By now you know that your posture probably stinks. You sit at a desk all day, spend hours sitting in traffic or hunched over your phone on the train, and you’re probably feeling a nagging stiffness in your low back and your shoulders are drooping forward into a permanent hunch.
“Prolonged postures can wreak havoc on the body, leading to stiffness and pain over the course of years,” says Joe Gambino, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a New York-based physical therapist, trainer, and founder of Par Four Performance.
But posture is a little more complicated than good and bad. “In my opinion there is no such thing as perfect posture because all postures place a low level force over a long period of time causing increased stress on tissues that can cause dysfunction,” Gambino explains. Even healthy activities—running road races for example—can bring your body through the same ranges of motion again and again, leading it to favor certain muscles.
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That’s why experts focus on bringing people back to “optimal” posture, when your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are all aligned while standing, says Gambino. “Think about dropping a plum line from your ear down. All these points should line up.” In this position, you reduce the amount of stress you’re placing on your tissues, allowing your body to work, well, optimally, he says.
The best way to clean up your posture and prevent overuse injury from standing or sitting in a harmful way? Cut back on prolonged periods of time in one position and work movement variability, or moving in different ways, into your day.
Breaking up sitting with walking is a good example of movement variability. So are these four moves. They’re easy enough to do first thing every morning and focus on getting you out of your repetitive postures. Think of them as reverse posturing, says Gambino.
Standing Band Resisted T/Spine Rotation
Why it works: “This exercise is used to help restore thoracic rotation which often becomes stiff when sitting for long periods of time,” Gambino says.
How to do it: From a standing position grab a light resistance band. Grab one end in each hand, and without letting your belly button change its orientation, pull with one arm to rotate your head, neck, and upper back while maintaining straight elbows. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 per side.
Why it works: Sitting all day places us in hip flexion. Stretching into extension helps counterbalance that.
How to do it: Set up in a lunge position. Place rear foot on a wall, chair, or couch. Tilt your pelvis upward to increase stretch to the front of thigh. Hold for 2 to 3 minutes daily.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
Why it works: Again, it puts you into hip extension (countering that hip flexion) and activates the glutes which are constantly placed on stretch throughout the day because of prolonged sitting. “The tennis ball helps us maintain full hip flexion on the opposite hip which will help prevent our lower backs from extending to compensate for lack of hip extension.”
How to do it: Lie on your back and place a tennis ball at lower ribs on one side. On that same side, flex hip, bringing one knee in toward your body, and use it to hold the ball in place. The ball should be in a challenging position to hold as you bridge, so move it up or down accordingly. Once the ball is securely in place, bend the knee on your other leg and perform a glute bridge. Don’t let the ball fall out. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Band Pull Apart
Why it works: “Sitting places the muscles of our back in a stretched position,” says Gambino. If not addressed, that could led to weakness, he adds. Band pull aparts actively engage the back muscles.
How to do it: Start in standing position and grab a moderate resistance band. Hold arms straight out in front of you. Pull band apart while squeezing shoulder blades. Once fully retracted, slowly return to starting position. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.