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Your guide to better posture

Mistakes Active People Make continued...

"You see people on the Stairmaster, and they're usually not aware of their posture. They're often hunched over, their head buried in a book," Olson tells WebMD. This increases an unwanted curve in the spine and places undue pressure on the lower back.

If this sounds familiar, try this the next time you hit the Stairmaster:

  • Slow down the machine to a level where you can comfortably rest your fingertips on the handrails -- don't grip the handlebars,
  • Look straight ahead. If you must read a book or magazine, make sure it's at eye level.

Curved spines abound in yet another popular gym pursuit -- indoor cycling.

"In indoor cycling class, people are often working harder than they should, which is forcing them to hunch over the handlebars," Olson says. She suggests that they slow down to where they can maintain a relatively flat, upright back.

Overworking certain muscles while ignoring others also leads to postural imbalances.

"It's easy to see pectoral and abdominal muscles," Millar says. So people tend to focus on them, but neglect other muscles that help support good posture, like those in the back.

Some sports can also be problematic.

"Golfers often develop imbalances in their torso, because they're constantly swinging from left to right, and that can lead to poor posture," Gorrell tells WebMD. She suggests that golfers compensate by swinging the opposite way twice after hitting the ball.

"Tennis and racquetball also create a bit of a muscular imbalance," she says. Switching the side you hit from can minimize these imbalances.

Posture-Conscious Activities

Some increasingly popular fitness options -- like Pilates, yoga, tai chi, the Alexander technique, and Feldenkrais -- focus on better body awareness, with improved posture being one of their primary benefits.

"People are tired of going for the burn," Breibart tells WebMD. Indeed, last year, IBM Magazine named Pilates the No. 1 trend in the fitness industry. Pilates works to develop a strong "core," or center of the body, by engaging the muscles of the abdominals, lower back, upper leg, and pelvic floor. Pilates instructors often refer to this group of muscles as the "powerhouse."

A strong powerhouse can indeed improve posture and decrease the risk of injury from muscle imbalances. But keep in mind that it's not a good idea to jump right into advanced Pilates moves -- particularly if you're not used to using this group of muscles.

"A progressive program ... with more basic movements would be warranted for some people prior to attempting conventional Pilates exercises," advises Fabio Comana, MS, personal trainer and spokesperson for the American Council of Exercise.

Bottom line, the experts say, is that paying closer attention to your body and its alignment -- however you choose to do it -- will result in better posture.

"You need to find out how the body needs to work," Breibart says. "Posture isn't hard. It's just that we've always ignored it,"

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Reviewed on March 03, 2005

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