What Causes Poor Posture?
A few variables can cause poor kyphotic posture, the most common one being our seating habits. We tend to slouch over and protrude our shoulders forward for a prolonged period without changing position, for example, sitting at the computer desk, slouching to use your mobile phone, watching TV etc. (1). These slouched positions can cause the muscles of the back to become underactive and chronically weakened (1). Such muscle weakness can hinder the joint actions of the scapula; thus, one would be unable to form an upright position (1). It is possible to ‘save your posture’, but it can become difficult as we age, due to the natural degradation in muscle (muscle and strength loss) and bone mass that are not fully regained (2).
How can Poor Posture hinder the Quality of Life?
As we have established, the kyphotic position is NOT a ‘natural’ position for humans and can cause a variety of issues like neck and back pain, difficulty breathing, headaches, and, not to mention, walking imbalances that can relay into falls and further injuries, especially in seniors (3).
How long does it take to Fix Posture?
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the time frame of forming a healthy posture. Every individual will respond differently to an exercise protocol based on variables such as genetics, age, and gender (4). For example, a younger male who takes on a new back strengthening program may be able to fix posture in a shorter time compared to a senior or an older adult who experience much lower resistance training, and dietary muscle protein synthesis (4).
Which Muscles do we need to Target during Exercise to Improve Posture?
You would look to target and strengthen the trapezius, which is located at the middle of the back, running from the highest point of the lower back up to the top of the neck (5). The trapezius is activated by retraction (pin back), elevation (shrug up), and depression (shrug down) of the scapula, more commonly known as the shoulder blades (5).
Another important muscle group is the rhomboids, located underneath the middle of the trapezius, activated by retracting the scapula and contributing towards an upright posture (6).
3) Posterior Deltoids
We would also need to tap into the posterior deltoids, which are the back of the shoulder and stimulated by horizontal extension of the arm (moving arms out from across the body) (7).
4) Core stability and balance muscles
The core stability muscles are located at the center, sides, and back of the mid-section; strengthening these muscles will promote a healthier posture by promoting spinal neutrality (8).
My 4 ‘Go to’ Exercises for Improving Posture
Exercise is my personal preference to correcting back posture over any back straighter device though they could work hand in hand. I have highlighted some exercises based on the practical application of muscles/joint actions and my personal experience.
Exercise 1: Isometric Scapula Retraction
Exercise Information: This exercise will engage the muscles of the trapezius, posterior deltoid, and other back muscles
Step 1: Stand up and try to force an upright position.
Step 2: Inhale and pull the shoulder back and squeeze the shoulder blades back and push the chest forward.
Step 3: Hold this position for around 1-2 minutes at a time.
Exercise 2: Rear Delt Flies on a Balance Ball
Exercise Information: This is a great exercise to target the core stability and balance muscles as well as the back and rear deltoids. These muscles are crucial in forming a healthy posture.
Equipment Needed: Dumbells (2x), Balance ball
Step 1: Select and grasp some light dumbbells (1-5kg).
Step 2: Lie prone (front side on the balance ball) with enough space to maneuver the arms.
Step 3: Place feet on the ground at shoulder width to create a stable base.
Step 4: Bring the dumbbells together in front of you and horizontally extend the arms finishing with pinning the shoulder blades back.
Step 5: Bring the dumbbells back to the start position in the reverse motion and repeat the movement to failure for 2-3 sets.
Exercise 3: Resistance Band Row
Exercise Information: This is an excellent exercise as it taps into all of the important muscles using resistance via a band. The band you select will entirely depend on your capabilities. If you are a senior, you can opt for a lower resistance band.
Equipment Needed: Resistance band
Step 1: Sit on the floor with the back as upright as possible and the chest inflated.
Step 2: Bend the knees slightly.
Step 3: Place the centre of the resistance band at the middle of the feet.
Step 4: Grasp the resistance band from each end.
Step 5: Exhale and pull the bands towards you ensuring you pin the shoulder blades as much as possible
Step 6: Allow the bands to slowly recoil into the start position by performing the reverse motion.
Step 7: Repeat the movement with reps to failure(until you are not able to do it anymore) in 3-4 sets
Exercise 4: Dumbbell Shrugs
Exercise information: Dumbbell shrugs produce elevation during the concentric phase and depression during the eccentric phase, therefore, target the upper and lower trapezius muscle.
Equipment Needed: Dumbells (2x)
Step 1: Grasp a pair of dumbbells with a neutral/semi-pronated grip.
Step 2: Safely lift the dumbbells up to around the side of the hips.
Step 3: Brace the core and maintain an upright position, if possible.
Step 4: Exhale and shrug the dumbbells up,
Step 5: Inhale and bring the dumbbells back down,
Step 6: Perform 10-12 reps with 3-4 sets.
Try to avoid sitting in slouched positions for prolonged periods of time, you should always change positions and stretch regularly. In terms of exercise, it is important to create movements within the scapula and rear deltoids to maintain a healthy musculature for healthy posture. Do not forget to perform exercises that activate the core stability muscles. As mentioned, the time it will take to ‘fix’ the posture can vary for every individual. I would highly recommend you to consult a trainer or coach to help put together a program.
- Bendix, T., Krohn., Jesson, F., et al. Trunk posture and trapezius muscle load while working in standing, supported-standing, and sitting positions. Europe PMC. 1985;10(5):433-439
- McNeal, A.P.W. Changes in posture and balance with age. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research. 1992; 4(1):219-225
- Kado, D.M., Huang, M.H., Nguyen., et al. Hyperkyphotic Posture and Risk of Injurious Falls in Older Persons: The Rancho Bernardo Study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A. 2007; 62 (6):652–657
- Hurley, B.F. Age, Gender, and Muscular Strength. The Journals of Gerontology Series A. 1995; 50A (Special Issue): 41-44
- Johnson, G., Bogduk, N., Nowitzki, E., et al. Anatomy and actions of the trapezius muscle. Clinical Biomechanics. 1994; 9(1):44-50
- Martin, R.M., &., Fish, D.E. Scapular winging: anatomical review, diagnosis, and treatments. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal medicine. 2008; 1(1):1-11
- Mechanics of the Deltoid Muscle:A New Approach. Clinical Orthopaedics and related research. 2000;375 (3): 250-257
- Bliss, L.S., &Teeple, P. Core stability: The centerpiece of any training program. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2005; 4 (1):179-183
Disclaimer: all of the information within this article is for educational purposes and is NOT intended as a personalized exercise prescription. No one can be held liable under the circumstances of damages, reparation, or monetary losses as a result of the information.