The Goods

Take your posture from poor to perfect with these stretches and tips

Registered physiotherapist Dev Chengkalath breaks down the basics of bad alignment and how to improve it.

Registered physiotherapist Dev Chengkalath breaks down the basics of bad alignment and how to improve it.

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We've all been told to stand up straight and not to slouch by parents, but let's face it, most of us never listen and that can lead to uncomfortable consequences. So registered physiotherapist Dev Chengkalath stopped by The Goods to demonstrate how to take your posture from poor to perfect. He highlighted some of the most common posture problems, but if they seem all too familiar, it's never too late to sit up a little straighter. The key is postural awareness and breaking up any prolonged positions you might be holding, also known as a pattern interrupt. Here are five stretches he recommends to help break some bad habits and improve your posture.

Common posture mistakes

Posture has a surprisingly large impact on well-being, even leading to better breathing and energy levels. Having good posture can also help alleviate joint irritation and wear and tear, not to mention you'll look taller and leaner! But, for many of us, we find ourselves slipping into poor positions. Here are some of the most common:

Sway back

This is characterized by a pelvis that's shifted forward, causing the lower back to curve forward excessively in response (the hyperlordosis) and the upper back to hunch forward excessively to compensate and balance against gravity. Chengkalath says people with sway back postures tend to have their shoulders aligned behind their hips, and this can put pressure on areas of the body not meant to withstand it.

Lumbar lordosis

This simply refers to the natural curve of the spine with the concave (curved) side facing backwards and the arched side facing forward. In some people, for a variety of reasons, this can become exaggerated during instances such as pregnancy or injury, which can potentially be problematic. 

Thoracic kyphosis

Chengkalath explained that this is the natural curve of the upper back with the curve facing forward and the arch facing backwards. As with lordosis, in some segments of the population, this can become excessive for a variety of reasons such as arthritis, Scheuermann's Disease, or habit, which can then impact other parts of the body, such as the neck and shoulders. You'll often see this when people have been sitting or driving for a long time, or are enthralled by what's on their phone.

Forward head

Just as with these previous positions, this chin poking forward position can be influenced by a variety of factors such as pain, injury, habit or environment. People often do this at a red lights, and especially when using devices like phones and tablets.

The good news is that if you see yourself in one of these positions, it's never too late to fix your posture.

Solo moves to improve posture

Chest up

This is the most simple and effective foundational postural awareness drill that Chengkalath has his clients work on. It requires no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere and anytime. It's a fantastic pattern interrupt that works to break up any prolonged positions you might be holding.

As the name implies, all that that's required is lifting your chest (the sternum or breastbone) up as you take a deep breath in. Do this without arching your back or pulling your shoulders back. Just gently move from the chest and ribs and imagine there's a string pulling up from the ceiling. Once you've lifted up, exhale slowly while holding that upright position. You should end up relaxed but erect. Chengkalath explained that this position will allow your diaphragm to drop down so you can breathe easier. You shouldn't have to fight to hold the position, just keep practicing if it's difficult at first.

The cat/cow

To properly execute this movement often seen in yoga, get on your hands and knees in a comfortable position. From here, Chengkalath says to drop your head toward the floor and gently round your back up (upper and lower) as you inhale, for the cow. As you exhale, arch your back as you lift your head up, for the cat. Pause at each position briefly before shifting back toward the other position. Repeat 6-8 times.

Chengkalath explained that this simple exercise is often used as a staple movement for a whole host of different issues and can be a great postural mobility drill. The cat/cow can be great for loosening a tight upper back, an area where parents often experience stiffness and restrictions from carrying the kids or being bent over picking up scattered toys.

Snow angel

This is another simple movement that will help you reset your position, especially if you've been holding forward flexed positions for a while — such as when you're hunched over at your desk or driving. Like all the others, this movement is also a great pattern interrupt. Lie down on your back with your knees straight or bent, whatever is more comfortable. Reach your arms overhead and make a snow angel on the floor, minus the snow. Make sure to reach up and out through the whole movement. Stop at the overhead position and take a deep breath in and then exhale as you slowly return to starting position. 

Partner stretches for improved posture

Long sit thoracic spine extension

With one partner kneeling on the ground comfortably (the front partner), have the other partner (the back partner) stand behind them and put their knee against the front partner's spine as a brace. Next, the back partner should gently pull the front partner's arms back as far as they can comfortably go. Take a big breath in, exhale and pull back a little farther. Repeat as comfortable, but the front partner shouldn't feel pain. Chengkalath explained this is a great way to get a bit of extra thoracic spine extension which is the opposite position of the prolonged thoracic kyphosis we often find ourselves in during our day to day tasks. This is another great example of when doing the opposite of what we normally do takes tension off and works as a pattern interrupt.

Child's pose with partner back extension

In this stretch, each partner gets a specific stretch. The lower partner (in child's pose) will get a flexion-based stretch while the upper partner (on top) will get an extension based stretch.

To begin, the lower partner crouches down in child's pose, which means laying down on your knees with your hands extended outward in front of you, touching the ground. Next, the upper partner lies down on their back facing upwards, on the lower partner. The upper partner should put their hips below the lower partner's, and then lean back. Then, the upper partner should reach up and over their head. Stretch it out and repeat, or trade positions as you'd like.

If you add these exercises to your routine and apply postural awareness you may even see some speedy postural improvement. Just remember that for the changes to stick, you have to keep practicing. Happy stretching!