Here are ways to fix your posture and strengthen your core.
For the first time in living memory—maybe ever—Americans have just experienced a comprehensive, nation-wide quarantine. I know what you’re thinking …”Duh, Calah … We were there. We remember.”
But do you know how rare and unprecedented this is? We’ve experienced things as a nation before—9/11 comes immediately to mind—but those experiences varied widely according to proximity and social connections. And while our experience of quarantine has obviously been particular to each of us, there are many commonalities that have given rise to universally understood memes, jokes, and even new vocabulary. Don’t believe me? Then come over for a social distance quarantini! How was your coronacation? And don’t worry about that quarantine 15 – you’ll burn it off during murder hornet season. See what I mean, y’all?
One commonality is that most of us — especially outside public service and the health profession — have spent a lot more time than normal just …. sitting. Sitting at the kitchen table supervising distance-learning, sitting in our makeshift closet offices working remotely, sitting on the couch for yet another Netflix marathon. Being stuck in our homes has predictably made us more sedentary. And although restrictions are lifting in many places, most of us are still working from home, still limiting social interaction, and yes … still sitting.
Here’s the thing, though — there’s more than one way to sit. There are, in fact, better and worse ways to sit and even exercises you can do while sitting to help correct posture and counteract core and back weakness. I mean, what better time than now to learn how to sit better, am I right?!
1Sit down -- but on the ground!
First things first: where you sit matters. The chair is a relatively recent invention, and prolonged chair sitting puts increased strain on your back and weakens your abdominal and glute muscles, creating a condition called anterior pelvic tilt. This posture is almost exclusively seen in Western countries. The lower back arches, head comes forward, and belly and booty protrude because the pelvis is unnaturally tilted downward. Guess what kind of sitting doesn’t cause this? Floor sitting! Sitting on the floor forces you to keep your spine neutral and core engaged because slumping is uncomfortable. You’ll also naturally change position often on the floor to stay comfortable, preventing strain on any one area of your body. So ditch the chairs and criss-cross-applesauce!
Unfortunately, most of us are so conditioned to chair sitting that sitting on the ground for very long is uncomfortable at best, and in some cases impossible. So if you find yourself being forced back to your chair after a few minutes, don’t worry — but remember what your mama taught you and don’t slump! Try to sit upright without your back making contact with the back of the chair as much as possible, which will keep your core engaged and take the strain off your back. Again, you might find this difficult for long periods. If so, there are two simple exercises you can do while sitting up straight that will help strength your core and correct your posture.
3Tilt that pelvis
Pelvic tilts are one of the best things you can do to correct anterior pelvic tilt and strengthen your abdomen. Start by taking a deep breath, then exhale as you pull your belly button back to your spine. Your hips and rib cage should come closer together and your tailbone should tuck under, eliminating the low back arch and engaging your entire core. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then let your belly expand as you inhale, increasing the distance between your hips and ribs and bringing your tailbone back to neutral. Start with 10 sets of pelvic tilts any time you sit down in a chair, and increase by 1 or 2 every few days. After a few weeks you’ll find yourself being able to sit up straight and floor sit for longer and longer periods.
4Un-slump your shoulders
Pelvic tilts don’t look like much, but they can require a lot of concentration — especially for women who’ve had children. But there’s another posture problem caused by extended chair sitting — the shoulder slump. Y’all, I know exactly how good it feels to sink into the couch and let the cushions do all the supporting, but sitting like this pushes your head forward, naturally allowing your shoulder blades to relax instead of retract. Over time, you’ll gradually lose the ability to properly support the weight of your own head. In extreme cases, you might develop a hunch between your shoulder blades, where the spine pushes upward through the latent scapular retractors.
So how do you prevent the dreaded hunch? Simple — just pull those shoulders back and down. Imagine there’s a pencil in the upper middle of your back and try to squeeze it. You’ll automatically feel your shoulder blades pull back and together, opening up your chest, straightening your neck, and pulling your shoulders down away from your ears. Cool, huh? Do 10-15 sets of these every time you sit down — whether on the floor, in a chair, or even on the couch. If you find yourself forgetting, make it a habit to do them every time you’re at a red light in the car. Eventually you’ll find yourself naturally pulling your shoulders back, alleviating the pressure on your lower back and giving you a good half-inch of extra height. Win-win!