How did you actually fix your shitty posture?
July 13, 2017 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this Ask (and others I've seen here), how did you folks with good posture get there? I would like to set "improving posture" as a personal goal, but have no idea how to break that down into actually achievable steps.

I sit too much. As best I can tell my pelvis tilts anteriorly and I have shitty core strength (two pregnancies to thank for that). I tend to collapse into chairs like liquid and slouch horribly. This makes my back hurt and I feel crappy at the end of the work day.

Every so often I think, huh, I should try to sit up straight, so I do for a few minutes but then I get tired and give up. I also just noticed that for me, trying to sit up really straight in a chair makes my pelvis tilt way far forward. Is that supposed to happen? I have been trying to un-tilt my pelvis while I'm standing, which does feel ok, but it's easy to forget. I don't really know how to set up a structured progressive program so I can get better at posture.

I have been trying to get up and stretch/move more often (I have tight muscles - my hamstrings in particular tend to be very tight, but regular toe touches seem to increase my range of motion. I bet my hip flexors are tight too, but those are harder to stretch.) I have also tried sitting on an inflatable wobble cushion, but my butt gets tired of it pretty quickly.

Reformed slouchers of MeFi - how did you actually go about fixing this problem? I have failed at going from 0 to good posture - what do the baby steps along the way look like? And if you say PT is the answer, how did you get that process started? What kind of place did you go to (hospital based? One of those chiropractor/PT places that seem to be a dime a dozen around here? Something else?) What was your PT like?
posted by telepanda to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
I would swear that the times in my life when I've had the best posture have been when my exercise routine has involved lots of uphill walking on fairly steep grades, because that has appeared to strengthen my back muscles in ways that no other activity does.

But, my (internist general practitioner) doctor says that this theory doesn't make any sense. He may underestimate just how slothful and inactive I am during periods when I'm not exercising, though.
posted by XMLicious at 7:54 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is it possible for you to get a standing desk? I switched from sitting to a standing desk and it solved a lot of the "feeling crappy at the end of the day" issues. I keep a stool behind me so I can still sit when I get tired, but even leaning back on the stool feels better than fully sitting down.
posted by monologish at 7:54 AM on July 13, 2017

I'm still working on the physical end of this, but part of it for me has been emotional recalibration. Sitting or standing with good posture feels to me like I'm... "putting on airs"? acting snooty or prissy or superior or something like that? It sets off my inner "Who the hell do you think you are?" voice in a big way, and I retreat back into the slouch that feels more emotionally comfortable.

This gifset really kind of helps. Something about the idea of "woman with regal posture" being a role that I can inhabit, and a way of consciously broadcasting unapologetic strength and ferocity, and recognizing that of course broadcasting those things is going to be difficult for someone like me who was raised to act meek and deferential.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:55 AM on July 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Have you tried yoga or pilates at all. It really forces you to focus on your posture and how you are balancing your weight within all your limbs. Things like Mountain Pose and the sun salutations really force you to be aware of how you are balancing the weight of your arms. Things like imagining your head is attached to a string that goes all the way down through your abdomen and back. I know you said you had a weak core due to two pregnancies (not sure what that means). Have you thought about doing gentle ab exercises to strengthen your core? I always found that it was really hard to have good posture when my abs were weak. But it becomes instantly easier when you have that core to rely on. Because really the posture comes from down in the ab and lower back muscles, not from the shoulders or neck.The shoulders should feel comfortably rested on the solid base of the abdomen.

Another thing that helped me was getting the right size of bra from a specialty store. And not because I'm a triple D or anything. It was a store that has all the sizes in between A, B, C, and the clerk there helped me find the right size (which happened to be a 36 G, when I always thought I was a 38 B). When the ladies are supported by the bra, I don't have to support them with my shoulders and I find it much easier to stay upright.
posted by winterportage at 7:56 AM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just replied on that other thread, but yes, PT has been the savior for me. I do think it's incredibly important that you have a good physical therapist who will look at the whole picture of what's going on, and help you find long-term solutions, not just go for a quick fix.

I got started in PT after I went to my doctor during a period of very severe back pain. He referred me to a local standalone PT practice (no chiropractors -- just PT), which I have since discovered is highly recommended by most doctors in the area. I started out by going every day for a week, then tapered off as things got better. The PT staff there was very caring and supportive, and took a lot of time to have me do various movements (bending, standing, sitting, walking, etc.) both to see how I do them and to truly identify which ones cause pain. From there, they had me lay on a table and they'd do a mix of deep massage in the key areas, and assisted stretching (e.g. they'd move my legs into various positions). About half an hour of that, and then I'd go out into the "gym" area and work with the PT and an assistant who would have me do various exercises and stretches both to address the current pain, and to strengthen the areas that were the root cause of the problem. Over time, these stretches and exercises evolved based on how I was doing and what the PT was learning about my body. They did a good job of telling me which things I should be doing regularly at home. They also taught me stuff that seems basic (but wasn't) about the right ways to get in and out of bed, stand up/sit down, walk correctly, etc. These made an immediate huge difference in lessening my pain.

I still go in from time to time, but I now have a solid routine of exercises and stretches that do a good job of keeping my back in good shape and avoiding pain.

BTW, I know that at least for the clinic I go to, they don't technically require any sort of doctor referral, and my insurance will cover it without a referral. YMMV on that, but it was helpful to at least have the doctor make sure there's not some larger underlying issue, and tell me who he recommends I see.
posted by primethyme at 7:57 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I should add, I know your question wasn't about pain specifically. But we do a ton of work on proper posture and I think pt would be great at that. My pt is amazing at just watching me stand or walk and noticing tiny little things that are out of whack. And then knowing which muscles I need to strengthen or stretch to fix it. I often still can't believe how big of a difference those little things can make.
posted by primethyme at 8:01 AM on July 13, 2017

regular yoga practice! ( a lot of PT exercises are based off of yoga, also)

It's really not any more complicated (unless you have a specific issue) than strengthening your core/other muscles and working on your flexibility regularly.
posted by bearette at 8:02 AM on July 13, 2017

Yoga! If you can, find a yoga teacher who really emphasizes good posture and alignment throughout the class, and go for a "basics" class instead of one where you speed through the poses. (If you are brave and your teacher is willing, mention to them beforehand that you'd like adjustments - getting adjustments mid-pose can really help you feel what the "right" way is like.)

Boxing classes also helped my posture and my core, but yoga was really the foundation.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:06 AM on July 13, 2017

You don't have to have a significant budget to get a standing desk. I have a DIY standing desk, consisting of an organizer for my keyboard, a slightly shorter box for my mouse, and a 3rd bin as a monitor stand. In addition, I have a squishy mat to stand on, and a tall stool to perch on when I get tired of standing*. This helps, because I can feel myself slouch more obviously.

If a standing desk isn't realistic, perhaps try this from CNET: 5 ways to make your office desk more ergonomic. The final reminder is a good one - get up and move, and if helps, set an hourly reminder to get up and stretch, though you could even set that reminder for every 20 minutes, to get up and stretch and look away from your monitor(s).

You could start with a 20 minute reminder to look away from your monitor(s), and make sure that point at least 20 feet away is somewhere that makes you sit up to see it.

And if you'd like to do yoga but classes aren't an option, my wife and I like Yoga With Adriene, a mellow lady on YouTube who has a ton of yoga videos for all sorts of purposes, including daily routines.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:11 AM on July 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

I also had a PT who decided my posture was the cause of some other issues, and was working with me on it. There were a ton of exercises I could do, some easier than others. I did see some improvements, but eventually stopped the PT because I just didn't do the work outside of my sessions like I needed to, which made the sessions pretty much a waste of time and money.
posted by cgg at 8:25 AM on July 13, 2017

Yoga can be good but it can also cause over stretching and injury. If you had two pregnancies and noticed a big difference afterwards I'd start with a pelvic floor therapist then move to regular PT or yoga or Pilates.
posted by fshgrl at 8:28 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Alright, so. Historically, I have bad posture. My wife is a personal trainer / corrective exercise specialist - and she's good - like real good. I've gained about 15lbs in the past 6 months because - WORK! and because our kids are a handful neither my wife or I have any time to ourselves until the end of the day when we're both basically exhausted.

Strength training is necessary for good posture, but - fundamentally it is rooted in a pair of muscles falling out of balance with each other. In my case, my chest pulls my shoulders forward, my lats are ridiculously tight which locks my shoulders in place, and those muscles have lengthened to a more rounded position. (I am not a hunchback). To solve this, yes, I am lifting, but more importantly, I am having to roll and use balls to break up the muscle and release them through Trigger Point Therapy.

You can get really flexible and still have issues of the muscles not being handled properly. Basically what I mean is, about 50% of my wife's clients came from Yoga and still need work on releasing the muscles and getting them to work properly. She recommends yoga - it is great for a lot of things, but performance with Yoga will go faster and be safer if you are working on treating your muscles and joints properly.

So, take a look at foam rolling and Trigger Point Therapy. Find a book, find a roler, find a few lacrosse balls, find foam blocks... use them all...
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:40 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of the best small hacks that has helped me fix my posture is one my personal trainer gave me, which is to mindfully many times throughout the day "widen my collarbone." It's just what it sounds like - you stretch your collar/shoulders outward until your yoke area is as wide as you can make it, and then hold there. I started doing this as much as possible and now my posture is default much better. I have had many people in my life comment that I look taller, for example...even my partner of 10 years!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:43 AM on July 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Even if you can't get a standing desk, can you change your chair? The best chair for my posture is just a hard, straight backed dining chair. Feet flat on the floor, butt all the way back, sitting up straight. I found that no matter how ergonomic the office chair, I couldn't have good posture if there was any room to slouch/slide/curl up.

Also, seriously, the best thing I ever did for my posture was weightlifting. Once you get how good posture is supposed to feel it's hard to go back.
posted by stellaluna at 8:59 AM on July 13, 2017

I have shitty core strength

I'd start here. That means some sort of exercise, mediated through OT, a personal trainer or some other exercise program to get the most benefit. Pick the route you would prefer, get some professional advice on an exercise plan that works for you and go for it. Gym work, body work classes (yoga, pilates, most martial arts), swimming will all benefit you a lot.

Those exercise modalities that emphasize posture and form, like martial arts or dance or lifting weights, might prove most beneficial to you. That way you get both the core strength improvements as well as the direct instruction and practice in what proper postures feel like.
posted by bonehead at 9:41 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have tried a lot of different ways over the last 15 years and I am only finally on the mend with PT. My insurance doesn't require an MD referral so I just called up a PT that was recommended me by a massage therapist. Basically, I was trying massage to fix chronic lower back pain and she told me "look, you can keep coming and I can address the symptoms, or you can go to PT and fix the problem". The person I see specializes in pelvic floor and core work, particularly for post-partum women. You probably want someone like that because we have a specific set of issues. Without even seeing you, I bet you probably have some pelvic tilt issues from pregnancy and then carrying kids on your hip, possibly some diastatis, and chronic tension in your shoulders and chest. You probably have tight psoas (which are hard to stretch) and maybe even tension in your diaphragm. My PT does massage and postural re-education (basically helping me reposition myself), and I do a bunch of exercises for my core, glutes, and mid-back. I also do some stretches to help with upper body tension. I've been doing this for about 3 months now (almost done with appointments!) and I can't stop singing the praises of this work. It has been so great. Less back pain, better posture, reduced carpel tunnel issues....It even helps me breathe more easily because my rib cage can expand properly.

You could also try Alexander Technique - that has been helpful for me, but short term; for long-term, the strengthening the correct muscles is the only answer.
posted by john_snow at 10:05 AM on July 13, 2017

I'm in PT now and my posture is improving, though that wasn't my primary goal. I went to my doctor with shoulder pain, and asked for a referral to PT after his suggestion of a couple of weeks of rest, ice, and ibuprofen hadn't helped. My insurance covers PT, but does require a doctor's referral for a specific issue.

I picked a place close to home that had good reviews on yelp and took my insurance. It's just a self-contained PT place, not associated with a hospital.

The first appointment was a longer appointment (an hour) where she evaluated me, had me move certain ways, tested my strength in various ways. Then she did some hands-on exercises (she'd tell me to move in a certain way, and pushed against my arm to add resistance) and massage. After that she went over some exercises with me to do at home. Then I sat for 15 minutes for TENS therapy and ice.

Subsequent appointments involve 30 mins of time with her (hands-on exercises, massage, sometimes evaluation to see how things are going). Then I do exercises there (or sometimes I do them at home before and skip doing them there). Then I do ice and TENS for 15 minutes.

I think PT is a good approach for a variety of reasons:
- the regular appointments really help me progress and encourage me to work on my own time.
- they are used to dealing with injured/non-standard bodies. I have a few bio-mechanical limitations, and they are completely unfazed by them, and quickly come up with workarounds if they suggest an exercise I can't do.
- it's customized to me specifically. They evaluate my movement and abilities and suggest specific remedies for my issues.

The downside of course is that it can be expensive if your insurance doesn't cover it, and it takes a lot of time. I go twice a week, which takes 75 mins each time, and I should be doing 20-30 minutes a day of exercises and/or stretches on the days I don't go (I'm not 100% compliant, but am still seeing progress).
posted by loop at 10:30 AM on July 13, 2017

You could also try Alexander Technique - that has been helpful for me, but short term; for long-term, the strengthening the correct muscles is the only answer.

I think Alexander Technique is a really good idea, because you need to teach your body what good posture actually is (if you have poor posture, poor postural awareness is always going to be a factor, and this: "trying to sit up really straight in a chair makes my pelvis tilt way far forward" suggests your exhibiting excessive lordosis, which can cause a lot of strain). However, it's also true that you will need the muscles condition to maintain that posture, in order to get a decent long-term result.
posted by howfar at 1:03 PM on July 13, 2017

Honestly nothing fixed my posture and back pain until I started doing 1) powerlifting, especially squats, but also overhead press and 2) hip flexor & hamstring stretches every night. All the other stretches and exercises I've tried didn't really do much for me.

Yoga was not good for me, i was maybe too weak to hold the poses correctly. I kept ending up with more pain than I started with. But when I started doing max weight squats, suddenly I was walking like I'd been in the military!
posted by it's FuriOsa, not FurioSA at 1:33 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have similar problems - my lower back doesn't round out at all, the roundest it gets is flat and most of the time it's tilted forward. My lower back is also very stiff and doesn't move a lot, so the bit just above it is taking a lot of the strain. Also my posture is terrible in every position, partly due to hypermobility.

I've been doing physical therapy recently, starting with really small stuff to loosen up and strengthen this area. One area of focus is trying to roll back onto my tailbone more when I'm sitting, kinda tucking my butt in under me, so that I don't reinforce the butt-out lower spine position and spread the load a bit more evenly.

I'm also working on stretches in this area - tucking in my lower stomach on all fours, rounding my lower back out as much as I can and slowly rolling/pulling my butt back towards my heels until the lower back starts to feel stretched out.

I also find standing holding/lifting light dumbells really useful for reinforcing posture - again I try to tuck my butt in as much as possible and loosen my knees a bit. The weights help engage my core more so it feels a bit more supported.

I totally feel you on it seeming like you can't keep up the good posture for long without reverting back to worse posture - I'm trying to remind myself that it took x amount of time (and in your case pregnancy) to get my body used to being like this, so it's not like it's going to be comfortable and I'm going to be good at sustaining it for ever, immediately upon trying. The more often I remember and straighten up and do physio, the more likely I am to remember to do it again, and that's better than not trying at all because it feels impossible to do it perfectly (which was my attitude for a long time).
posted by terretu at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2017

I'm a guy, and some of this resonates, so here goes.

I tried holding a better posture years ago, but it felt like I was being some jackass puffing up his chest and whatnot. Just felt silly.

Recently, my shoulder always hurt, even (especially) when I was sleeping. And a trip to physical therapy pointed out that yeah, it's my posture, so pull your shoulders back (and down into your back-pockets), and keep on' practicing.

I'm still working on the anterior pelvic tilt, which is a combo of loosening up the front of my thigh muscles, and tightening my upper abs, which flattens my back a bit. For tightening abs, planks. For stretching thighs, see "Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch", here:
posted by talldean at 5:50 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you my experience in the hopes that there might be something in it for you. For most of my life, I've had pretty terrible posture. Slouching in school desks, eyes locked on my feet when walking, I guess I thought it made me look cool? disinterestedly cool?

At some point, I wanted to improve my posture, but, like you, couldn't get much further than sitting up for a few minutes until it started to hurt and then give up because it was too difficult/anxiety inducing. I was in this stage for years. Meanwhile, I sporadically practiced yoga and began to get a sense of what my body feels like in different positions (with my chest up vs. down, shoulders back, way back, rolled forward, pelvis tucked, etc.). Probably if I had been more serious about the yoga, that alone would have improved my posture.

It wasn't until someone got me to see the connection between my internal state and my posture that I began to make noticeable improvements in my posture. I have struggled with feeling like shit a lot, and boy do I get sick of feeling like shit so much. So this magic power of straightening up my posture was kind of a revelation for me. Something very easy (ok not always easy!!), that's available to me day and night, which has an immediate effect on my mood. Cool.

The trio I keep an eye out for is: breathing, posture, internal state. Any time I remember, I take a moment to notice each of these things one by one. How is my breathing? How is my posture? How am I feeling? I do this check-in not only when my posture's "bad" but also when it's "good." I try to remember the exact words that come into my mind that describe my "good" posture. Then I can say these words (that resonate with ME) at a later time when I want to get back into the "good" posture.

I try to remain a neutral observer (i.e. don't get upset with myself when I'm struggling to straighten up, and don't get over-congratulatory when it's good), but just try to observe what's happening, and to witness the way the triad of breathing, posture, feeling affect/interact one another.

For about a year, I just did that. Tried to become more aware of my posture, more often. It didn't go from terrible to perfect, but it went from terrible to not nearly so terrible. It was empowering, I began to hold myself up high in situations where previously I would have sulked back, submitted, made myself small.

Also, for reasons not related to posture...the husband and I ended up in a house without any chairs with backs. At first it was difficult and annoying, and eventually we adjusted. Our back muscles grew.

It's been a years-long process of developing awareness of my posture and continuously reaffirming why I want to improve it. It's definitely been a part of a larger mindfulness practice that has developed alongside. My posture's still not perfect, but I am taller and stronger than I used to be and it feels good!
posted by hannahelastic at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2017

Deadlifting has helped me a lot.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:33 PM on July 17, 2017

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