Help me hold my head up high
May 21, 2008 3:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm very tall (6'6"), and like most tall people, struggle with posture - I tend to slump my shoulders forward and tilt my head down, especially when standing. Are there any exercises that target that area (upper back, neck) that will pull the shoulders back and make standing/sitting properly "feel right"? (I lift weights regularly, but I think my back is a weak spot - the more I lift, the worse I feel my posture gets.)
posted by jbickers to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
There are some good stretches you can do for this. My back started hurting after a couple of years of regular workouts. I'm taking a break from the weights and seeing a physiotherapist right now. If you're insured, you should talk to your doctor about your back pain and see if you can get an appointment with a pt.
posted by syzygy at 4:02 AM on May 21, 2008

Yes, but I think they are difficult to explain or ensure correctness without a professional's assistance.

See a physiotherapist.
posted by grouse at 4:07 AM on May 21, 2008

I think you need to strengthen your core: more ab and lower back work will help support that upper back region. I think yoga or pilates could do you good because they both strengthen and stretch,
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:13 AM on May 21, 2008

I second yoga as a GREAT thing to do when struggling with posture. I hunch over a computer most of my days - yoga is a huge help.
posted by mooza at 4:49 AM on May 21, 2008

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction ... Newton's 3rd law of motion applies to kinesiology as well. Every muscle has an antagonist muscle --- when you hunch your shoulders over, you're contracting your pectorals, which results in your rhomboids being overstretched. When you tilt your head down, you contract your scalenes & other neck flexors, which results in your neck extensor muscles being overstretched. This happens throughout your neck/shoulders/upper back and all of your muscles/tendons/ligaments respond in kind over time --- as your bones do.

What you want to do is work on stretching the muscles you've contracted --- for example there's a simple but very effective pec stretch where you stand in a doorway with your arms out at the frame and leaning slowly into the doorway sloooooowwwwwwly stretching.

There are a lot of stretches you can do yourself but it's best to see a physical therapist (as others have suggested) so you can learn how to do them properly.

And yes to the yoga suggestions, yes yes yes!
posted by headnsouth at 5:16 AM on May 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good posture is more about being aware and putting yourself into proper position than exercises. Core strengthening exercises should help somewhat though. Hips back (the most important part for your back), chest out, shoulders back. By hips back I mean tilt the upper portion back, which thrusts the lower portion forward, and also aligns your lower back and naturally tucks in your tummy.

There is always that old trick of walking around with a book balanced upon your head to practice proper posture.
posted by caddis at 5:27 AM on May 21, 2008

Neanderthal No More (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Programs are listed in the last two sections.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 5:44 AM on May 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

I must dissent, caddis, regarding the "book on the head" method---it isn't truly effective.
May I recommend something from my many years of ballet training?
Imagine you have a string that runs from your groin, up through your torso, and comes out on the top of your head.
As you move through space ( i.e. walk around and live your life), pretend that a puppeteer is tugging at the string from about 5 feet above you.
Your goal is to keep that string taut.
The imagery, (although kinda silly if you over-think it), ideally lets you align your pelvis, shoulders and head in the healthiest way.
Other dance teachers over the years have offered variations on this, like "a metal rod running along your spine", etc, but I found this one works best for me as it teaches my awareness not to be stiff or tall or tight (all things that proper alignment is decidely NOT) but to let gravity help me by simply "hanging straight down tautly" from that imaginary puppeteer.
YMMV, but try it for a day. Maybe every half hour or so you could check back in to the imagery to see if it helps. After time, you will have habitualized your body to reduce slouching.
(Yep, I had 10 years of this stuff yeeears ago but can still do a mean grand jete entrelace!)
posted by Dizzy at 5:56 AM on May 21, 2008

I have the same problem, and apart from stretching, sprawling, sit-ups, using a ball as a chair sometimes, 'inventing' something like my own kind of tai-chi-like movements etc. one small exercise someone suggested helped me a lot: Try to relax and stand comfortably but straight, and then move both your thumbs slowly outside and then further to make them point as far back as you can without hurting. Stay in this position for about 20 seconds, then slowly release and relax, maybe shake your shoulders or arms a bit. I hope this might help you too, and is not harmful in any way, I am in no way an expert..
posted by dnial at 6:50 AM on May 21, 2008

Poor posture all my life (especially the "Must Appear Shorter By Slumping" technique) is one of the reasons I ended up with disk problems in my neck, and eventual surgery. During my recovery, my physical therapist suggested an exercise called "wall angels" that may be appropriate for you too.

Stand with your back against a wall. Press yourself against the wall, so that your head, shoulders and arms touch the wall. Then move your arms up over your head - still touching the wall - using the same movements as if you were making a snow angel on the ground. This helps you learn what it feels like to have your head balanced over your shoulders (like Dizzy's string), and it also helps build strength in the shoulders.

Also, if you do any presses or flys, it may be a good idea to stop for a while, and focus instead on strengthening your upper back. Ask a trainer at your gym to show you which machines to use, or how to use free weights. In my circumstances, my chest muscles were overdeveloped compared to my back muscles, causing my chest to sink and my shoulders to round over.

I would definitely set up an appointment with a trainer or, better, a physical therapist, who can determine your specific issues and advise you accordingly.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:14 AM on May 21, 2008

From my Grandmother. Have someone help you align your spine in a neutral posture. Next run a piece of tape down the length of your spine. When you start to slouch the tape will tug and you'll have instant feedback to correct your position.

You'll also likely need to strengthen your core muscles. After an hour or two of not slouching some muscles will be screaming. Those are the ones you'll need to strengthen
posted by 26.2 at 7:16 AM on May 21, 2008

Dizzy - if you wanted to keep the string taut, wouldn't you slouch as much as possible to increase your distance from the puppeteer? Or at least walk around with your knees bent?

OTOH, considering where that string is connected to me, I'd probably try to keep it as loose as possible.

This is why dance lessons drove me nuts.
posted by amtho at 7:40 AM on May 21, 2008

Dancers have the best posture around, especially ballet dancers. Listen to Dizzy.
posted by caddis at 9:04 AM on May 21, 2008

Best answer: A useful article previously linked here -- Fixing Forward Head Posture.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

This isn't an exercise, but maybe it'll help you hold your head up a little higher: Girls like tall guys.
posted by LordSludge at 11:48 AM on May 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

« Older Acrobat Professional Sux   |   Well, I Was Walking Down the Street One Day Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.