“What is the most effective posture tip you give clients?"

Jan 19, 2015

Tricks of the Trade

This is the tip I give clients: Picture a string pulling your head up toward the ceiling. This helps to create space between the vertebrae; when you relax, the spinal segments can then realign.

My favorite way to teach proper posture is to have people close their eyes and slowly tip their spine forward and back and side to side to find their true “good posture.”

Everyone’s spine is slightly different, and mirrors can only get us so far. Real posture is found within each person through body awareness.

Beverly Hosford
Fitness Professional and
Anatomy Educator Bozeman, Montana

Many clients develop poor posture because they sit at a desk for most of the day. To educate our clients on ideal posture, we teach antisitting tips that clients can easily integrate into their daily activities. Here are three suggestions we use:

Forward-head posture. Thanks to computers and smartphones, many clients suffer from the harmful effects of forward-head posture, or “goose-neck posture.” We cue our clients to align their ears with the tops of their shoulders to combat this common dysfunction.

Thumbs pointing forward. This is a quick assessment of upper-back and shoulder position. In a seated posture, the sitter tends to have thumbs facing the thighs, with the shoulders elevated and protracted. For correct posture, the thumbs should be facing forward, and the shoulders should be depressed and slightly retracted.

Get up and move! This is a simple way to bring balance back to the body. We develop strategies to get clients out of their chairs to walk and stretch. Recommendations include setting an hourly alarm to stand up, going for a walk during lunch break, or setting a daily step count (e.g., 10,000 steps/day).

These tips are part of a larger message that we send: prevention. Debilitating pain is inevitable if poor posture goes unchecked. On the flip side, these simple tips can have a profound impact on our clients’ health.

Ryan Burke
Director of Staff Development,
One on One
State College, Pennsylvania

I give clients these suggestions to consider outside of their workout session (when most people tend to pay more attention to their posture):

  1. Note how balanced your muscles feel in relation to each other. Top to bottom, side to side and front to back. Do you feel one side of your body working more than the other? If so, what adjustment can you make to feel more 360-degree, balanced muscle action?
  2. Look for easy ways to adjust your physical environment to promote better posture automatically. For example, while you are in your car, adjust the rearview and side mirrors so that you can see into them properly only when you are seated with good posture. This strategy makes it more likely that you will find yourself in a better position, rather than having to think about putting yourself there.

Our posture is determined by the positions we put ourselves in most often when we are not moving rather than by what we do to correct poor posture, although corrections are important. Paying attention, hour by hour, to how the body is positioned in space and making small adjustments to stay in a more efficient, balanced position will make that position our default posture.

Jonathan Ross
Owner, Aion Fitness
Annapolis, Maryland

The most effective posture tip I give my clients is to be sure to work toward muscle balance and to stretch well each time after they exercise. I also recommend that they understand how muscles work together throughout the entire body and that it is important to train all muscle groups each week—not just the core muscles—to attain good posture.

I encourage my clients to think about how they are positioning their bodies, and I remind them that we are often sitting forward, reaching forward, walking forward, etc., tightening the muscles in the front of the body (with the exception of the hamstrings, which are tightened by a sedentary lifestyle) and weakening the muscles in the back of the body.

It is this “forward living,” so to speak, that causes postural problems such as forward neck, rounded shoulders and weak lower back. Chest muscles become tight from reaching forward to drive a car, work at a desk and so on. The tight muscles pull the shoulders forward. Also, many people in the gym tend to do “front of the body” exercises, such as chest presses and crunches, that further tighten muscles; soon these people are in pain because of poor posture.

For clients with these types of postural issues, I have them do exercises (e.g., lat pull-down and scapular retraction) to strengthen the upper back and train the shoulders back. I couple this with stretches for the chest and abdominals, and I also teach them to stretch all muscle groups worked after each exercise session. I consider stretching so important that I fit it into every program I design for a client.

I also design each workout to include exercises in all planes of motion, and to work both the agonist and antagonist muscles (i.e., triceps and biceps) in the same workout to ensure they are in balance. I always play to weaker muscle groups or the weaker side of the body, which means that I will use the maximum weight that challenges the weaker side—even if it seems easier to lift on the strong side. This way I can be sure that my clients will always stay in good form and that they will, over time, even out as much as possible.

Proper training is not only about getting stronger; it is very much about getting straighter and balancing muscles so that they work synchronously and painlessly to move the body. Careful observation of how your clients move will help you design the most effective programs for their posture. And teaching clients how to move properly and practice proper movement patterns and stretching exercises will go a long way toward improving their posture and decreasing their pain. They will most certainly thank you for this.

Mary E. Miriani
ACSM Health/Fitness Specialist,
Transfirmations: A Health and Wellness Institute
Naperville, Illinois

I used to dance, and a dance instructor gave me a posture tip that I have passed on to my clients. I have them stand straight with their feet slightly apart and weight equally distributed on both feet. Usually, weight is on their heels. I ask them to shift their weight to the balls of their feet, alleviating the pressure on their lower back. I then ask them to imagine a string pulling their head up toward the ceiling.

Donna Meeker Orourke, MPH
ACE-Certified Personal Trainer
Owner, DMO Fitness
Clifton, New Jersey

Identifying the single most effective posture tip is difficult because I believe that what is considered “most effective” will vary from client to client. My best posture tips incorporate the following components:

  1. physical: stretching, myofascial release and strengthening;
  2. behavioral: changing habits by increasing awareness of one’s posture; and
  3. environmental: ensuring that desks, cars and other equipment (luggage, strollers, workstations, etc.) allow for proper ergonomics.

For example, many of my clients spend much of the day seated at a desk and working at a computer. Improving one’s posture is a learning process that requires replacing old movement patterns and habits with new ones. Initially, this requires increased attention and awareness on the part of the client. For the clients described above, I recommend setting a phone alarm or calendar reminder for a quick posture check every 15–20 minutes throughout the workday. This not only helps to encourage the new, positive habit but also reduces the time spent in a dysfunctional posture.

During the posture check, clients can perform a set of chin tucks; check to see that they are seated with their weight evenly distributed over both hips; stretch the chest; and draw their shoulders down and back. For many clients, this tip is particularly useful during times of stress. I remind clients to be aware of their shoulders “rising toward the ears” and holding excess tension.

In addition to being aware of their own body alignment, clients are asked to identify how their environment affects posture and biomechanics. For example, I make sure we spend time discussing how to evaluate desk ergonomics and how to find practical solutions where needed. Do the client’s feet touch the floor while seated at the desk? Is the seat pan the right size for the user? Are the keyboard and monitor at the appropriate height? Are other frequently used items (phone, calculator, etc.) conveniently located? If the environment does not support proper posture and movement function, it needs to be changed.

Dana Schlossberg Weatherspoon,
MS, MPH
Altair Running & Fitness
Arlington, Virginia

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