Always Hunching Over? Why Your Posture is Bad and How You Can Fix it
Do you sit hunched in front of a desk all day? Do your shoulders feel tight and painful?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably hunching over right now. I’m not going to lie, up until a minute ago, I was too! It’s okay, we’re all doing it. Nowadays, it’s difficult not to hunch when so much of modern life forces us to round our shoulders and crane our neck—whether it’s looking at our phones or computers or even reading—poor posture has become something of an epidemic, especially in older populations. I would even estimate that poor posture afflicts the majority of the North American population. Experts refer to the chronic ‘hunching’ of the upper back as ‘hyperkyphosis’, or ‘upper cross syndrome’, and it associated with “low bone mass, vertebral compression fractures, and degenerative disc disease”.
So, what is this poor posture doing to our health long-term? Well, it’s weakening the muscles alongside the back of our spines while, at the same time, tightening our pectoral muscles and front deltoids. It’s giving us back pain, shoulder pain, and immobility in our upper spine. It will also decrease our power in the gym when it comes to upper body exercises, like rows, presses, etc.
How The Spine Should Work
Let me break down quickly how the spine should work: your lumbar is meant to stabilize and support. It’s not designed to be hyper-mobile. The thoracic spine, on the other hand—the segment between the bottom of the neck to the top of the abdominal cavity—should have some flexing and extending capacity. But through chronic hunching and poor posture, the thoracic spine can become stiff and hyper-kyphotic.
So, how do you check if your own thoracic spine is hyper-kyphotic? (Besides consulting with a healthcare provider, of course). There are a couple super-simple, quick tests that you can self-administer, and that I frequently use with my clients.
Quick Posture Tests To Self-Administer
First, stand up and let your arms hang naturally. Where are your thumbs? Are they pointed straight ahead with your palms facing the side of your thighs? Or are your thumbs pointed towards each other with your palms down? If the second, your upper back is likely kyphotic.
The second test: standing again, straighten your arms and raise them slowly over your head. Are you unable to do this without your rib cage flaring up? Are you experiencing any pain with this movement—such as in your mid-back or shoulders? If yes to either of these questions, you may be hyper-kyphotic.
Now, if you’ve performed the tests and you suspect that your back is hyper-kyphotic—or if you’ve just been hunching over for a long time!–there are some stretches and exercises that you can perform that, when done frequently and with correct form, will help you to get you standing tall in no time!
First, we need to stretch out the tight muscles at the front of your body that are pulling your upper body into its hunched position. All you need is a doorway or, if you lack even that, a corner of a room!
Stretches For The Tight Muscles
Stand in the doorway and raise your arms so that your hands are pointed upwards and your elbows are propped up inside the door jam. Your arms should look like goal posts! Depress and retract your shoulders, and step forward with one foot just past the doorway until you feel a stretch in your chest and in the front of your shoulders. Maintain this position for 30 seconds, and switch feet. Feel free to adjust to your body’s comfort levels—you should feel a comfortable stretch, but not pain!
Thoracic foam roller stretch: This stretch requires—you guessed it—a foam roller. Start by placing the foam roller under your upper back and parallel to your ribs. Raise your arms above your body—this will protract your shoulder blades, and allowing ease of movement for the roller. Roll gently back and forth along the back muscles; move slowly and just a couple inches at a time. After a couple minutes, or whenever you feel ready, raise your arms above your head in a Y formation—or interlace your hands behind your head—and slowly bend backwards over the roller. Hang out here for 30 seconds to a minute.
Cat-Cow: The cat-cow works in extension and flexion of the thoracic spine and is probably my favourite mobility to exercise to do with my clients. It’s great for literally EVERYONE. People suffering from sciatic nerve issues might also benefit from this exercise.
Start in the quadruped position, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Exhale, while at the same time arching your upper back up and tucking your pelvis under: go slowly, trying to imagine every vertebra moving in your spine as you arch up, and at the last, bringing your chin into your chest. This is the ‘angry cat’ portion of the exercise. Hold this pose for 5-10 seconds.
Inhale and arch back down, slowly, vertebra by vertebra, but making sure that your lumbar spine (lower back) remains neutral. The last thing you will do, again, is raise your chin so that your eyes are looking straight ahead. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, and repeat the entire exercise for at least 5 reps.
Archer exercise. The archer will help to improve rotation of the thoracic region. Start by lying on your side with your head propped up on a pillow; your bottom leg should be extended and your top leg will be bent at the knee and resting on a pillow or mat. Your hands are lying palm-to-palm extended in front of you. Now, begin the movement by dragging the hand on top towards you, as if drawing back a bow (hence, the “archer”). Rotate through your upper back until you and your arm are, ideally, turned in the other direction. Hold that position for 5 seconds before slowly returning your arm back to start. Repeat for 5-10 repetitions and then switch sides!
It is also important that you activate the muscles surrounding your thoracic spine before you do a back workout. A face-pull is a great exercise that will not only help you to improve mobility and avoid injury, but it will lead to cleaner lifts and greater gains in strength. So, before you pick up that weight, pick up a resistance band!
The band should have two handles. Attach the middle of the band to something stable—a wall anchor or a heavy piece of gym equipment—above your head. Grab the handles with your arms fully extended in front of you, your palms facing each other and your thumbs pointing up. Retract and depress your shoulders, and pull the band towards your face (careful there, it shouldn’t actually hit your face). Pause for a couple seconds at the top of the movement, holding that isometric contraction, before returning to start with your arms fully extended. Do 10-15 reps. Remember, you do not need a heavy weight for this exercise. Quality over quantity!
There you have it, folks. These are just a small sampling of all of the exercises that you can perform on your own or with your personal trainer to improve your posture and upper back strength and mobility. Try and do them every day and you’ll be amazed by the results! If you don’t have a personal trainer Infofit can help – click here
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer, and Infofit fitness blog writer.