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Improve Your Posture: Upper-Back & Shoulder Strength, Mobility and Stretching 

My new video "Improve Your Posture: Upper-Back & Shoulder Strength, Mobility and Stretching" on Instagram >>

Are you someone who sits a lot at a desk all day for their job or studying? Over time you probably have, or then in the future will notice a gradual increase in pain and tension in your shoulder and neck area. This occurs for several reasons: (1) the hips get tight, which causes tension on the muscle chain which pulls on the neck, (2) when sitting at a computer there is a natural tendency to hunch over and bring the neck and shoulders too far forward and (3) your core muscles become weaker if there is inactivity, which causes you to lean further forward. The ultimate goal here is to help you improve your natural, resting posture and also reduce any pain that is occurring in the neck/shoulder/upper-back region.

There are things you can do throughout your workday to reduce the negative effects. It is important to take short breaks throughout your day to get some fresh air, stretch, move, and get your blood flowing to reduce tension in all areas of your body. Best case scenario would be to move for five minutes every hour, if possible, and then if you can try to take some of your phone calls whilst on the move, whilst walking outside for example, this would be amazing - fresh air and increased blood flow at the same time (bonus!!) Increasing the blood flow will also increase focus and in turn, your productivity, as the amount of oxygen going to the brain is higher, and additionally it reduces the likelihood of headaches.
To complement these in-workday changes, there are also exercises you can do to actively strengthen and stretch the upper-back area, strengthen your core, and loosen your hips, to reduce pain and a deteriorating posture. The upper-back exercises will ultimately open your chest and “pull” your shoulders back to their natural position and offset the hunching. Here are my 3 favourite exercises/stretches that you can give a try:

1. Resistance Band Pulls:

Start by attaching the band around something stable or have someone hold the band for you at around stomach height. Step back to create some resistance (start easy and progress) - you can have a split stance to help create stability and to avoid leaning back and putting pressure on your back. You can think of this exercise as 3 different motions: (1) keep your elbows bent and tucked close to your body and pull back in a rowing motion with your thumbs towards the ceiling, (2) straighten your arms down to your side with your palms facing forward and (3) pull back the band slightly and pinch your shoulders together. Then return to the starting position, by slowly doing the inverse of all three motions and this is one repetition. Repeat 5-10 times if you can and build to more repetitions and increased resistance overtime - this is harder than it looks so do what you can to start with.

2.  Chest Opener Stretch Series:

First, interlace your fingers behind your neck and stand tall (note: do not pull your head and neck forward.) When relaxed and entering the position your elbows should be facing forwards. Now engage your shoulders and pull your elbows back and open the chest - you will feel tightness in your upper back and across your chest. Hold for 1 second, and slowly return to the starting position - repeat 10 times.

Next, transition into the second stretch by standing tall and then interlacing your fingers behind your lower back with your knuckles facing towards the ground, palms together. Pull your shoulder back, and lower your shoulder blades away from your ears, take a deep breath and then slowly raise your arms, turning your elbows inwards as you do so, to bring the shoulders further back. Raise as far as you can to feel a good stretch in your back and chest, hold for 5-10 seconds, relax, and then repeat 5-10 times.  

3. Resistance Band T-Pulls:

Hold a resistance band tightly in front of you at shoulder height, with your arms shoulder width apart. Keep your arms straight, and slowly pull them apart focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together, until you are in a “T-position”, then slowly bring the arms back in front of you. The key is to stand tall, keep your back straight and do not lean back; if you feel any pressure on your lower back you can reduce/adjust your resistance as necessary. Repeat the motion for 10 repetitions, making sure you are breathing correctly- inhale as you relax and exhale as you move through the resistance.

Additionally, you can also try the Cat-Cow Pose >> from one of my previous blogs, which will elongate the spine and increase flexibility in your neck and shoulders.
Finally, as mentioned, your core ultimately holds your body up, so if this weakens over time, it causes you to lean further forward. So, activating and strengthening your core is also important - you can do whichever exercises you personally prefer for this, and optimally you want to be doing a core circuit for 10 mins, 3 times per week or more. First thing in the morning, I also like to open the front chain (hips and stomach), which gets very short when you sit all day and can also slow digestion when you eat, if there is a lot of tension. You can do this by lying over a large inflatable gym ball for a few minutes, which stretches your front and sides, and is a great way to get your body going after sleeping - especially if you are a slow starter in the morning ;). For the front stretch, bend your back over the ball, keep your feet shoulder width apart and stretch your arms to extend stretch, whilst taking deep breaths into the stomach. For the side stretch, you lie on your side across the ball at around hip height and cross your top leg over your bottom leg to anchor and stabilise yourself. When you lie on your right side, reach with your left arm to extend the stretch in your side oblique chain and vice versa when you switch sides. Hold all three of these stretches for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times. 

Nothing in this blog is a “quick fix” and it will take time and effort to improve your posture and ultimately reduce pain/stress on the body from the working habits we have. However, I hope some of these tools can be easily integrated into your workday to at least counteract the negative effects and start you on your journey to a strong posture once again. Not only will making these steps help you feel better, but you will also naturally be more efficient - we can’t always want and expect something from our bodies and minds without giving anything back. Although it's a process, you will see the difference and the journey will be worth it - great posture also represents confidence and self-worth and you can never have too little of that :) 
JG x 

PS. If you haven’t already, I also recommend taking a look at my hip mobility blog >>. These exercises will also help reduce the stress on your back/neck, and counteract the tension caused from lots of sitting.

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Julia Görges


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