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Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1

Written on November 29, 2010 at 1:00 am, by Eric Cressey

This week, I’ll feature several strategies for correcting bad posture; you should be able to insert these into your weight training programs quickly and easily for immediate results. Here we go…

1. Train more frequently.

Obviously, in many cases, those with bad posture often simply don’t exercise enough, so any motion is good motion.  However, this also applies to regular exercisers who hit the gym 3-4 times per week as well.  Why?

Well, I do a lot of my “corrective” work in my warm-up programming – and the more often you train, the more often you’ll have to do your foam rolling and mobility warm-ups.  So, breaking your training program up into smaller components on more frequent days might be the best way to force yourself to do the things that you need the most to correct bad posture.

2. Use daily mobility circuits.

Along the same lines as the “increase training frequency” recommendation, it’ll never hurt to repeat your mobility warm-ups during your daily life. If you are someone who is really in need of drastic changes, do your warm-ups twice a day, seven days a week (on top of any static stretching you do).


3. Strengthen the deep neck flexors.

When you get stuck in a forward head posture, the deep neck flexors (muscles on the anterior portion of your neck) really shut down as the sternocleidomastoid, suboccipitals, levator scapulae, scalenes, and upper traps get dense, fibrotic, and nasty.

You can start off by simply doing chin tucks against the wall (put the back of your head up against a wall, then make a double chin without the back of your head losing contact with the wall). Then, you can progress to quadruped chin tucks, a drill I learned from Dr. William Brady.  In this drill, you’ll work against gravity as you pull your head into a more neutral cervical spine posture.  Most people will butcher this on their first try by going into hyperextension as they get to the “top” of the movement.

When you get the technique down, you’ll actually notice some crazy soreness along the anterior aspect of your neck in the days that following. We usually go with sets of 5-6 reps and a 2-3 second hold at the top of each rep.

4. Go with a 2:1 pulling-to-pushing ratio.

This is a recommendation you see quite a bit, but nobody really talks about how to “smoothly” apply it to a weight training program.  Here are a few approaches I’ve used in the past:

a. Simply add an extra pulling exercise on the end of a day’s session.

b. Pair a bilateral pulling exercise with a unilateral pressing exercise – and do “halves” on each pressing set.  In other words, if I was doing 6×6 chest-supported rows (CSR) with 3×6/side 1-arm incline DB presses (IDP), here’s how I’d set it up: CSR, IDP-right, CSR, IDP-left, CSR, IDP-right, CSR, IDP-left, CSR, IDP-right, CSR, IDP-left.

c. Make the pulling exercises in your program the A1, B1, and C1 options, with the pressing as the A2, B2, C2.  And, simply have an extra set of each of the pulling exercises – meaning you just don’t return to the pressing exercise for a last set.  This might work out as more of a 3:2 pulling-to-pushing ratio, but you can always tack an extra set or two on at the end to make it work.

I’ll be back soon with more strategies for correcting bad posture, but in the meantime, I’d encourage you to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance at www.ShoulderPerformance.com, as this resource features loads of postural correction strategies to complement the ones featured in this series.

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28 Responses to “Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture: Part 1”

  1. Tracy Ryckaert Says:

    Eric
    I was excited to find the title of, Strategies for Correcting Bad Posture in my email box this morning. I have been a fan of your functional approach to rehab and conditioning over the past year, and was quick to open this email. However, I have to admit my disappointment in the content of this article. I expected a guaranteed analysis of the thoracic spine and posterior pelvic tilt as being the culprit of a forward head, but only found encouragement to strengthen the small neck stabilizers, when it is the faulty movement patterns below the cervical spine that leave stress at the neck as a compensation. Chase down the big guys at the hips and thoracic spine and the cervical spine will fall where it is supposed to.

  2. Clement Says:

    Thanks for the informative article, Eric. Although my posture isn’t too bad, it can’t hurt to have more mobility and pull more.

  3. Eric Cressey Says:

    Tracy, sit tight. It’s a three-part series. ;)

  4. Ronell Says:

    Just dayam! I needed this one.

  5. Jon Says:

    Is this shoulder series advertised, relate to bad posture issues or is it more geared to athetes who do a lot of throwing? Also, in relationship to posture, would it be more helpful than the series of \"Building a more Efficient Athlete\".? Thanks.

  6. John Says:

    Nice start, will be looking forward to the other parts. I just bought a suspension trainer. Would it be too much to do some ligher pull work every day with it to help with posture issues?

  7. Jamie Says:

    I also use the deep neck flexor exercise in the video (I picked it up from Dr. Donald Murphy). It is amazing how much difficulty people have with it!

    Looking forward to the rest of this series.

  8. Natalie Says:

    I found this article very insightful, concise. Hips and thoracic spine may be sort of glossed over, but they’re not omitted – see tips 1,2,&4. Anyway, not only posterior pelvic tilt causes forward head posture – and I would rather see glossing over than oversimplifying. I appreciate tip/reminder #3, because no, everything doesn’t magically fall into place for those in that situation, stuck in forward head posture. Need both the whole picture – of actually doing your rehab work – and finer details such as neck posture.

  9. Natalie Says:

    I found this article very insightful, concise. Hips and thoracic spine may be sort of glossed over, but they\’re not omitted – see tips 1,2,&4. Anyway, not only posterior pelvic tilt causes forward head posture – and I would rather see glossing over than oversimplifying. I appreciate tip/reminder #3, because no, everything doesn\’t magically fall into place for those in that situation, stuck in forward head posture. Need both the whole picture – of actually doing your rehab work – and finer details such as neck posture.

  10. Callie Durbrow Says:

    Great article! People are just so used to hearing “sit up straight and it’ll resolve itself”, it’s great to hear there are things you can actively do to correct this.

  11. Carson Boddicker Says:

    Eric,

    Nice post. Since I’ve begun my manual therapy training, I’ve realized how much more quickly we can create an orthotropic response. As to the c-sx, I’ve had some very good success utilizing the “packed neck” position and simply reinforcing it throughout training in “regular” exercises.

    Regards,
    Carson Boddicker

  12. Eric Cressey Says:

    Shouldn’t be a problem to do some light stuff on a daily basis, John.

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jon,

    It’d definitely help you if you want to learn more about the postural side of things. Both OSP and BTEA are good bets, but OSP is a bit more up to date.

  14. Vancouver BC Personal trainer Says:

    Cant wait to come back and read the next 2 parts. I like the Walking spider, I am going to be adding that into those who need it. Love the Blog great info! thnks

  15. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Some greati tips here Eric, thanks.

    I’m doing a quick mobility ircuit (5-20 min) every morning, in addition to my warmup before traning (4+ days a week)

  16. NICK Says:

    ERIC, GOOD STUFF BRO! I HAD C5/C6 fusion & shoulder imping surgery 4 yrs ago.I’ve used all ur protocals & now am on month number two in show & go..Before all my injuries i max deadlifted 505lb. two weeks ago with the show & go training and ur ideas i maxed out at 565lb. no pain & working right thanks again…psara

  17. Ronni Says:

    Looking forward to trying this. i have had muscle imbalance from my neck to my feet on the left side and it is making my workout recovery miserable.
    Thanks for this valuable information! rm

  18. James Nonnemacher Says:

    Here’s a problem I have….an 85 year old client who has a posture that is both flexed to the right and forward; no history of stroke or TIA or any other neurological issues. When I cue him to stand straight he can, but he lapses back to his “normal” posture as soon as he’s not reminded.

    I’ve been having him do exercises to try and stengthen the back, doing shrugs with weight in the R hand only.

    Actually thought of having him crawl on the floor as in an attempt to reprogram his posture.

    So my point here is, Eric, your articles are great for people that are mobile, young, and have issues that we can address with any number of tools in our tools box, but does the same apply to someone like I’ve just described?

  19. Kris Says:

    I’ll be sure to make these adjustments, thanks for the reminder in this week’s newsletter! This post reminded me of your other article about good stiffness. Assuming all else is equal (form, training intensity, etc,)if I’m trying to correct kyphosis, should I use higher or lower reps to promote positive stiffness?

  20. Tim Peirce Says:

    Thanks Eric. I like the simplicity of adding an extra set to the pulling exercises. I’ve found that my “pulling” stuff can tolerate more of a beating anyway. Do you think that that tends to be true for everyone?

  21. Eric Cressey Says:

    Yes, Tim; definitely.

  22. Eric Cressey Says:

    James – tough one. Really depends on the guy. However, check out http://www.posturalrestoration.com and I think you’ll really like what you find.

  23. Eric Cressey Says:

    Kris – generally, higher reps/longer time under tension is a good thing.

  24. Steven Rice Fitness Says:

    Eric, I think you’re right on the money with the emphasis on frequency. Posture is more about habit than strength, and the more often the correct alignment and movement are reinforced the better the success will be.

  25. Priska Says:

    Thanks, Eric. Tried out immediately the chin tuck. Great exercise!

  26. Chris Christensen Says:

    Eric – My suggestion is to avoid a chin tuck or calling it that at all costs. When correcting a postural dysfunction, we want thoracic and cervical elongation. A chin tuck creates translation of the cervical spine – similar to your video in quadruped/or back to wall. Ideally, the cervical spine should not move off of a frontal axis – there should be only a chin nod – with the back of the head elongating to the ceiling as the thoracic spine extends/ribs anchor and the scapulae tilt posteriorly. Even your quadruped example did not fix the excess thoracic flexion – it was a cervical movement – A chin tuck is lower cervical extension and levator dominance – translation is a non-physiological movement pattern and bad to practice. You have the muscle identification right/movement pattern wrong. Overall, your educational pieces are great – I appreciate your efforts to educate the masses. Chris PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

  27. Chris Ogle Says:

    Hi Eric!

    I have been reading through this series and have found it great so far – thank you!

    I have a question though…for someone who has both Lordosis/Kyphosis & Winged Scapula, which would you fix first, or would you do both together?

    Thanks in advance!

    Chris

    P.S if you could please recommend where to find the best information on fixing winged scapula, that would be much appreciated! Cheers :)

  28. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Have you checked out our Assess and Correct DVD set (www.assessandcorrect.com)? It’d be a great fit for you.

    Yes, you’re right; you want to work proximal to distal when it comes to correcting these things. Fix the core, then work your way out to the thoracic spine, scapula, and glenohumeral joint.

    Best,

    EC

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