How to Make Good Posture a Habit
October 29, 2018
Our bodies don’t do what we want them to do. They do what we train them to do. Poor posture habits only get worse over time, so it’s important to condition ourselves for better posture and better health.
But changing such habits is difficult. You can learn how to improve your posture with a quick online search, but having the information isn’t enough to change your body. That’s in part why bad posture and back pain are still on the rise.
So why is posture correction so difficult? Because it’s not just a matter of knowledge or willpower—it’s a matter of habit. We can’t will ourselves to sit or stand upright any more than we can will ourselves to run a marathon. We have to train.
If you spend 45 minutes staring down at your phone with a slumped back before you remember to straighten up for a minute, only to sink back down into slouch mode a minute later for another 45 minutes, you’re training your body for slouching.
Your Body Changes Shape
Different parts of your body will literally reshape themselves to match your most common postures and movements. The American Chiropractic Association states that “long-standing postural problems will typically take longer to address than short-lived ones, as often the joints have adapted to your long-standing poor posture.”
Beyond muscles and joints, the quality of your connective tissue, such as your tendons and fascia, also plays a major role in your postural structure. Fascia is a strong, flexible web of mostly collagen that runs throughout your body, under your skin, and around all your muscles and organs, holding the shape of your body like a living wetsuit.
The default shape that it holds changes over time depending on how you use your body. According to fascia experts Robert Schleip, Ph.D., and Divo Muller, “A unique characteristic of connective tissue is its impressive adaptability: when regularly put under increasing physiological strain, it changes its architectural properties to meet the demand.”
What does that mean for you? If you’re a cell phone slumper, you’re going to have a cell phone slumper’s body. If you run a lot, you’ll get a runner’s body. And if you train for good posture, you guessed it, you’ll develop a body that will support good posture without having to think about it all the time.
So how do we train our bodies for good posture?
First, set yourself up for success by starting small. When we get motivated to change something in our lives, we tend to want the results right away. When we don’t get them, we get frustrated and give up, reverting to our old ways.
But retraining long-standing holding patterns in your body can take time. So build momentum gradually, starting with a small, achievable habit that will put you on the path to better posture. How small? As Leo Babauta of the popular self-improvement blog Zen Habits says, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”
Let’s look at a few options.
Counteract Bad Posture With Simple Exercises
Common postural issues from extended screen time include a forward head position and rounded shoulders and upper back. So a great place to start retraining your body is by pulling your chin back and drawing your shoulder blades down and towards each other.
Pick a time and put it in your schedule—maybe right before you start work, or on your lunch break. Eventually, you may want to set aside several times a day.
Also, consider adding posture correction exercises to your workout routine to balance your front and rear muscles and strengthen your core. If you’re not working out regularly, this is a great way to start, because you’ll feel the benefits quickly. Again, start as small as you can reliably stick with, even if it’s just one exercise.
Strike a Pose
As I mentioned, your fascia is an essential part of your posture, so understanding how to mold it into an optimal shape can make a huge difference.
An easy way to start is by simply standing in front of a mirror and holding good posture. Normally, you can’t see your own body from the outside, and even if you think you have good posture, you may be tricking yourself. The mirror doesn’t lie—it will help build your awareness of what correct posture actually feels like and allow you to make minor adjustments in real time.
Start with just 30 seconds or a minute a day and build up to 20 minutes. The 20-minute timeframe is enough to trigger the adaptation ability of your connective tissue, so it will start to remember the shape you want it to hold.
For more ideas about training your fascia, check out this video series from fascia expert Tom Myers.
Get an Ergonomic Office Setup
Work at a desk? Having office equipment that fits your body is essential for good posture. For instance, positioning your monitor at the right height will help train your neck and head to sit comfortably at an optimal angle.
Similarly, matching your keyboard and mouse position with your arm proportions will help prevent you from habitually rotating your shoulders forward, shortening your pectoral muscles, and weakening your upper back.
Automate Yourself Upright
You can also optimize your work or home environment with reminders and gear to help you check and correct your posture.
Post sticky notes with messages like “How’s your neck?” or “Straighten up!” in all the places you spend the most time and do the most slouching,
Use the Pomodoro Method to break work periods into small chunks with micro-breaks, and use each break to perform a posture-correcting stretch or exercise.
Any of these methods or products can help you change your posture—just remember to start small. Change takes time, and it’s better to build a foundation by carefully laying single bricks than dumping a bunch of them into a pile.
So which method are you going to try? Let us know in the comments!