How to have a straight back: your guide to good posture
Good posture not only bulletproofs your body against injury and pain but also determines how much you will succeed in life. Don’t believe me? Imagine you’re looking for a date online, using your powers of deduction (which you learned from watching Sherlock) to find a match. You come across a decent profile, nothing wrong with this one, except a little hunch in the back.
Shoulders rolled forward, back rounded, head jutting forward like a submarine periscope. Go through these terms and see if any come to mind:
- Un-fit or un-athletic
- Doesn’t take good care of him/herself
- Weak, frail, even insecure
- Tired, low energy
- Low status, downtrodden, poor
- Bored or boring
- Not in control of his/her life
Maybe you hit all terms or maybe none, but I’m sure you got a negative image in your head.
The verdict is in; you move on to the next profile. This time the person has great posture, sitting up straight, shoulders back, head high, looking straight at the camera. How would you judge that person based on just those attributes? Would they likely be more assertive? More fit than the first profile? More fun to hang out with?
It might seem unfair to judge people based on their posture, and in a way it is. But your posture is actively communicating with other people, and it can say “I’m a confident and active person” or “I’m somebody whose sedentary, beaten down and not in control of my life”. If you have the choice, why are you communicating the wrong message?
Luckily, you only need to make a few, simple adjustments to improve your posture and be happier and more succesful. Using these simple steps, you will see continous improvement over time and within as little as 3 weeks, you can totally transform how you look.
Why do I have bad posture?
Years of slouching and being sedentary have led to some of your muscles to become shortened and stiff. This is critical because opposing muscles in your body are always playing a tug-of-war. When both sides are in balance, your posture is good. When one side starts pulling more, your posture shifts in that direction.
Take your chest muscles as an example. They connect via a tendon (their piece of rope) to the front of your shoulders. You then have back muscles that connect to the back of the shoulder, forming the opposing team. When your chest muscles are tight, they out-pull the back; your shoulder rolls forward and you’re stuck hunching over.
The Daily Routine
It’s essential that you follow as much of this routine as you can. We’ve streamlined everything we know and only included what will get you the most results in the shortest amount of time. This routine can be done every day, or every other day. As long as you do it with some consistency, you will improve your posture.
3 steps to a straighter back
Muscles that are tight develop gnarly knots and scar tissue that keeps them stiff, short and painful. On top of that, sitting reduces the circulation of fluid in and out of muscles and joints, which leads to more pain and problems. Rolling will take care of both issues.
You want to use a high density foam roller for this. For the smaller muscles and harder to reach areas, a tennis or lacrosse ball works well. We've already reviewed the best foam rollers if you are looking for more options.
Start rolling very gently. A lot of people have really tight muscles that will be very sensitive. You want to avoid pain, especially sharp pain; a little soreness is to be expected if you are just starting out. Focus on the largest parts of the muscle first, apply only a small amount of pressure and roll slowly.
Muscles to Roll
- Glutes and Hams
Do 12 repetitions for every muscle or as much as needed. I like to roll until the soreness is gone or greatly diminished - although that might not be possible for someone starting out. You may find that you have sore areas beyond these; let your body be the guide.
Now that we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the knots and loosened up the muscles, we want to start startching and lengthening them. As with the rolling, start slowly and build it up. You don’t want to rush here and hurt yourself. You should feel a stretch in the muscle or at the edge of it. You should NOT feel it in the joint. Stop if you feel sharp pain.
Stretches for a straighter back
- Chest Stretch (img)
- Lat Stretch (img)
- Scap Wall Slides (video) -- do these facing the wall at first.
- Shoulder Stretch (img)
Do each stretch for 30 seconds at a time for 3 sets, resting as needed in between. You can use shorter bursts of stretching to work into it, but for lasting improvement you'll need to work up to at least 30 seconds. Above all, just get started now and actively work to include stretching in your day.
Here's a bonus stretching video if you're more of a visual learner.
Walking is the most underrated and arguably the most important activity you can do. Walking will help your posture, increase your lifespan, reduce your bodyfat, improve your mood and more! We’re mostly interested in the posture part for this article but I love doing easy things that give me a lot back.
How much to walk?
A minute more than you usually do is the bare minimum. If you don’t walk regularly at all then start with just a minute or two, and build consistently from there. Do more if you can: 20 minutes daily will get you good results and anything beyond that is also recommended.
Will 1 minute really be enough? On its own, no. But you are tricking your body into building a habit. Don’t believe me? Try it. Walk at least a minute a day for a week and see what happens. That’s how I got into running.
Get the most out of your walk
- Stand tall. Imagine you just won a medal of honor or pretend to be superman or something. Try to make yourself as tall as possible while keeping your heels flat on the ground.
- Shoulders back and down. You’re playing a game called get your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible. a. To get the shoulders down: shrug your shoulders all the way up, then pull them back down but try to go even further. Repeat and practice. b. To get the shoulders back: visualize someone putting a pencil behind you and you’re trying to squeeze on it with your shoulder blades. Do this while maintaining your shoulders in the down position.
- Chest Up. This goes hand in hand with the shoulders, but imagine you’re trying to imitate Captain America.
- Long Strides. Most people tend to walk with a very short stride which doesn't get you the full benefit. Instead, focus on long strides. This will open up your hips more and get you stretched out from sitting all day.
If you want to hit two birds with one stone and have really awesome posture, check out our guide on Making your butt and gut smaller by fixing your hips.