Freeze right where you are and notice the position of your neck, shoulders, hips and lower back. If you can, keep your body in exactly this position and stand profile to a full-length mirror or reflective glass. Notice your tummy in this position.
Now, try this experiment. Take a deep inhale, as you exhale, roll your shoulders back and down, position your head as though you’re balancing a book on it, engage your glutes (butt muscles) so that the front of the pelvis and thighs form a straight line and, finally, engage your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button toward the spine. (If you’re doing this correctly, you can hold this position and breathe normally with very little movement in the stomach.) Now, notice that you appear taller, trimmer and with a smaller belly compared to before. Great posture is nature’s tummy tuck.
But, unless you actively work to strengthen your core – the muscles in the abdomen and back – you can’t have good posture. Even more so if you spend a good part of your days in a seated position. The seated position weakens core muscles. The longer you sit, the weaker they get.
Yet, there’s so much more to great posture than how you look. A strong core and good posture can alleviate or prevent lower back pain – the most common muscular complaint in America. It can also help prevent other common aches and pains in the joints throughout the body.
The reason is the core is responsible for stabilizing the body through every movement. If the core isn’t strong enough to do its basic job of stabilizing, then all movement becomes dysfunctional. Dysfunctional movement leads to muscle imbalances and restriction of range of motion in the joints. Eventually, this can lead to muscle and joint pain and possible deterioration and damage.
The following exercises strengthen the lines of posture. Alternate between Group A and B every day or, if you prefer, perform both groups of exercises every-other-day. For each exercise, perform as instructed, rest for 30-60 seconds, and repeat the exercise a second time before moving onto the next exercise in the group. Static photos of each exercise are shown throughout this post, click on the exercise to link to detailed video and text instructions from ACE Fitness.
- Side Plank: Hold for 20+ seconds on each side
- Bird-Dog: 10-20 repetitions on each side
- V-Ups: 10-20 repetitions
After performing the strengthening exercises, perform the following stretches, hold each for 30 seconds or more. These stretches should also be done throughout the day when taking breaks from sitting.
- Chest Stretch: Stand with feet parallel and hip-width apart. Be sure the spine is aligned with ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees and knees over ankles. Reach straight arms behind you to clasp hands together behind hips. Raise arms high enough to feel a stretch in the chest muscles without pain. If you can’t clasp your hands together, use a belt to bridge the hands.
- Cat-Cow: Hold each pose for a minimum of 30 seconds
- Childs Pose: Breathe deeply throughout
The more you do these strengthening and lengthening exercises for your core, the easier it will become to stand and sit in the proper posture alignment as described in the experiment in front of the mirror.
Of course, these exercises can’t actually make one thinner or lose body fat in the belly area. Nor can they erase an abdominal skin “pouch” left behind by significant weight loss or carrying babies to full term. (By the way, I wish we’d all sport those pouches proudly as the badges of honor they are rather than as a shameful burden requiring a surgeon to rid one of it.) But, having a strong core and good posture does allow you to put your best foot forward, or best tummy forward, if you will. And that’s healthier and a lot less painful and expensive than any tummy tuck.