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February 17, 2012 9:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I improve my posture?

I worked for three years as a busgirl/server in a busy restaurant. Then, about a year and a half ago, I got a job as a secretary in a finance company, which means I spend pretty much all day sitting down. I've noticed a significant change in my posture since I got this job- my belly seems to poke out more, giving me a kind of pregnant appearance. My back also seems to be scrunched up quite a bit, making my butt protrude more. I started noticing the change about 3 months ago, and it seems to be getting worse.
I suspect this is due to weak abs, but I don't really have the time to exercise. I pretty much sit all day, at work and at school. I try to walk to school more often (~15 minutes) but it's harder during winter when it's so cold. I considered taking an exercise ball to work, but sadly my job requires me to sit at the front desk, so exercising there is not a possibility. Another problem involving my job is that I have to wear business casual/formal, which means I wear high heels often if not daily. They are not very high (about 3.5 inches at the highest, usually more about 2), but I feel like they add to the problem.

Is there anything I can do to help improve my posture? Perhaps some exercises I can do while I sit? I would really appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!

(I am 5'3 and ~112 pounds, if it helps)
posted by cobain_angel to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I've found doing yoga really improves my posture- mostly because I focus on how I hold my body and especially my shoulders more, and because it strengthens my abs. If you don't have time to exercise, could you do a short series of ab exercises every morning? Working up to holding a plank for a minute might help you.
posted by MadamM at 10:17 PM on February 17, 2012

Does your company have a Health & Safety department? The last organization I worked for had an ergonomics team within the Health & Safety department.

Three people were sent to my office to train me and my boss to sit correctly, perform tasks with minimal repetition and strain, and how often to take breaks. Btw, correcting your posture for those eight hours a day means more than just sitting up straight. This correction would also involve adjust chair height, adjusting arm rests, adjusting the height of the desk, adding a foot rest, adding a keyboard wrist pad, etc...
posted by mild deer at 10:26 PM on February 17, 2012

Best answer: Pilates. Invest the time and money in a good class/instructor, preferably one-on-one or small group classes, and an instructor certified by a reputable institution (Stott, Winsor, etc). 45min-1hr once or twice a week can make a HUGE difference, and there is no exercise/rehab method I can think of more centered on and invested in principles of core stability and postural stabilization. Good luck!
posted by Dorinda at 10:49 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any core workout should help improve your posture - even just doing planks. If you can do it with minimal embarrassment, you could probably just plank-out at work - sit for an hour, plank for a minute.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 11:54 PM on February 17, 2012

Weak abdominals and probably a pronounced hip tilt. Take a look at your posture while sitting down, in a mirror, if possible. Does it look like your bum's sticking up with your lower back curved in? Try pulling your stomach muscles in and rounding out your lower back, and putting in a backrest so your whole back, including your lower back, are supported by something. If the tops of your hips are tilted forward, your buttocks tilt backward and your abs push out. Tilt your hips back and things sort of slot back into place. When you're walking, concentrate on drawing your abs in and pulling your hips back so they're more neutral, following the line of your body. Just make sure you don't slouch when you do this - it's weird, but it helps.

IANYD, but I do have shitty hips.
posted by zennish at 12:39 AM on February 18, 2012

Swim laps once a week.
posted by ruelle at 2:28 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: Improving posture take a while, and there are both physical and mental aspects to it.

The advice here has been spot on thus far. Yoga, core workouts, strengthening abdominals.

Further, it helps to be present and continually be aware of your posture, and actively correct it. If you consider posture to be a 'habit', changing a habit takes considerable conscious awareness. You are literally reprogramming your muscles and body shape.

A few other tips:
1) When you walk, imagine a balloon attached to the crown of your head. That balloon gently pulls you up, let the rest of your body align to being 'hung' from that balloon, rather than from emerging from your feet.

2) Breathing has a lot to do with it. If you have poor posture, chances are you are also taking shallow breaths and breathing from your chest. Yogic breathing is a good process to take on. Fill your upper chest cavity first, then your abdominal cavity (essentially a diaphragm extension). When you exhale, reverse the process, emptying upper chest first and then abdominal cavity.

3) Take breaks from your position at work every 60 - 90 minutes for 5 - 10 minutes and walk around. Have a coffee, do something that involves standing and correcting your posture.

Mentally, posture reflects your mental state. When you feel better, your posture improves. Similarly, as your posture improves, you will feel better. Google for more on that.
posted by nickrussell at 3:20 AM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Apart from these great exercise ideas above, yes, you can do a few things for posture work. It sounds like you're not standing quite right (yoga really does help with this):

1. "imagine a balloon attached to the crown of your head": totally.

2. Do that first and then stand up straight, and bring up one finger, point it at your mouth, and gently push your chin back slightly. Most of us jut and misalign our neck.

3. Then, practice rolling your pelvis back. Oh gosh, this one is hard to explain. So you're standing up straight with your feet a few inches apart. Roll your shoulders back first, setting the middle back into a relaxed, straight, natural position. Put your hands on your hips, so you can feel the top of your hip bones, and, in a VERY slight movement, bring the top of your hips backwards--towards the middle of your back. (You'll likely feel this in your hamstrings, as the consequence is going to be that the bottom of your pelvis moves slightly forward.) This is huge: it also tucks the abs in, and your spine lengthens and aligns correctly.

Absolutely take little stretching breaks at work. I get up about every hour, at least. If I didn't, I'd be a mangled mess.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:04 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would say do yoga if you can. And a lot of the yogic things you can do without anyone noticing--the crown of head with balloon thing is something I hear from instructors all the time.

I could be wrong, but RJ Reynolds's point 3 seems to be talking about what is called in yoga "mula bandha," which is a big deal and also invisible to the untrained eye. There's tons of stuff you can Google on that term alone.
posted by lackutrol at 6:04 AM on February 18, 2012

If you can find someone who does it, I've had many friends swear by the Alexander Technique. I've gone to a couple of workshops for it, and it does seem to help (at least in the short term), but it does require a specialized teacher and private lessons.

There also hasn't been a ton of research on it, which makes me a little gun shy. My musician colleagues swear by it, though.
posted by SNWidget at 6:27 AM on February 18, 2012

Seconding the Alexander Technique. I found it very helpful. And decades after my last Alexander session, I continue to find it useful.
posted by Jode at 6:38 AM on February 18, 2012

Set your lower lumbar curve, get used to doing it all the time whether sitting or standing (at first it will feel weird, like you're sticking your butt out unnaturally, but once you get used to it it feels much better).
posted by ifjuly at 8:18 AM on February 18, 2012

Some good advice here already. If I can boild it down a bit (for th eminimalist) and add one tidbit then I would like to submit: stretch your hamsts and glutes, do a little ab work and walk some every day.

Posture is habit and habits structure posture. Sitting is a terrible habit that ruins posture. Bonus tip: try to stand up every couple of minutes and pay attention to the above mentioned pelvic tip ,errr, tips.
posted by mce at 10:12 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: There are three main elements that contribute to bad posture.

1) Insufficient strength in the postural muscles. You can address this with any exercises that works your core, front and back. Pilates is good, so are deadlifts.

2) Certain muscles can become chronically tight and shortened, thus pulling your body out of healthy alignment. Yoga is good for fixing this. You might also check out Rolfing.

3) Bad habits in using your body can lead you to feel bad posture as normal. Someone who has always had bad posture may not even know what good posture feels like. Alexander technique is an excellent modality for developing good body awareness and good postural habits. The Feldenkrais method is another good approach. If you don't have access to practitioners of those disciplines, yoga or dance classes may help. Taking regular stretch breaks from your desk work is also a really good idea.
posted by tdismukes at 3:29 PM on February 18, 2012

Response by poster: Now I have something to start with. Thank you all for your helpful responses! I think I will probably go with something like yoga at home and sign up for pilates classes when they start again over the summer. Meanwhile, I'll start doing planks and other "easy" exercises while I'm idling at home, and I set a reminder on my phone every 15 minutes to check on my posture and correct it.
posted by cobain_angel at 6:34 PM on February 18, 2012

Remedial massage therapist here. Bruegger's exercise (google it) is the standard exercise I teach my patients. If you're still unsure about it mefi mail me and I'll run you through it over Skype.
posted by flutable at 1:32 AM on February 19, 2012

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