Strong Back and Improved Posture

Proper Posture and Strength

You need to have sufficient strength in order to have good posture.  Many people put the cart before the horse.  Here I am referring to thinking that you just need to work on your posture.  How many times have you seen people (most of us) just try to sit better and in seconds to minutes find ourselves back to a comfortable slouch.  Ouch!  On the other end of the spectrum there are many who are really strong and their posture is abysmal.

We need to work on this from many perspectives.  Here we will start with assuming that you want to improve your ability to sit better and longer (with less pain and discomfort–looking beautiful, etc).  Alright, once you have a goal that will allow you to train this aspect, we can start.

Problems

  • We complain of back pain when sitting
  • We often do not have the muscular strength and endurance to sit properly.
  • We often over correct at the thoraco-lumbar region (the area where the rib spine meets the lower back)
  • We don’t have the proper guidance for proper sitting
  • We do not practice regularly

One of the biggest problems and complaints that I hear regularly about sitting–is the discomfort one gets from trying to maintain the proper position.  This is certainly true for those doing sitting meditations.  This group of folks usually know that proper sitting will allow them to breath properly with the diaphragm.  Good, deep diaphragmatic breaths will allow the body and mind to begin to settle down.  Good posture definitely facilitates this diaphragmatic style of  breathing.

Those not meditating can still benefit greatly by taking a very similar approach.  If the spine is erect and the shoulder and pelvic girdles and associated limbs are positioned well, it is much easier to have a sense of ease in this position.  You will find that the better that your body alignment is the better and more comfortably you can sit.

We can find out how to sit better.  There are many pictures of the ideal out there.  But sitting is a very dynamic activity.  The body that cannot sustain the activity returns back to it’s default posture of usually being slumped.  Then we often try to correct our sitting by straightening our spine from the mid to low back region.  This over activates the back extensor muscles that many complain of during their good intended corrections.

Strengthening the Upper Back

There is a video below that will go into a bit of the detail to help with strengthening this upper back area.  I often teach someone to work with a pivot prone or candelabra position or simple called the New York position.

This exercise with a mini-band is quite helpful.  The one thing that is good here, is that the mini-band can travel easily with you in a pocket, bag or purse.  Frequent use of it is helpful in retraining the movement pattern.  What I have found is that people still are way too weak in the upper back area to help in postural retraining.  The following video is another way.  I also have been using these 40 inch long and 1/2 inch wide cords for a pretty good test of the upper back.  It allows me to standardize what I expect now with most people.

In the video you will see this pulling apart motion of the band.  Watch carefully the testing protocol.  It is simple, but do not re-grab the band in a different way.  It is the wrapping of the band around the thumb and hand that really asks for a lot of external rotation and scapular stabilization.  This position is with the arms away from the body.  I am finding so many people are extremely weak in this pulling motion.  They all are so much stronger in the pulling motions that mimic a row.  Rowing strength does not seem to be a correlate for proper upper back strength in posture.  Remember the the lats are internal rotators of the arm.  If you row, you get better at rowing type movements.  Proper posture of the upper back requires external rotation of the upper arm and strong and enduring scapular stabilization.  This means the mid and lower trapezius fibers and rotator cuff must be activated in a particular manner and direction.

Also for you folks who do mainly asanas for your exercise, you really lack pulling strength.  There is an overabundance of forward pressure with the upper body in asanas.  There is an absolute lack of pulling strength in asanas.  (so much for balance, heh)

Of course proper mobilization of the thoracic or rib spine into extension is quite helpful.  Also evaluating for an improper head and neck position is critical.  There is much work to be done.  Remember that strengthening has to be coupled with proper retraining of ones postural habits.  Postural habits can be influence by a large number of other factors to include:  psycho-social, cultural, medical and other biomechanical issues.  Our work has just begun.

Video of Strengthening the Upper Back and Improving Posture

Conclusion

Go have some fun training this upper back area.

I have used many companies to purchase bands from–below is a listing of the three most popular ones I use:

  1. PerformBetter.com—-You should see the Superbands listed–I’d buy 1/2 and 1 inch sizes
  2. ResistanceBandTraining.com
  3. IronWoodyFitness.com

Start your training and let me know how strong you get.  Now if you practice your posture, do you find it much easier to sustain it?   Now that’s skillful training.

Best of efforts–peter

Comments

  1. Good work as always Peter,

    I’d like to ask you one small question on it: what would be the difference between the exercises you show in your video (with the long rubber band) and the one on the photo you have shown before (with the mini band)?

    Can you say more about the difference in the muscle activation and benefits between the to versions and what would be the difference between doing with bent elbows (mini band and straight elbows (long band)?

    Perhaps you could have a future post on the differences and on which different types of condition both can help relieve.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Pierre

      Thanks for the question and suggestion

      Both exercises are emphasizing the pulling musculature of the upper back.

      The bent arm version with keeping the forearms vertical (critical relationship) is very helpful for stabilizing with the rotator cuff and working the the depressors and retractors of the shoulder blade–so the rhomboids are very active here.

      The straight arm version is emphasizing some of the same stabilizers with greater activation of the middle and lower trapezius muscles.

      Also the straight arm version asks for external rotation of the shoulder in a different humeral position–so the fiber directions of some of these muscles are exaggerated in this version.

      They are both very good.

      I am finding that the straight arm version is very weak on most people–most upper backs are not very stable or strong–just look at our postures of the upper body (slumped and rounded forward).

      Let me know what you find in working with these two variations

      best in your training–peter

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