The digital age is destroying peoples posture at an early age. Everywhere we look heads hanging forward, rounder shoulders, rounded mid and upper back. The old lower back issues are even worse than ever but leg (hips/knees) and neck problems are now just as prevalent.
Let us have a look at what you need to know.
Stretching: stretching can help however the fundamental problem is 2 fold. First, unused muscles get weak fast. Second, learned behaviour (motor patterns) are tough to change. Stretching and staying flexible is useful but secondary to retraining and strengthening. What is key is making sure to stretch the muscles which work against the muscles which support posture (called antagonist muscles). Simple stretches of the front of your torso like pectoral stretches can help a lot.
Retraining: To retrain poor habits you must have a strong stimulus to drive the need for a change. You need to practice actions which require concentration and focus to force your central nervous system to write new better patterns of behaviour. This means moving into a proper postural position with slow exacting purpose and doing so against real load and fatigue. This is accomplished through slow controlled weight lifting movements devoid of momentum, cheating and throwing weight.
Muscles to strengthen: While it only makes sense to strengthen your entire musculature you may need to play catch up with many of your posterior aspects. The muscles of your neck, mid back and lower back are the most important. These spinal erectors need direct attention. Next you need good external rotator function and rear deltoid (shoulder) strength. You also need to have proper glute and hamstring strength and these muscles need to be able to work together. A strong core is good in general but these posterior aspects need to be on par with everything else.
What we do to be efficient is combine exercises which work through a full range of motion moving slowly with fairly heavy weight. This provides the stretch and the dramatic stimulus needed to learn better coordination all while strengthen the specific tissues. Example (pictured above) we will have clients perform a reverse fly with a high position on the cable machine instead of the standard dumbbell fly. This encourages the pectorals on the front of the torso to stretch at the same time as you strengthen the rear deltoids and upper back. This is because in the dumbbell fly the antagonists just relax but in the cable exercise they need to stretch and help stabilize (all while your standing muscles are also contributing to maintaining position). This is similar to why though we have clients perform the traditional prone leg curl machine we also make them learn to perform standing stiff leg deadlifts as well.
Posture analysis can be a very in-depth science but these are the fundamental points to consider and considering your posture and its importance is the first important step.
Be well, be strong,
Andrew and Tierney