30 Days to a Better Man Day 22: Improve Your Posture

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 21, 2009 · 24 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

They are the battle cries of moms and elementary school teachers all over the world: “Sit up straight!” and “Stop slouching!” Despite what our third grade minds may have thought, sitting up straight wasn’t a stress position used to break unruly children. Believe it or not, our parents and teachers had a reason for issuing these demands. They intuitively knew of the health and psychological benefits people with proper posture enjoyed, and they were just trying instill the habit into our young, impressionable minds. To their disappointment, we probably ignored them and went on with our slouching ways.

But today we’re going to redeem ourselves. Today we’re going to improve our posture.

The Benefits of Good Posture

There are several ways that good posture can improve both mind and body. Below we list a few of them:

Improves organ function. When we’re slouched forward, our rib cage is actually pushing down on our internal organs. All this mushing can cause digestive problems. By having good posture, we keep things nice and open for our intestines to do their work.

Reduces tension and pain in neck, shoulders, and back. If you suffer from chronic pain in your upper body, it may be caused by your poor posture. When you first start practicing good posture, you may feel as though you had less pain and tension when you slouched around all day. But keep at it. You’re retraining your body to have the posture nature intended. After a week of strengthening muscles you probably haven’t worked in awhile, your chronic pain should begin to dissipate.

Increases concentration and mental performance. A study done by Colorado College showed that male students with the best sitting posture scored significantly higher on tests than students who slouched. ((http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200710/primarysources/2)) Tomi Ann Roberts Ph.D, lead study author, stated that “an upright posture makes people feel dominant and successful, which in turn improves their ability to relax and focus on problems.” Interestingly, the study showed that only male students benefited academically from improved posture. Good posture didn’t seem to have an affect on women.

Prevents humped shoulders. We often only associate the shoulder hump with little old ladies and Quasimodo. But men can develop a “dowager’s hump,” too. The hump develops through a combination of bad posture and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is common in older women, but men can also see a significant loss of bone mass as they age. You can help stave off the hump by focusing on maintaining good posture throughout your life (and taking a calcium supplement when you get older).

Increases height. Studies have shown that taller men earn more money ((http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/5344766/Taller-men-earn-more-money.html)) and attract more women ((http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-45118/Why-tall-men-children.html)) than their shorter counterparts. That’s not to say if you’re shorter, you can’t make lots of money and be a lady killer. I mean, look at Tom Cruise. But these studies suggest  height is one of the evolutionary factors that we take into account when we size people up. But before you go out and buy some lifts, consider the fact that many men are walking around 1 inch shorter than they actually are due to poor posture. While sitting up straight won’t turn you into LeBron James, it will at least maximize your God-given height.

Moreover, maintaining good posture while you’re young can help mitigate the height shrinkage that occurs in many elderly people. Allowing you to see over the wheel of your Cadillac well into old age.

Prevents “beer belly.” Have you ever seen those old men who have super skinny legs and arms, but then a small or sometimes huge beer belly? Well, there’s two factors at play here. First, as we age, our metabolism slows down, and as men, we store more fat in our bellies. This factor can be mitigated by proper diet and exercise. The other factor is- you guessed it- posture. As mentioned above, bad posture causes your rib cage to push down on your organs. Your organs are surprisingly malleable and will consequently protrude out and push against our abdominal wall. We see the effects of this pushing in our little Buddha Bellies. By standing and sitting up straight, we can help mitigate our beer bellies. You can truly take some inches off your waist just by practicing good posture. Beats doing sit-ups. Just kidding. But seriously. I hate sit-ups.

Increased confidence. Remember that Colorado College study we mentioned above? It also said that improved posture increases confidence in men. So next time you’re about to go into a job interview or are about to talk to a woman for the first time, stand up a little straighter to increase your manly swagger.

What Is Good Posture?

posture4.jpg Contrary to your third grade teacher, good posture does not require you to look like a stiff piece of board. Good posture involves having a relaxed appearance and a “neutral spine.” A neutral spine retains three natural curves: a small hollow at the base of the neck, a small roundness at the middle back, and a small hollow in the lower back. Many people overcompensate for bad posture by standing too straight, thus eliminating the natural curves of the spine.

When our posture is correct, the ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should align in one straight line. To give you a mental image of what good posture looks like, imagine hanging a  plumb line from your earlobe.  If your posture is correct, the line would hang straight to the middle of the anklebone.

If you’re not a mental imagery kind of guy, perform this “wall test.” Stand with head, shoulders, and back against the wall and your heels about 5-6 inches forward. Draw in the lower abdominal muscles, decreasing the arch in your lower back. Push away from the wall and try to maintain this upright, vertical alignment. That’s good posture.

Posture While Standing

posture1.png

1. Feet should be shoulder width apart, thigh muscles elongated without locking the knees back. Maintain most of your weight on the balls of your feet and not on your heels. When you put your weight on your heels, you create misalignment with your body. A quick test to see if your weight is properly distributed is to have someone gently push on your sternum. If you lose balance easily, then your weight is on your heels. Now try putting more of your weight on the balls of your feet and have someone push you again. You’re probably more stable this time because your body is better aligned.

2. Maintain a small hollow in your lower back, but avoid the tendency for too much arching or leaning back, especially with prolonged standing. The “tail” should remain slightly tucked down.

3. Lift your chest. Your shoulder blades should move down and back. This will create a good distance from your hip bone to your rib cage.

4. Make your chin level. The highest point of your body should be the top back region of your head. Relax your jaw and neck muscles.

5. Perform the wall test if needed to ensure your posture is good.

Posture While Sitting at a Desk

posture2.png

1. Feet should be resting on the floor with knees and hips bent 90 degrees. While it may seem more comfortable to cross our feet, this actually screws up our body’s alignment and causes unneeded stress on joints and muscles.

2. Maintain an arch in the lower back. If you are unsure how much arch is “good,” go from a slouched position up to the extreme end range of erect posture. Now back off 10-15%. This is the neutral position for your lower back.

3. Lift your chest. Picture a string tied to the 2nd or 3rd top button on a shirt pulling straight up to the ceiling.

4. Make your chin level. If it helps, picture a book on your head. The highest point of your body should be the top back region of your head.

5. Avoid slouching or leaning forward, especially when tired from sitting in the office chair for long periods.

6. Take frequent breaks. At first, trying to sit up straight in a chair can be tiring. After years of slouching, your body has probably created a new “bad” posture for itself, and it’s going to take some work to get it back to the way it should be. Take it slow from the beginning. Sit straight for 20 minutes and get up and take a break. Walk around, reach your hands towards the sky, and stretch. Sit down again and get back to work. Take another break 20 minutes later.

Keep Your Posture in Check

Maintaining good posture is definitely not easy. We can’t be thinking about it all the time. We may start off the day sitting upright, but a little while later, we’re lost in our work and slouching down. Here’s a easy way to remind yourself to work on your posture:

1. Tie one end of a string to the top button on your shirt.

2. Tie the other end of the string to your belt buckle, so that the string is taut when you’re sitting upright.

3. Whenever the string goes slack, you know you’re slouching. Sit up and restore your good posture.

Any other posture tips? Share them with us. Also, be sure to share your day of practicing good posture with us in the Community.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bob Iger June 22, 2009 at 12:58 am

Thank God my parents already learned me how to sit up and stand up straight. At times I still need to remind myself and that’s why I like this article. Straightening one’s posture can make the difference between being perceived as a slouch or a man.

2 Mark June 22, 2009 at 1:47 am

This is a great entry – something I wasn’t quite expecting to see on the list, but something that I’m a big supporter of. I wear suspenders nearly every day (at least, when jeans aren’t in the daily order), and I find that these help me maintain a better posture. I’m not sure if it’s the manly effect of being able to stick one’s chest out against the suspenders, but I find that my posture is always at it’s best when I have them to act as a constant reminder.

3 Jim June 22, 2009 at 2:23 am

Guys,

Is there an easy to access index of all the tips to date? I’ve told several freinds about this (after it started) and it’s surprisingly difficult to go back and revisit each day in order.

Did I miss something?

Thanks
Jim

4 Jesvin June 22, 2009 at 2:51 am

There is another wall test to test the flexibility of the back. Stand straight with your back against the wall. Make a fist with your hand. If you can fit that fist in the “arch” of your back, you are inflexible and therefore more susceptible to backaches.

I also had a slouching problem. I managed to control it to an extent. I did exercises to strengthen my abs and glutes(butt). If you have strong abs and glutes, your “course” will be easy: you just have to be conscious of your posture, you dont have to get tired. Squats, planks, burpees etc strengthen the glutes when done in correct posture, stably.

I also touch the floor with my fingertips without bending my knees in the mornings. This helps me during the day.

I personally would call a girl with an upright posture a tomboy. A proper standing posture IS manly. WAY more manly than a beemer SUV that cant clear a pothole!

5 Brian June 22, 2009 at 3:14 am

A memorable posture book from an “expert” during the 1930′s:

http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/Competition/Rodrigues/cp01a.htm

Keep following the “next page” link to see the entire book…

This is found on one of my absolute favorite manly resources, “The Golden Age of Iron Men” – an incredible “online physical culture museum” displaying fitness from a bygone era; other free books found here:

http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/Competition/compindex.htm

Enjoy!

6 ThomsonsPier June 22, 2009 at 3:54 am

Another benefit (hopefully not of use in the real world) is that correct posture enables you to hit harder. Martial arts practitioners spend a huge amount of time developing good posture to prevent energy from being wasted when performing a technique. Deviation from correct posture means that muscles which should be relaxed are instead employed to hold the body up; correcting this enables those muscles to contribute to a good, hard punch. Since I started studying martial arts five or so years ago, my posture has improved a hundred fold. I’m told that Pilates and yoga have a similar effect.

7 Ian June 22, 2009 at 4:40 am

It is always important when discussing posture that the point is to move better. Good posture is good movement.

8 Beat Attitude June 22, 2009 at 8:48 am

suck it in, guys :)

9 Jack June 22, 2009 at 9:22 am

I’ve always struggled with posture. I would always end up in a lot of discomfort if not pain when practicing good posture. I have (had? It doesn’t go away right?) a minor case of scoliosis, I wonder if that has something to do with it.

For a while my mom (and I’m not even sure if this really works) used duct tape to try to force good posture on my by having me put my shoulders back and place a long horizontal piece of tape across my shoulders. Didn’t work : /

10 mike June 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

this is a good article, but it is inadequate in dealing with the problem. your posture is determined by unconscious processes, and cant be fixed by thinking about it and correcting yourself. this works for a few moments, but as soon as you stop thinking about it, your posture returns to whatever it was initially. if you are thinking about it constantly, you can make some improvements, but this is a very inefficient method. if you look at young children, their posture is perfect. they just hold themselves naturally, because they haven’t learnt bad habits or wrong posture.
bad posture is often a result of a lifetime of bad habits. shy people stare at the ground all the time, until their bodies get used to having the head bowed. if you work too much on developing your pectorals, and not enough on your back, it will pull your shoulders together. if you want to correct your this, you would do it through relaxing your pectorals or building up your back muscles. workouts that concentrate on one muscle group can leave us asymmetrical- too many sit ups will shorten our abs, pulling our heads down, because we haven’t balanced this exercise with developing our back muscles.
i guess this is a long winded way of pointing out that the best way to correct posture is not just by telling ourselves to sit up straight. we need to relax over-tensed muscles, develop our bodies symmetrically, and help our bodies to do the right thing automatically. techniques like the alexander method are pretty good at this, and the best thing ive ever discovered on the subject is by a guy called Rob Brinded. he made a pretty interesting program designed to improve guys body language to make them more attractive, and i would highly recommend it. its called code of the natural.

11 Shaun June 23, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Damn, now I have to re-adjust my monitor height..I’m about 5 inches taller than I was a minute a go :)

12 A software engineer June 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Pro tip for good posture, paraphrased from Robert Cohen’s /Acting One/:

In your mind, locate your nipples. Go three inches (7.5cm) straight down from them and find the nearest rib. Imagine a pair of hooks suspended from some wire, pulling up and away from your body at a 45-degree angle. Now you’re sitting/standing up perfectly straight.

See?

Works like a charm for me. Took until my blow-off class senior year of college to finally get some advice on standing up straight that actually works!

Cheers

13 Dennis June 24, 2009 at 9:49 am

My dad taught me a trick for developing good posture years ago. Either standing or sitting, raise your arms out to the side and straight up over your head until your fingers touch. Then lower your arms to your sides, not moving anything but your arms. Now you’re in proper posture.

14 Tess June 25, 2009 at 11:12 am

@ Jesvin
“I personally would call a girl with an upright posture a tomboy.”

You obviously don’t know many true ladies. I don’t know about you, but I never saw Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Michelle Obama, or any other real ladies with anything less than impeccable posture and poise. Upright posture shows that, no matter your gender, you are confident, self-assured, and proud. Correct posture isn’t just for men, it’s for everyone who wants to be their best.

15 Amity August 17, 2009 at 9:10 am

thanks guys, this is helpful.

16 aaron November 11, 2009 at 5:32 am

with all of the calls to improve our posture it is easy to forget what holds us out of posture. over development (shortening) of specific musculature while weakening of others leads us to fight our own muscle length just to sit or stand up straight. massage therapy and physical therapy among others can help us to lengthen the shortened musculature while strengthening the others. siting/standing tall was never so easy as after I had my shortened pecs and abs stretched and my weakened erectors and rhomboids activated by exercise.

17 Joe December 31, 2009 at 11:31 am

Great article! I’ve only just found this blog and gradually working my way through some of the old articles… My wife is always commenting on my posture and I know that it is not good for my health or my image. This is something all good men need to keep an eye on until they strengthen their muscles and no longer need to think about it.

18 Andrew February 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Great article. As a Structural Integration practitioner, I’m very aware of people’s posture and movement. A person’s body language and their movement communicates volumes about their mood, their attitude, their confidence, how they feel about themselves, how they feel about the world, etc… As Martha Graham said, “The body says what words cannot.”

I highly recommend getting some skilled bodywork (ala Rolfing, Structural Integration or some other structurally oriented therapy). If done well, it will increase your awareness of your body and your sense of being comfortable and confident in your skin, which is important for a man. Better posture and more easeful movement will follow. People take note of a man (or woman) who is structurally aligned in a relaxed and grounded way (not in a strict ‘military posture’ or some other contrived way). And on top of that, as the article notes, it improves the natural functioning of your whole system.

19 Natalie December 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

What about simply using a standing or adjustable height desk? You guys had a post about the history of standing desks and their benefits recently– well, posture I think is one of them!
I started using a NextDesk at work about 4 months ago and my posture has gotten so much better– in fact, I didn’t even know it was bad before (it was.)
You guys should give it a gander– and check out the other benefits here on their site: http://www.nextdesks.com/benefits
Thanks for the post, though. I’m going to try some of these (because God knows my posture could still use a little tuning up. I don’t stretch enough.)
NG

20 Tyler Challenor March 1, 2013 at 6:59 am

Hey there , loving these great tips! going right to my living room to try a few :)

21 Alexander Connell March 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

When driving, you can adjust your rear view mirror so you can only see in it if you sit up straight. Ideally, you’ll be checking it every few seconds so it’s a constant reminder not to slouch.

22 Reka Forgach August 2, 2013 at 5:19 am

What a helpful and detailed article! To be honest, I never associated certain things with good posture- most notably the decreasing beer belly and improved height. Great insights! The advice on work place posture was especially salient to the hot topics going around, although I would add a few helpful takeaways to this article. Good posture is not all about sitting down, regular movement and wiggling/stretching isn’t just necessary to adjust, it’s necessary to prevent long-term spinal damage. If you’re interested in exploring these tips a bit further, the Flikli creative team created a really great supplementary video on this very topic! https://vimeo.com/71441709?utm_source=buffer&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer91361&utm_medium=twitter

23 Salman January 9, 2014 at 7:06 am

These are some killer tips to improve posture … I especially liked the string trick that reminds one when he is slouching.

BTW I’d like to know how long does it take to correct improper shoulders? My right shoulder is lower than left !

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