A few years ago I worked with a woman who was very concerned about building her abdominal muscles back up after two pregnancies. I immediately noticed how rounded her shoulders were and that her posture was making her stomach stick out enough that you might begin to wonder if she were still pregnant. She looked down at her stomach and exclaimed, “See? Ever since I had kids, I have this horrible pooch that won’t go away!” I promptly pulled her shoulders back and told her to lift her chest up 3 inches. Voilà! Her dreaded “mommy tummy” disappeared immediately. She was shocked but came to the realization that she had started slouching thanks to her daily routine of breast-feeding, carrying babies, and being chronically sleep-deprived. I started her on a program that focused on strengthening not only the abdominal muscles but also those of the upper back and midback. Her posture improved dramatically, the mommy tummy went away, and her confidence skyrocketed.
The problem of poor posture is not restricted to mothers and older women. Over the past decade, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of women who come to me with extremely poor posture. As poor posture becomes more and more prevalent, our collective memory of good posture fades away. The ramifications go far beyond vanity and a belly pooch. When the spine is excessively rounded forward for long periods of time, ischemic tissue (tissue that no longer has oxygen flow to it) will develop in the area and contribute to the irreversible curvature of the spine. In addition, poor posture can interfere with the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles (by putting pressure on the spinal column), can cause joint and muscle injuries, and can even lead to painful trigger points from overused muscles.
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Take a look at your profile in a mirror and compare your natural posture with the illustrations shown here. The position of your head will have a domino effect on the rest of your spine. You can experience this by pushing your chin forward 6 inches, which should cause your upper back and shoulders to round forward and your chest cavity to collapse.
Notice that if you have poor posture, it is likely that your shoulders are slumped and your hips are tucked under in a way that makes your gluteals look weak and untoned, which in turn makes your stomach look bigger. Now move your body into the opposite position, which is called a back extension. The abdominal muscles immediately become elongated and flatter, the shoulders pull back and create an opening in the chest, and the hips move into a slight anterior pelvic tilt (pushed backward), which helps the gluteals look round and toned.
When your mother harped on you to stand up straight and pull your shoulders back, she should have mentioned that good posture makes your chest, abs, and butt more attractive. Now, I’m not talking about an exaggerated position like that of a gymnast saluting the judges. You want to find the natural posture that helps you look great and allows your spinal column to rest in its optimal position.
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