To cure the constant ache in my upper back and neck, I have tried expensive massages, heated balms, and muscle stimulation therapy, but apparently, I should have just stood up straight.
In a New York Times article, Professor Amy Cuddy calls this affliction the iHunch. While I like to pretend that I don’t look at my phone a hundred times per day, I know that I do. Each time I look down at my phone, I am apparently increasing the strain on my neck. Professor Cuddy says a normal human head weighs 10-12 pounds, but at 60degree forward angle (the perfect angle for Netflix viewing) your head effectively weighs 60 pounds. No wonder my neck was hurting!
Before I spent more money on a posture correcting device or a fancy massage, I looked into exercises to help me stand up straighter. The key seems to be balancing the negative effects of sitting down all day. You know those muscles that you don’t normally use? Many of the exercises listed here are for those muscles.
Stop the Mismatch
One of the negative effects of the modern seated lifestyle is that we develop tight (or overactive) and weak (or underactive) muscles. This mismatch leads to X shape in the upper and lower back, with tight muscles in one diagonal line and weak muscles in a crisscross diagonal line. Upper Crossed Syndrome, or UCS, is the name for the X that develops in the upper back. It is most closely associated with looking at electronic devices all day. However, many people also develop Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS), which is a result of weak glutes and abdominal muscles. Both can be counteracted with exercise.
But why the mismatch between the underactive and overactive muscles? It appears that we are not designed for sitting so much. Our hunter-gather ancestors walked 5 to 9 miles per day. The average modern human walks 1/3 of a mile, according to Start Gaining Momentum. Our bodies aren’t developed to sit still all day. We have to counter this evolutionary mismatch with exercise.
Get a Professional Evaluation It was hard to diagnose my own posture problems. One way to identify UCS is to see if your ear is forward of your shoulders. A professional can assess this in an instant. I spent 20 minutes with some mirrors trying to see if I could get the right angle to see both my ear and shoulder. It wasn’t worth my time. A coach can actually see and diagnose the issues.
Focus on Form Proper exercise forms work out the right muscles without causing injury. However, like me trying to see the location of my ear, it sometimes requires some help to see if you’re doing it right. Mirrors and online tutorials can help. The key is to go slow and constantly evaluate yourself. I use my home gym and online tutorials to improve my form. All I need are some free weights and a kettlebell.
Keep Pushing the Limit
Once you have your form down pat, it’s time to start increasing the reps and intensity. That is the only way that the muscles are going to get stronger. But remember to check in with your mirror, coach or online tutorial regularly. Also, if it starts hurting, it’s time to back off. The purpose of these exercises is to feel better, not worse.
Find an Exercise Buddy
Who else do you know that suffers from pains in the neck? I would say nearly everyone that I know could benefit from these exercises. Even though individual bodies are different, many of us are suffering from the same iHunch. Get your friends in on the action and see the results together.
Exercises to Improve Posture
Seated Cable Row
Go slow and hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds. I know it hurts. Trying to pinch your shoulder blades together down your back also helps to remedy your posture. Try to avoid flexing your spine. Keep it straight.
Standing High Row
Like the seated version, I recommend holding the contraction for 1-2 seconds and pinching your shoulder blades together. There is also the option here to contract your glutes, which is a good option to counteract LCS.
Cable Pull Through
You do not have to be a hulking guy to do this one, I promise! Just keep your head high and your back straight. Your glutes drive the first part of the exercise (not your lower back!). Contract your glutes again as you finish the motion.
This can be a good alternative to the cable pull through if you are at home with a kettlebell. The same recommendations apply. Drive and contract your glutes while keeping your back straight.
Plank with Glute Squeeze
My personal favorite requires no equipment. Keep your glutes squeezed as long as you can. When it becomes too much, release your whole body to the floor. This one is pretty intense and may take some time to build up the muscles. Keep trying!
Better Posture, Less Pain
Improving your posture does more than relieving the pain in your neck. It eases your body back into balance. Also, sitting up straight may even improve your mood. The iHunch is oddly similar to the natural position of depressed people, according to Professor Cuddy. The adage “keep your chin up” may be true, allowing you to improve your mood as you improve your posture with these exercises.
Kara McMahon from Home Fitness Life is passionate about helping people meet their fitness goals without having to leave the house. She works from home as a webmaster while raising her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. She hopes her content will make the world a fitter, happier place.