FAR from running straight from head to hips, the human spine is composed of three natural bends: the lumbar curve of the lower back, the thoracic curve of the middle back and the cervical curve of the upper back and neck.
To attain good posture, you must maintain the natural flow of each curve with no exaggerated or decreased angles.
The back is curved this way to bear and absorb weight as we walk, bend, climb, crawl and jump.
The problem is, so many tasks in our modern daily lives are sedentary, like driving, desk work, or standing bent over kitchen counters and sinks.
Seated activities tend to decrease the lumbar curve of the lower back, while hunching increases the cervical curve of the neck.
So sitting while hunched can cause two problems at once!
To prevent this, begin by becoming more aware of your spine's curves.
Start by periodically placing your palms on your lower back and arching it during prolonged sitting to restore the lumbar curve.
Also, look upward for 10 seconds every 15 minutes while hunching to forcibly straighten your upper back.
Prolonged standing may also cause lower back pain due to its tendency to increase, rather than decrease as with sitting, the lumbar curve.
This is often referred to as a sway back.
A good way to prevent it from happening is to rest one foot up on top of any nearby object and to periodically bend at the waist to touch your toes.
Of course, a regimented stretching program is essential to maintain the flexibility and strength required for good posture.
Try adding these exercises to your weekly routine:
? Rhomboid Stretch
A true classic! Sitting with good posture, place one arm at shoulder level across the front of your body.
Use the opposite arm to apply a gentle downward force to pull the extended arm toward your body without shrugging your shoulders up.
When performed for 30 seconds on each side on a twice-daily basis, the rhomboid stretch is felt across the posterior shoulder region and toward the middle back.
? Lat Pull-Downs
When at the gym, grasp the pull-down bar while seated with arms a little wider than shoulder-width apart and palms forward.
Carefully pull the bar at a very comfortable weight toward your chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together, and then slowly return it to the start.
Performed in three sets of 12 repetitions with 30-second breaks between sets, the lat pull-down is felt throughout the middle and upper back.
Achieving proper posture means maintaining the spine's natural curves.
To alleviate pain and prevent injury, ensure your stretching program includes exercises for the back extensors, hip flexors, neck muscles, trunk rotators and abdominal muscles.
To ensure your stretching program is in perfect balance with your goals and current lifestyle, consider scheduling an educational session with a personal trainer near you.
Shaun Karp is a certified personal trainer. For further information on this and other topics, call his office at 604420-7800 or visit his website at karpfitness.com.