Exercises to stretch and strengthen posture

Statistics show that four out of five people will experience back pain at some stage in their life. And bad posture is the number one cause of back pain.

Poor posture is a common cause of back and neck pain. Chances are you’re sitting in a slumped position right now trying to read this.

Bad posture means some muscle groups in your body work harder than others, trying to maintain balance. This will lead to increased tone and subsequent fatigue of some muscle groups, while other muscles are continually stretched and become weak. This places constant strain on joints, ligaments, tendons and neural tissue, causing aches and pains.

Problems associated with bad posture are headaches, pain in the lower back, shoulder- and upper back pain and a predisposition for injuries. Maintaining a good posture will not only prevent aches and pains, it will make you look and feel better.

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Ten exercises to stretch and strengthen your posture:

- Isometric abdominal exercise – Good posture always starts with strong core muscles. Activate your core stabilising muscles by pulling your belly-button towards your spine. Keep it there for 10 seconds while breathing normally. Repeat five times.

- Chin tuck and neck stretch – Sit or stand up straight and pull your belly button towards your spine. Tuck your chin in as if you want to make a ‘double chin’, and slowly bend your neck forward. You’ll feel a stretch at the back of your neck that may run down your spine. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat three times.

- Chest stretch – In a seated position, clasp your hands together behind your back. Roll your shoulders backward while extending your arms behind you. Gently pull your arms in an upward direction until you feel your chest muscles stretching in the front. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

- Shoulder blade squeeze – Sit or stand up straight and pull your belly-button towards your spine. Pull your shoulders in a backward and downward direction. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

- Resistance band rows – Wrap a resistance band around a sturdy object in front of you. Hold the ends of the band in each hand with your arms straight out in front, palms facing each other. Pull the band towards you, bending your elbows. Whilst doing the exercise, try and keep your abdominals tights, shoulders pulled back and chin tucked in. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat 10-15 times.

- Cat stretch – Get down on the floor onto all fours. Form a table with your body with your back being the tabletop and your arms and legs forming the legs of the table. Your arms should be shoulder-width apart and your knees hip width apart. Start by taking a deep breath in, lift your head, make your back hollow and raise your tailbone. Hold the pose for five seconds. Follow with a counter movement by dropping your chin onto your chest. Arch your back up as much as you can and relax the buttock. Hold this pose for a few seconds before you return to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.

- Hip flexor stretch – Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with a folded towel. Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee. Place your hands on your hips; keep your back straight and abdominals tight. Shift your body weight forward onto your front leg until you feel a stretch of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat three times on each side.

- Sit-up – In supine, lie with both knees bent and heels on the floor. Keep your arms straight next to your body, tuck your chin in and pull your belly-button towards your spine. Slowly lift your trunk from the floor up to the point where your shoulder blades leave the ground. Return to the starting position while you keep your abdominals tight. Repeat 20 times.

- Oblique sit-up – In supine, lie with both knees bent and heels on the floor. Cross your arms in front of your chest, tuck your chin in and pull your belly button towards your spine. Slowly lift your trunk from the floor, twisting your trunk as if you want to take your left shoulder towards your right knee. Return to the starting position while you keep your abdominals tight. Repeat to the other side. Do 20 repetitions on each side.

- Plank – Get into the push-up position on the floor. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your body should form a straight line. Keep your chin tucked in and abdominal muscles tight. Try and hold the position as long as you can. Your goal should be to hold for two minutes.

Sit with support
It is estimated that the average person sits for 13 hours a day. Whether it is in front of a computer, behind a steering wheel or stretched out in front of the TV, your spine needs support in the right places to prevent backaches.

Here are a few tips for healthy sitting at the office:

- Adjust the height of the chair that your feet are firmly on the ground with knees bent at 90 degrees.
- The backrest must provide lower back support. If there is no added cushioning to support the forward curve of the lower back, place a rolled up towel between the chair and your lower back.
- The chair must preferably have armrests to support your elbows and forearms. This will reduce strain on your shoulders.
- Don't sit with legs crossed.
- Take regular breaks from sitting. Experts recommend you stand for ten minutes every hour.
- Position your computer straight in front of you so you don’t have to twist your neck to look at your screen
- Increase the height of the monitor to eye level.
- The chair should ideally have a swivel to make it easy to change position without turning your neck.
- If you talk a lot on the phone, consider using a headset.

(Sources: Health24, Clevelandclinic.org, UCLA Ergonomics, Mayo Clinic)
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