How do I walk and stand correctly?
December 27, 2007 5:17 PM   Subscribe

How do I walk and stand correctly? My upright posture sucks and I want to change it.

I stand and walk with my knees locked back all the way, resting the weight on my heels. I walk similarly, not lifting my knee and planting my heels down with a lot of force, and I've been asked more than once If I'm injured, because it looks like I'm limping. It also means that I can't walk or stand for more than an hour or two a day without getting sore joints and back pain. I'm fairly normal physically other than this (only slightly overweight, and I've done martial arts fairly successfully for years). I can make myself walk differently, but only with effort and I soon forget. I've done this for as long as I remember, so I think I just learned to walk and stand wrong for whatever reason.

Anyone have personal experience changing their walking/standing stance? Specific advice on what to change it TO is appreciated, but I'm most interested in the process of changing how you move, hopefully without expensive guided therapy. Also, I have the theory that this will help me dance better :)
posted by JZig to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I'm actually going through some of the same thing. Expect a lot of low grade soreness as your body readapts.

I'm having to do two things:
1. constantly remember to change how I walk/stand
2. exercise some very specific muscles.

Number 2 is going to be difficult without a personal trainer. You need to really know the body and what muscles affect your posture. The only general advice I can give here is to work on your core (stomach, side, and back muscles) and your legs (part of my problem is somewhat weak muscles in the backs of my legs being overpowered by stronger muscles in the front).

Part of your problem may be stronger muscles pulling weaker ones out of alignment. This is the area in which I'd really seek out the advice of a professional who's trained to understand how the muscular system works.
posted by krisak at 5:54 PM on December 27, 2007

When I was a kid I walked pigeon toed. It was through conscious effort of simply redirecting the way I walk that changed it. After a car accident and some x-rays, the doctor noted I had something funky with my hip, a congenital defect. It was probably what caused the pigeon toed situation in the first place. You might have some similar congenital situation that causes you to walk the way you do, but that doesn't mean you can't change it by making yourself aware of it and correcting yourself constantly until it becomes a habit.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:56 PM on December 27, 2007

You might think about taking some yoga classes. I had terrible posture as a child -- my father is a yoga teacher, and growing up, he constantly gave me good advice about how to have good posture. I remember them now when I feel myself slouching. Here are the things that help:

1.) Imagine a string attached to the ceiling from the top of the crown of your head is holding you up. This should help you to align your head correctly.
2.) Pull your shoulders back as though you're trying to have almost comically straight posture, and then relax them slightly.
3.) When you are standing, tuck your pelvis in almost as though you're doing the Michael Jackson "OW!" move (can you tell that this was how my father explained it to me in the 80s when I was a child?) -- then relax slightly.
4.) Bend your knees so they stick out just past your pelvis.
5.) Stand with your feet and legs about a foot apart, and make sure that your arches do not touch the ground. Lift your toes.
6.) This part is dorky, but it's also kind of nice: Stand like this and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine that there is a beam coming out of your chest that you are trying to aim out at the entire world.

This will definitely be uncomfortable and tiring for you at first. krisak's advice to exercise is very good. A simple beginner's yoga class to start might be a good bet for you, particularly if you cannot afford a personal trainer. If you look into it, look for Hatha yoga classes. Avoid Bikram, at least to start.

Good luck to you!
posted by pazazygeek at 6:05 PM on December 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

This is something I am very, very actively working on, and have been for a while. My posture has always been terrible. Just wanting to stand up straight isn't enough - my body had to be able to do it first, and I needed to learn exactly what standing up straight meant.

Taking Pilates classes has helped me quite a bit. A good Pilates instructor has a sharp eye for bad movement patterns and muscle imbalances and can tell you where you're running into trouble. My once weak abdominal muscles and shoulders are now strong, so I'm physically *capable* of standing up straight for extended periods of time.

My physical therapist and orthopaedist also helped. They spotted some muscle weaknesses and anatomical irregularities that were causing me pain, and they prescribed exercises and over-the counter shoe inserts.

Another thing that's helped me is going barefoot as often as possible. When I can't go barefoot, I wear a pair of Vibram Fivefinger shoes.

We are very, very smart to be doing this - we'll both thank ourselves when we're 65 and still have our knees.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:14 PM on December 27, 2007

I agree with all the rest - just trying to remember to "stand up straight" probably won't be enough. I also have terrible posture, and I've been told by experts that it's really a matter of training your muscles through exercise, be it using personal trainer, a book, or taking ballet or yoga. If you just keep trying to remember to stand up/sit up/walk differently, you'll just get sore and get discouraged, because we don't live lives that allow us to pay attention to something like that for a significant enough part of the day.

Good luck!
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:40 PM on December 27, 2007

N-thing the rest... Especially the "string from the crown of your head holding you up.", that's sorta a standard "proper posture for meditation" thing... I'll add... put your hands above your head, stand on tiptoes... balance, then slowly bring your arms down (out to the side like you're trying to fly), and slowly drop down off of tiptoes. Do this often, it'll leave you in sorta natural posture.

I had similar issues in the past, to the point that I would wear out my left shoe long before my right shoe. It took months of patience and practice, stopping every minute or so to introspect my walking.

Best of luck.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:05 PM on December 27, 2007

Best answer: Look into Alexander Technique.

I took some classes last year, and the basic tip I've stuck with has been to push my weight forward when walking, which reduces the tensions on the back and "elongates" the body in an unforced way. If you have terrible posture, it is likely that the weight of your head is resting on your shoulders, that your back is pushed backwards so its weight is transferred to your hips, etc. Instead of "rising up" just by raising your neck and forcing your posture upwards, focus on moving your whole body's weight forward so that it displaces your center of gravity until you reach a comfortable, elongated posture.

I also remember reading an earlier AskMe which stressed that when trying new postures, they will probably feel "wrong", since you are used to your old posture. This is to keep in mind if you feel like returning to your old habits.

IANAAlexanderTechniqueTeacher, so you may want to do your research and be careful, but I think there's no harm in experimenting with the tip outlined above.
posted by jchgf at 7:13 PM on December 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Huh, I'd never heard of the Alexander Technique before, looks interesting. Also, thanks to everyone who suggested basic Yoga, that sounds like a great idea too. Thanks for the answers, and good luck to everyone else working on the same thing!
posted by JZig at 7:36 PM on December 27, 2007

Posture's taught as a template to conform to. This isn't very good for you. Better to learn the underpinnings of it all, and let your body's intelligence create correct posture for you.

That sounded like gibberish to you. But it won't if you study yoga....particularly Iyengar Yoga, which is incredibly precise and meticulous about alignment. After just a few months of Iyengar yoga (if you practice outside class), you'll find your body starting to reshape and self-correct. It's amazing.

You can find a teacher here:
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:20 PM on December 27, 2007

Oh!!! Once I saw that you'd marked the Alexander Technique instruction, I clicked on your profile just hoping that you lived in CA, and it seems like you do. This is exciting.

Lily Lau is one of the most respected martial artists in America, and she also teaches the Alexander Technique. I encourage you to get in touch with her.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:25 PM on December 27, 2007

As a kid and a teenager, I forced myself to shove my jaw forward, to de-emphasize what I thought was a tremendous overbite (but now I know was -- and is -- nothing of the kind.) Over time it became automatic, so much so that eventually I got TMJ, and in treating it stopped pushing my lower jaw forward, and after several years the problem went away permanently.

When I was younger still, I recognized that I always walked with my head hanging down, facing the ground. I was embarrassed by it once I recognized it, and after a few years of forcing myself not to do it, I stopped for good. Sometimes I stumble because I'm not looking down enough, in fact (just happened yesterday!)

When my sister got carpal tunnel, I had a word processing job and my wrists hurt a lot. I forced myself to adopt certain habits that would minimize injury to myself (rather than go the ill-conceived wrist brace route) and within months my wrist pain went away for good (and I still type all day long for a living, and more for leisure.)

What I'm saying is this: it's all about motivation and diligence. What's more motivating than avoiding childhood/teenage public shame, or avoiding severe and debilitating injury? As for the diligence, think of it like playing a musical instrument. You have to keep reminding yourself how to play, and play correctly, and you constantly slip out of it and get frustrated. Nevertheless, if you keep at it and respond to your own lapses with renewed resolve, you'll look up one day and realize you haven't slipped in months.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 12:12 AM on December 28, 2007

1. Go to a chiropractor, they can really help get your spine aligned.

2. Take yoga classes. Like pilates, I feel this is a fun and natural way to fix your posture through the poses and the way you have to move your body.
posted by NexEffect at 6:00 AM on December 28, 2007

Check out The Egoscue Method. They basically give you a set of stretches to do every day that help get your body back in alignment. Free routines are available on their website or you can pay $50 for a personalized set (you'll have to take pictures and email them in). It really works wonders, but I would recommend dropping a few bucks for a personalized set of stretches.
posted by PFL at 6:22 AM on December 28, 2007

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I created an account just to be able to respond to this. The book the Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion is the easiest way to change your posture, but upkeep is involved because your daily habits will tend to pull you back into an old posture. The longer you keep it up though, the longer the benefits will "stick" between resets. Using muscles to hold yourself in a new posture won't work (I tried for years) because you need to change your body *structurally*. Then, you'll naturally and effortlessly assume a better posture. If you're willing to put in more time/money, you could try (from good to best):

1. Rolfing or structural integration. (This means paying someone lots of money, but you don't have to think very hard or be disciplined in your daily life.)
2. Buy and use the the Wharton's Stretch Book (This is #3 "light.")
3. This is my gold standard recommendation: Purchase Active Isolated Stretching and Active Isolated Strengthening by Aaron Mattes from If you use these books regularly, you will have a completely new body in a few months. Nothing I've experimented with (which I do for months at a time) has even come close to these books. You will lengthen and strengthen muscles you didn't even know you had, and it will completely change your posture and the way you move. This is the hardest option because there's a big learning curve. I think it's totally worth it though. Since you did martial arts, it wouldn't be too difficult for you, but it does take time to figure things out. Pay attention to the instructions on *how* you're supposed to stretch. It's not the usual "hold for a long time."

Martial arts totally messed up my body too. Good luck!
posted by zeek321 at 8:30 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I too am interested in this and wondering how a total novice would evaluate the various and sundry schools that try to help individuals with this sort of an issue: Alexander, Rolfing, Pilates etc?
My own thought is that the quality of the teacher is likely to be more important than the school itself but this leads me to wonder how I can best find a good teacher?
posted by dougiedd at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2007

If you are a women, you may not want to tuck in your pelvis, as pazazygeek recommends. Tucking your pelvis in is not a natural posture. My physical therapist recommended a posture that was like this one (I know I linked to this site before. I do not have any affiliation with them and do not agree with everything they say, but their advice on posture and yoga is in accordance with my experience and the advice from my physical therapist).
posted by davar at 5:28 PM on January 1, 2008

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