Stand Tall

We work hard on our beautiful bodies all year long: toning, shredding, sculpting, sweating. It would be a shame to hide all that effort by walking around staring at the ground with a hunched back. So let’s stand tall and proud this year!

Since I’m a Pilates teacher, you would expect that I have magnificent posture at all times. But, just because I instruct others on the meaning of spinal integrity, it doesn’t mean it has always come naturally to me. As you age, the body starts playing little tricks. Luckily I’m just as tricky — I have many exercises in my rolodex to fend off the forces of gravity.

In addition to aging, new challenges continue to arise that test our alignment, core, and back strength. Jobs at a desk, excessive staring at the computer for hours on end, not stretching, and our devices — to name a few.

The good news: you’re never too young or too old to start improving your posture. Here are 5 tips to help you stand tall this year.

1. Strengthen your core.

At the core of strong posture is abdominal awareness. By mindfully pulling your navel in and back towards your spine, lifting your chest, and rolling shoulders back and down, you’ll create length in your torso and carry yourself taller. Abdominal exercises like planks target arm and back muscles, simultaneously strengthening your stomach and getting you one step closer to a more organized vertebra.

2. Row, row, row.

The pulling motion of rowing helps counteract rounded shoulders. Back muscles like rhomboids and lats as well as biceps and rear delts are all utilized in this action — so you’ll strengthen and sculpt while you correcting any curves in the front of your shoulders. How it works: Seated or bent over with a flat back and slight bend in knees. Use dumbbells or an exercise band. As you pull elbows behind your waist, roll your shoulders back and down squeezing shoulder blades together like your about to grab a pencil with your scapula. 10-15 reps/3 x’s.

3. Incorporate hyperexension.

You’ve likely done Sun Salutations in Yoga class standing up, but performing this action lying down will increase the force of opening your chest. The hyperextension you’ll achieve from this position will help strengthen lower and upper back. Lie face down. Squeeze inner thighs together. Arms overhead, resting forehead on your mat, so your neck remains straight. In one motion lift your chest and let your head and neck follow without hyperextension (no wrinkled neck). While lifting shoulders and chest off floor circle your arms down towards your hips, palms facing body. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 x’s.

4. Stretch it out.

Tight pecs can be the culprit for rounded shoulders, so stretching them out can really help with your posture. At home stretch: Use any open door frame and positions arms like you would do a shoulder press, with palms and forearms against the frame. Let gravity gently take you forward and hold for 10 seconds. Take a small towel and grip at either end, so it’s still slightly slacky. Hold arms out in front of your chest. Start raising arms up and over your head, at the same time pulling the towel tighter, so it’s pulled all the way taught. Then slowly increase your angle keeping arms above your head and rotating them behind your ears. This can be done as a stretch, or you could grab a couple of light dumbbells, lie on your back, and you turn this into a Lat Pullover exercise. Pull navel to spine, making a pelvic tilt to anchor your low back to the floor.

5. Build shoulder strength.

A great exercise for shoulder strength is Tri-Pod Flys. How it works: Using an exercise band gets on hands and knees Hold one end of the band. Knees hip wide, with your back in table position. Grab another end of the band with opposite hand, a slight bend in the elbow. Extend arm laterally up to shoulder level, being mindful not to rotate shoulder and chest. Use the resistance in both directions, so the band stays taught. You can make the intensity greater by choking up on the band. Repeat on other side. 10-15 reps. 3 x’s.

Exercising to improve your stature can be uncomfortable in the beginning. The temporary discomfort is worth the incredible reward of a healthy and active body. You can adjust your alignment, it’s going to take some effort, but you got this! Be patient, stay committed and consistent with your posture practice and by 2018 you may not just be celebrating a New Year, but also a taller bod!