Without even looking at you, I'm pretty sure you have a posture problem. That's because almost everyone I see has a posture problem. After years of evaluating clients at my fitness center in Indianapolis, I've learned to spot an anatomical abnormality from the way a guy walks through the mall, sits on a park bench, or stands at a bar.
The trouble isn't just that slumped shoulders make you resemble a Neanderthal. Over time, your poor posture takes a tremendous toll on your spine, shoulders, hips, and knees. In fact, it can cause a cascade of structural flaws that result in acute problems, such as joint pain throughout your body, reduced flexibility, and compromised muscles, all of which can limit your ability to burn fat and build strength.
But don't worry — all these problems can be corrected. Are you ready to straighten yourself out? Use this head-to-toe guide to make sure your posture is picture-perfect.
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Analyze Your Alignment
Strip down to a pair of shorts and ask a friend to take two full-body photos, one from the front and one from the side. Keep your muscles relaxed but stand as tall as you can, with your feet hip-width apart. Then see the repair plans below.
Where Pain Strikes: Your Neck
Stiff muscles in the back of your neck
Stretch with head nods daily. Moving only your head, drop your chin down and in toward your neck while stretching the back of your neck. Hold for a 5 count; do this 10 times.
Weak front neck muscles
Do this neck "crunch" every day. Lying faceup on the floor, lift your head so it just clears the floor. Raise your head, and hold for 5 seconds; do 2 or 3 sets of 12 reps daily.
Where Pain Strikes: Neck and shoulders
Your trapezius (the muscle that starts at the back of your neck and runs across your upper back) is shortened.
Perform an upper-trap stretch. With your higher-side arm behind your back, tilt your head away from your elevated side until you feel the stretch in your upper trapezius. Apply slight pressure with your free hand on your stretched muscle. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat 3 times.
A weak serratus anterior, the muscle just under your pecs running from your upper ribs to your shoulder blades.
Try chair shrugs. Sit upright in a chair with your hands next to your hips, palms down on the seat, and keep your arms straight. Without moving your arms, push down on the chair until your hips lift off the seat and your torso rises. Hold for 5 seconds. That's 1 rep; do 2 or 3 sets of 12 reps daily.
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Where Pain Strikes: Neck, shoulder, or back
Problem #1: Tight pectoral muscles
Try a simple doorway stretch: Place your arm against a doorjamb in the high-five position (that is, forming an L), your elbow bent 90 degrees. Step through the doorway until you feel the stretch in your chest and the front of your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds. That's 1 set; do a total of 4 daily.
Problem #2: Weakness in the middle and lower parts of your trapezius
The Fix: Use the floor L raise. Lying facedown on the floor, place each arm at a 90-degree angle in the high-five position. Without changing your elbow angle, raise both arms by pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 seconds; do 2 or 3 sets of 12 reps daily.