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The old adage “practice makes perfect” applies to your posture, too.“If you’re training for a sport, you need to practice that sport,” says Justin Strause, P.T., D.P.T., a physical therapist and the clinic director of Apex Physical Therapy - Emmaus. “Your posture is no different.”And there’s good reason to straighten up: poor posture can have all kinds of physical effects, including headaches; neck pain that may radiate down your arm; shoulder pain, which over the long-term can cause rotator cuff issues, and low back pain.And these ailments aren’t just an old man’s game. Strause says he sees posture problems pop up starting in high school-ers, thanks to all that texting: “Doctors are calling it ‘tech neck’ now.”Even more commonly, pain stemming from a slumped spine hits the desk jockey set—those who sit at work all day.To remedy this, and get in that posture practice, Strause suggests making a point every 30 minutes or so to tuck your chin back, and open your shoulders to get you out of a hunched-over position. A sticky note on your monitor or an iPhone alarm set to sound at regular intervals can help keep you on track.
“Try a lumbar roll, which is a spherical pillow you place right in the curve of your low back,” Strause says. “It gives you not necessarily support, but tactical cues in terms of staying upright. It’s in the low back, but it helps get your shoulders and your neck up as well.”
There are also posture exercises you can work on with a physical therapist, or add to your gym routine on your own. Below, Strause explains his favorite.
Prone T's and Y's on a Stability Ball
Strause suggests adding this move as part of your warm-up before an upper body or back day at the gym. You’re helping your posture, strengthening your core (thanks to the exercise ball), and “you’re priming under-activated muscles for the bigger, more complex lifts in the workout ahead,” Strause says.
Directions: Perform three sets of 15 T's, followed by three sets of 15 Y's
1. Lie with the stability ball on your stomach, facing the floor with your arms stretched out wide so your body forms the letter “T.” Keep your feet on the floor—the wider apart they are, the easier it will be to maintain balance.
2. With your thumbs pointed toward the ceiling, pinch your shoulder blades and lift your thumbs up, engaging your middle and lower trapezius muscles (the upper back and shoulder blades—shoulder blade stability is a key marker of healthy posture, Strause says).
3. Keep lifting your thumbs (with your arms straight) until you’ve gone through your range of motion.
4. After crossing your T's, perform the same exercise with your arms at a 45-degree angle, with your hands above your head, forming a “Y” position with your body.
You don’t need weights to make this exercise beneficial, Strause says. But once you’ve mastered body weight T's and Y’s, a light set of weights can up the intensity.