marked this as a favorite
I have been told that one of those balls-that-substitute-for-chairs is great in this regard.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:48 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I walk a lot, and the biggest thing that helped me was awareness. I self-check for slouching, and if I am, I straighten up and keep going. I do that all throughout the day walking here and there, or even if I am just standing on the bus. Basically, if I find myself erect (ha ha ha) I check to see if there was a slouch, and then correct it. The more I did that, the more I noticed that I stood straighter on a regular basis.

However, what really fixed it when I was a teenager (it's back now, sigh) was regular exercise -- nothing special: stationary bike, stairmaster, weights machines, just routine gym stuff -- with a focus on keeping my back straight. For some reason it stuck around a lot longer that way.
posted by griphus at 12:58 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alexander Technique?
posted by TristanPK at 12:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know you say you don't want to have to rely on classes, but consider taking two or three Vinyasa Yoga classes. You'll learn the proper technique for ~ 15-20 exercises you can then do individually, on your own and wherever. Planks are super easy to do in your office, before you jump in the shower, on commercial breaks, etc. I think the basic idea is to build up your core muscles enough so that your spine isn't bearing so much of a burden alone.

Might also be some good suggestions in this thread, or this one.
posted by stellaluna at 1:00 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

See what you can find on the Alexander Technique.

back up to a wall so that your butt, heels, shoulders, and part of your head all touch it. Emulate that stance away from the wall. Find a way to remind yourself to hold that stance throughout your day. Maybe you check your stance every time you walk through a doorway.
posted by jander03 at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2011

Squats. Even air squats. Knocked out 100 the other night after 18 months away from a gym due to a newborn. Standing up much straighter already.
posted by bfranklin at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Core work, definitely, but also consider the looseness and mobility of your joints. I was told several years ago that "gosh, you're hypermobile!" and it made so much sense: the reason why I was so flexible despite being relatively sedentary, the reason why I slouched so much, the weird places I got sore. It's a lot easier for a tense something to hold itself in place than it is for a noodle to do the same thing. It could be that your body doesn't want to do all that work to fight the tendency to flop into a default position of sloth.

So that's not necessarily going to fix a habit of slouching, but when you think about how your body works, consider that as well. It could influence the types of exercise that are most comfortable and most efficient for you.
posted by Madamina at 1:05 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Strengthen your abdominal muscles. Do 100 leg lifts with ankle weights every day, and you'll end up with a six pack and good posture in a surprisingly short time.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2011

The only thing that will make a difference over time is diligent awareness--constantly checking and correcting your posture until it's almost automatic. Exercises for core strength will aid you, but nothing is going to make it commonplace for you without you making a habit of ensuring that you're practicing good posture.

One useful thing might be getting checked by a Rolfer--they frequently start by checking your posture and examining how you breath, and then advising you on a combination of breathing and posture. This will give a very concrete idea of what you should be doing.
posted by fatbird at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

So my recommendation that whenever my posture is bad it means I haven't been doing deadlifts isn't going to be accepted, then...

I make a point of reading lying face-down on the lounge floor fairly regularly - belly on the carpet, propped up on my elbows, with the book in my hands. It can work wonders.

Also, some of my judo warm-ups involve basic yoga routines like a salute to the sun and so on.

The other thing that's helped was an exercise that helped snore less: standing against a door frame, with my head, spine at the shoulders, and butt touching the frame, but the curve in my back held in proper position; chin tucked down so I'm looking straight ahead, count ten. Do that 2 - 3 times a day.
posted by rodgerd at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2011

For me, wall angels and pull-ups seem to help the most. Wall angels are great because they're totally equipment-free. (You don't even need the wall; once you learn what the right position feels like, you can just stay in your chair and do the arms-up-and-back business whenever it occurs to you.)

My totally-non-professional impression is that different slouchy people have different physical problems. For me it's weak upper-back and shoulder muscles and tight pecs that need stretching out. For other people I guess it's a lower back thing or a leg thing or whatever. So there might be some trial and error involved here as you figure out what helps and what doesn't.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:32 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have an interval timer that I can set to vibrate (mine is a Gymboss) - I set this to go off every X minutes and tuck it surreptitiously in my pocket. Then, every time it goes off, I check myself for appropriate posture.

Within a day or two, I start noticing that interval myself and correcting. Set the interval somewhat longer at first, as you'll be using muscles you aren't used to - they'll wear out quickly and then you won't want to do any correct posture at all.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2011

And the wall angels mentioned above really help too - they're also known as scapular glides/slides.

I've found this writeup on Reddit to be useful: A Guide to Fixing Computer Guy Posture - Upper Body. The same guy wrote another on fixing other parts of posture.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2011

Gah, I hit submit too soon - a keyword that might be useful for any searches you do is "Thoracic Mobility".
posted by bookdragoness at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2011

About a month and a half ago, I was suffering from bad posture-induced headaches, and found a website through AskMe which completely sorted me out headache-wise, and contributed to my improved posture about 60 % of the time, I would say (percentage arrived by estimating frequency of correct posture when I surprise myself). Unfortunately, I can not find the thread/link, but one of the three exercises it was advocating was the one mentioned by jander 03: align heels, bum, shoulders and back of head for the ideal posture. So, back up against a wall whilst holding your normal posture and notice where your deviations from the ideal posture are (in my case it was mainly the head, which was lolling forward - a frequent one, I found, with sedentary people used to lean forward for reading/working). Correct your posture whilst against the wall, paying attention to two potential hot spots: the lower back might be too curved, pushicng bum and belly out, and your head might be craning backward, creating a curve in your neck which elongates the front and presses on your neck vertebrae at the back (I hope this is clear). You deal with these by 1. sucking your tummy in, if you notice your bum is sticking out too much, and 2. by imagining that you have a rope going through your spine, the hind part of your skull, and out through the top of your head, and that someone is pulling it. Stand like this against the wall, keep the correct posture for a few (long) seconds, then walk away, keeping the posture. What might help you reinforce it is placing a book on top of your head, and walking around with it, even trying to do some work whilst balancing the book (no glossy covers though, and the book needs to be well weighted).

All of the above, especially the keeping the posture, will feel incredibly stiff to begin with, and you'll feel like one of those people who walk around as though they have swallowed a stick, but in time it will become more and more natural, and your various painful bits will thank you. Just make sure you check regularly throughout the day that you haven't lost the position, by backing against the wall, again and again. You will need to do this less as the weeks go by, but at the beginning, checking each time you can, be it on the hour, or half hour, or just a few times a day, is important.

The second, absolutely incredible, exercise, is designed to "open up" your chest muscles. THe guy in the lost website explained it like this: since a lot of us spend an inordinate amount of time slightly hunched over (in front of the computer, reading, working on objects in front of us, etc), our chest muscles come to assume a slightly shortened position as the default (with a corresponding overstretching of our backmuscle). This leads to all sort of imbalances, including of everything in the neck area, and of our shoulder joints. In order to open up, as it were, what you need to do is, again, to regularly remind your muscles of what "normal" should feel like. In order to do this, you postition yourself a few centimetres from a wall, facing it this time, place your arm along the wall at a right angle from your body, then bend your arm from the elbow, palm pointing upwards, until your lower arm forms a right angle with your upper arm. Now press your palm against the wall, and rotate your body on the spot, until you stand at a right angle to the wall, without moving your arm, and keeping the upright posture as you know it from the backing-into-the-wall exercise. Your arm will be behind you, stretching your chest muscles. Repeat on the other side. You will feel your whole body opening up and your chest lifting. Again, it is slightly weird to begin with, but completely worth it.

There was another exercise, but I never did it, cause these other two had really amazing effects. I suffer from a lot of posture-related little ailments, and have been fresh as a bird since I started applying them. It would probably be even more effective combined with what has been recommended by many above: exercise, dancing, yoga, Alexander technique.
posted by miorita at 1:47 PM on September 1, 2011 [27 favorites]

Weight training, especially squats. These increase core and leg strength, which will help in and of itself, and proper squat form also reinforces good posture.

Since you don't want to visit the gym, you can do bodyweight squats. Once you master these, you can buy a couple dumbbells (the solid hex type are quite cheap) and hold them while you squat.
posted by vorfeed at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2011

I sit too much, and my posture is starting to sag.

The following has helped:
- Running outdoors.
- Yoga.
- Not walking on my heels, but more up on my toes or the ... metatarsals? When I do this, myback straightens automatically. Really strange. Trying to straighten out my back by itself doesn't really stick. With some conscious practice, I've started walking more on the front part of my feet and I'm walking more upright.
posted by krilli at 1:54 PM on September 1, 2011

I know you said no classes. I will suggest yoga as well, specifically anything that is Iyengar/Ashtanga (IIRC) style. It is heavy on core strength and posture through awareness. There exist videos as well as the seminal work "Light On Yoga" by B. K. S. Iyengar.
posted by plinth at 4:17 PM on September 1, 2011

I have a post-it note stuck on the bottom of my computer monitor that says, "shoulders back!" Every time it catches my eye (often, since it's the only one) I relax my shoulders, sit up straight and tighten my abs. It seems to be helping!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 4:23 PM on September 1, 2011

learn to keep your lower back in its natural lumbar curve--one way to get used to how this is feels is to lie on the floor on your belly, raise your arms with elbows up, and then raise your knees, taking care not to lower your feet to do this. you should feel it in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. memorize the feeling and try to replicate it while standing, crouching, sitting, etc., that curve you're making.

some swear by pilates for this sort of thing too.
posted by ifjuly at 4:25 PM on September 1, 2011

and honestly, sitting in chairs is not so great for the body--try to take breaks to stand as much as possible. when you can stand instead of sit, do it (say, pacing on the phone).
posted by ifjuly at 4:27 PM on September 1, 2011

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, so: wearing a corset or other supportive undergarment will make you more aware of your posture.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:45 PM on September 1, 2011

(P.s. - yoga doesn't need to be done in classes. It helps to do a few to get started, but I prefer doing yoga by myself. It is also an intoxicatingly romantic thing to do with a partner ...)
posted by krilli at 5:19 PM on September 1, 2011

Every time you walk through a doorway, stand up straight. You walk through a lot of doorways; if you consciously (for awhile) fix your posture quite a few times every day, you'll eventually just have good posture all the time.
posted by talldean at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's also the iPosture, which I haven't tried but which seems pretty cool.
posted by southern_sky at 7:45 PM on September 1, 2011

You know, it's not really about simply pulling your shoulders back. It's about rolling them backwards in an upward motion so when they get toward the top of the roll, they kind of fall backward and land there and stay.

The trick is... if you're a habitual sloucher (which I am), you'll have the muscles all out of whack on both sides of your body. The muscles in your back will be used to being in an elongated position (and will feel unnaturally tense and bunched when you get your posture closer to correct), and the muscles in your chest will be used to being tight and pulled, and will feel uncomfortably stretched and will unconsciously pull inward.

One of the best things I ever found to help with this problem was to find a trained and skilled massage therapist who will work on relaxing your chest muscles while helping to ease your back muscles into position. I've only ever had this course of treatment once, but after 3 half-hour sessions, I was standing quite noticeably straighter and wasn't really thinking so much about needing to stand that way because my body was kind of doing it on my own.

Mostly it's something which takes practice and willpower. It won't be automatic, and it won't come easy, but if you truly decide you want to make this change, no matter what tack you take to get there, you will get there eventually. The main secret is to realize that it's a conscious decision which has to be reinforced continually. Thinking that there's a magic exercise or button you can activate and everything will be solved in a month is the wrong approach. You're looking at undoing decades of body posture habituation, and you should expect it to take quite a while to have it become unconscious, if it ever does at all.
posted by hippybear at 8:19 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

What ifjuly said.

First off, good for you for wanting to correct the problem.

I am studying to be a personal trainer and I strongly recommend that before you do anything else, you first stabilize and strengthen your core.

You must first stabilize your core, which has probably become weak after a lifetime of sitting.

By core I do NOT mean six-pack. That is your rectus abdominis, which is the exterior layer of three layers of your core.

The muscle you need to work on is the transverse abdominis. You can strengthen this by first learning what it is and what it does. Awareness is the first step here.

All the suggestions above are great, but if you don't strengthen your core first and immediately start throwing weights around, and doing squats you may end up hurting yourself or give yourself low back pain.

A personal trainer can help with your goals and considering the money you will save on chiropractor bills and doctor visits down the road, it's well worth it.
posted by up in the old hotel at 9:16 PM on September 1, 2011

LobsterMitten has actually linked to the website I mentioned above, glad to have found it again, thank you!

I remembered a couple of other things:

1. If you work a lot sitting down, try a standing desk as an alternative (I'm thinking about making one as a DIY project, but have never handled hammer and nails. As they are quite expensive, you might want to consider making or improvising one, if you can). I'm thinking of a heavily customised one for myself, with lots of pull-out boards, a flat board for a monitor at the back, etc.

2. My masseuse tought me an exercise designed to help you keep good posture whilst sitting: sit at the edge of the chair, so less on the fleshy part of your bottom and more on the bones. Push your feet forward until lower leg and upper leg form a right angle at the back of your knee. Chair height has to be such that your upper leg is parallel to the floor and forms a right angle with your torso. The sole of your feet has to be flat on the floor, toes pointing forward, with a distance of one sole (length-wise, not width-wise) between your feet. It is much, much harder to slouch from this position.

3. One of the effects of two much sitting is a shortened neutral state of the muscles connecting your thigh and your torso. A good way of counter-balancing this is by doing the Warrior Pose, you really feel the stretch and immediatly limber up.

4. Generally, your body will be more inclined to fall into good posture when it feels more limber and less tense. One quick way to achieve this is the sun salutation, all you need is some floor space and a mat or a blanket (you'll be facing the floor, and you don't want to sniff dust). Even one round can be incredibly energizing, suffuses your body with warmth, gets your blood going at a happy pace, and is a great start to the day/de-tensor during work breaks. If this is logistically difficult, you can do some self-pummeling. Sounds strange, but this another great way to at least partly work away tensions and knots in less than a minute. THe way I do it is firstly I sort of embrace myself tightly, with arms crossing each other in fron of my chest and arms grabbing the opposite shoulder. Then start slapping yourself all around where you can reach - top of shoulders, sides of shoulderblades, etc. Do the same to your arms, back, bottom, legs. Feels really good. Just careful around your kidneys, you never want to be too energetic in that area. Slap gently at first, until you learn what intensity feels right for you (you don't want to end up beating yourself up). You'll see just how spritzy this "exercise" makes you, it even feels like your eyesight is more clear. It also becomes much easier for your body to stretch into the correct, or more adequate, posture.

5. Lastly, apply some self-massage/self-pressopuncture to those areas of your back which you can reach (you can even do this sitting down). Form a fist and try to press your knuckles into the knots at the top of your shoulders (or in your upper back area) using small circular motions, as well as to your lower back. Where you can't reach with your knockles, use your fingers: find the knots, stiffen your fingers, and massage your knots with circular motions. They will not disappear, but losening them will help you automatically assume a better posture.
posted by miorita at 5:05 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

A kind old crotchety lady once demanded that I stand up straight, and when I tried and failed miserably she gave me this simple advice. "Do the sorry shit you just tried and then point your nipples at the sky." Its solid gold, works every time and accomplishes the same effect as all of these paragraphs.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2011

Yoga and/or weightlifting have helped tremendously. You don't need a class or a gym. Just buy a beginner yoga and a beginner weightlifting DVD and a set of weights.
posted by bananafish at 11:15 AM on September 5, 2011

take a ballroom dance class. the instructor will teach you better posture while dancing, which you can of course use in everyday context.
posted by dracomarca at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2011

If you read up about the Egoscue method (books available) you will find lots of different exercises for different problems and posture issues. A brief Alexander class (like one day) is even better, but Egoscue has a lot of valuable knowlede and understanding to offer.
posted by Listener at 10:59 AM on December 26, 2011

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