how to correct posture

How to Correct Posture With Pilates

Bodies are complex things.

We think of spines as needing to be stick straight, but really they have a slight curve.

In a perfect world, we’d all walk around with a neutral spine and perfect stacked alignment. But that’s not the reality.

Most of us have posture we’d like to change – which thankfully you can do with pilates.

Want to learn how to correct posture with pilates and exercises? Dive into our in-depth guide below.

How Bad Is Bad Posture, Really?

You know having bad posture hurts your back eventually and it can affect your appearance. But are there any long-term health problems with posture?

Absolutely. Having a bad posture hurts just about every process in your body. Have you been feeling a little clogged up intestinally lately? It’s due to you compressing your organs sitting with bad posture.

Does your foot always fall asleep at your desk? That’s a posture issue too. Better posture leads to better circulation, which prevents those dreaded pins and needles.

Pain wise, bad posture can give you back pain, and neck pain, hip pain, leg pain, and even headache. Yes, headache!

This pain or tension from sitting/standing with bad posture reduces your range of motion. That means you can do less than normal when it comes to stretching or exercise.

Aside from that, having bad posture means you may not be working the muscles you think you are when you get to the gym. You may be overbuilding one muscle while completely ignoring the one you really meant to work.

That’s a lot of negative things coming from the way you hold your shoulders and neck when you sit. Want to make it better? It’s not impossible.

It will take some work though. Check out the next section to learn what kind of posture problems are unique to you.

How to Assess Your Posture

We all have a posture, right now, reading this. The posture of a desk/computer worker is going to be different than that of someone who carries heavy things all day. Or someone that stands all day at a register.

Your daily activities all add up to a different type of posture. There are four main ones that experts have identified. Keep reading to learn which one is most relevant to you.

Kyphotic Posture

Kyphotic Posture Image
Kyphotic Posture Image

This is one of the more common posture issues, as it comes from sitting at a desk all day. If you could see an x-ray of this person, you’d see their hips are tilted forward, instead of being in line with the spine.

Speaking of the spine, theirs is mildly s-shaped. The actual bone structure doesn’t change, but the short or weak muscles pull it into a different shape.

Both of these factors lead them to have a range of nasty symptoms like:

  • Constant neck tension, which can leads to migraine 
  • Short  chest muscles 
  • Rounded Shoulders
  • Weak upper back extensors
  • Weak neck flexors

Along with desk workers, we see this posture a lot in cyclists, both indoor and outdoor.

The key to strengthening this type of posture issue is in the next major section.

Lordotic Posture

Lordotic Posture Image
Lordotic Posture Image

This is one of the common faulty posture issues, especially in pregnant ladies. If you could see an x-ray of this person, you’d see their pelvis are tilted forward, and their lower back might be over arch too!

Typical complaints and symptoms for this type of posture will be:

Prolonged untreated Lordotic posture will lead to compensation in spinal alignment, resulting in Kyphosis Lordosis Posture.

Flat Back Posture

Flat Back Posture Image
Flat Back Posture Image

From the side, someone who has flat-back posture looks better aligned than someone with the previous posture type. 

But, they’re still not walking around with a neutral spine, which is the goal. Flat back posture is common among people who lead teams or spend a lot of time on their feet. Think about the posture of a trying-to-seem-powerful CEO.

It’s an over-exaggeration of good posture. 

Flat back posture is characterized by:

  • Short and tight upper abs
  • Short hamstrings
  • Long/weak hip flexors
  • Hyperextended knees

To fix flat back posture, you want to strengthen the hip flexors and loosen your hamstrings. Open the muscles through the chest to loosen the muscles around the ribs.

Swayback Posture

Sway Back Posture Image
Sway Back Posture Image

This is the opposite of flat back posture, where the rib cage shifted backwards while pelvis is shifted forward.

Breathe out of your nose really hard. See how your chest goes in and back a little bit? That’s what swayback posture looks like all the time.

When someone’s in this posture position, it means they have:

  • Head might be shifted forward 
  • Weak upper back extensors
  • Weak neck flexors
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Weak upper back extensors
  • Weak lower abs but strong upper abs
  • Short internal obliques
  • Short hamstrings
  • Hyperextended knees

That’s a pretty intense list of symptoms comparing to other postures!

Postural Scoliosis

Postural Scoliosis Image
Postural Scoliosis Image

All of our other posture alignments have been viewed or assessed from the side. But this issue is viewed from the back.

Do you have a heavy handbag or do you always carry a small child on one hip? Do you tend to rotate the spine to one side, or maybe you have a preferable sleeping position turning to either side? This habit will pull the spine toward the over-used side.

It leads to:

  • Spinal rotation and sideway bending
  • Bulge on the back
  • Uneven shoulder height 
  • Unevenly pelvis rotation 
  • A shorter leg
  • One hip higher than the other (Hip-hiking)

Do you always get blisters on one foot but not the other? That’s a sneaky sign you’re suffering from this postural issue. This one is one of the harder ones to work through, too.

If you do notice it – take some weight out of your handbag. Switch dominant hips if you carry a child or let them walk more. You want to work on strengthening your other side.

Other less common alignment problems are military back posture (where the pelvis tips back) and forward head.

The Ideal Posture

Now that you (maybe) feel bad about your alignment, want to figure out what the correct posture looks like?

Follow these steps.

  1. Stand up straight and loosen up your body. 
  2. Place your feet under your knees and keep your knees straight, without locking them out.
  3. Then balance your weight by swaying back and forth gently until you find the middle.
  4. Pull up from your belly button and feel your pelvic muscles engage. 
  5. Roll your shoulders backand allow your chest to drop.
  6. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and let them settle into a relaxed place.
  7. Finally, look straight ahead and think about the top of your ears reaching for the sky.

Once you do all that, you should look “stacked” if someone were to x-ray you.

Your ankles would be directly under your knees, which would be under your hips. Your hips are directly under your shoulders, which are directly under your ears.

That’s the perfect posture with a neutral spine, which will restore harmony to your body.

Use Reminders

Before we talk about fixing common posture issues with pilates, let’s talk about how to remember to work on your posture.

Do you know those colored garage sale stickers? Place them around your home. Every time you notice one, check in with your posture and realign.

How to Correct Posture with Pilates

Doing consistent pilates, in general, will help your posture by strengthening your core. But there are specific poses and moves that treat different muscle groups.

Some are better suited with those what have this postural issue or that one – while others help everyone.

We’ll start with the generic helpers below.

Pelvic Tilt (Imprint)

Pelvic-Tilt (Imprint) Image
Pelvic-Tilt (Imprint) Image

Stand against a wall with your legs under you and your feet evenly planted. Find a neutral spine and then relax your pelvis.

For each rep, use your abs to pull your pelvic bone up and back, like you were trying to touch your belly button to the wall.

This strengthens your core and lower back, which keep the lower portion of your spine aligned.

Plank Pose

Plank-Pose Image
Plank-Pose Image

There’s not much a plank can’t do or strengthen. Along with the push up (which is just a plank in motion), it’s the only complete full-body exercise.

Your goal with plank practice is to strengthen your core – but it also helps you find a neutral spine and to maintain and neutral spineIf you have issues with ribcage or pelvic rotation, this is an especially good exercise to work with.

The Roll Up

Roll Up Image
Roll Up Image

Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your hands above your head, without excessively shrugging your shoulders.

Then, using your abs and keeping your feet on the floor, roll your back off the floor and reach  your hands to your toes. You should look like a very tight U-shape from the side.

This move strengthen your abdominal muscles and lengthens your back muscles. It massages your spine as you roll up and down, mobilizing spinal fluid.

Pilates for Postural Issues

Remember the posture issues we cited above? We’ll start with Kyphosis – which is “desk worker” posture. Your goal to fix this is to strengthen the front body and open up your chest.

Try Plow with an extension or Front Rowing Exercises, both on the reformer.

If you have the Lordosis part of this posture as well (a curve in your lower back that makes your butt stick out) you’ll need to loosen your hip flexors and strengthen your hip extensors.

Doing classic hip flexor stretches should help solve this problem, as well as hip lift exercise, commonly known as “Bridging“.

Flatback Posture Fixes

For people that have an overly-exaggerated straight spine posture, it’s all about strengthening the bottom half. You want to work on your glutes, inner thighs, and outer thighs.

Concentrate on stretching out and loosening your hamstrings as well. Tight hamstrings are one of the leading secret causes of lower back pain (did you know?)

Swayback Posture

For this posture fix, you want to concentrate on pilates moves like the Swan Dive or Bend & Stretch. These moves also increase upper back spinal mobility, and strengthen the lower abs.

Work on strengthening your neck and upper back, and stretching out your hamstrings.

Postural Scoliosis

The first thing that will help with this postural issue is taking the strain away from the “weighted down” side. That side needs stretching, while the other side needs to work on strength. You may watch this video for a thorough guide.

Both sides, however, could use some lengthening, you may start off with the simplest spinal mobility exercises like “Cat Stretch”.

Swimming exercise is a good starter exercise for lengthening and building even strength in the back muscles (Make sure spine stay in straight line from top view)

Moving Forward and Straightening Up

In a strange way, postural problems are like addictions. The first step is realizing you have a problem and finding where it manifests.

Then, you have to become aware of what you do throughout the day that leads to that outcome.

You may not be able to get to more than two or three pilates classes a week – but even that will help.

You can even work one on one with a teacher and ask them how to correct posture issues you’re facing.

Stick with it and do your exercises, and you’re on your way to the better posture and strained-free spine.

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