Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
Good posture is the foundation for effective exercise, while poor posture can be a recipe for disaster. As the years creep up on us, we can lose strength and start slumping more as we sit and as we stand.
One of my clients was a politician who had a severely slumped upper back. It didn’t help that he was always texting on his cell phone, so his head was tilted downward most of the day. Then, when he spoke to someone or looked at a computer screen, he lifted his head up with the slumped back. He complained of neck pain and should discomfort. This condition of a slumped back, rounded shoulders, with the head jutted forward while looking up, is commonly known as upper crossed syndrome. The symptoms only gets worse if we’re not consistently exercising to prevent it.
When we first met, I told him, “Standing like that, you look like a weasel.” He didn’t look too pleased and I thought I was immediately fired. Then I said, “If you stand up straight, you’ll look like a million dollars.” That saved the relationship. Then I added, “Plus, you’ll get a heckuva lot more votes in the next election!” That immediately got his full attention and off to work we went.
Upper crossed syndrome is characterized by several issues. Tightness in the rotator cuff and pectoralis minor muscles, which round the shoulders and pulls them inward. Tightness in the upper traps and levator scapula pulls the head upward when the back is slumped. Weakness in the neck flexors make it harder to pull the chin down. And lastly, weakness in the lower traps, serratus anterior, and rhomboids (in the mid and upper back) pull the shoulders back and keep the scapula in place.
For my client, we did several stretches and exercises. One that was effective for his rounding shoulders was to do a pull apart with an exercise band. To start, grab a light resistance band, holding on to each end. Raise your arms slightly below shoulder height at a 45-degree angle (hands should be about three to four feet apart), as if they were laying on a tabletop. Keep your shoulders nice and relaxed, then pull your hands apart as far as you can with your palms facing the floor. When your hands have pulled all the way back, squeeze your shoulder blades together. This exercise strengthens your rhomboids, your serratus anterior, and pulls your shoulders back.
To engage and strengthen the lower traps, there’s a slight variation. Go back to the starting position and pull your hands apart, just slightly more than a 45-degree angle. However, this time raise your arms upward toward the ceiling, as high as possible, into a Y position. This action helps to pull the scapula downward, forcing you to stand up straighter, which helps with the rounding of the upper back.
Aside from sitting and standing up straighter as much as possible, try this exercise three to four times per week. On each occasion, do 3 sets of 10 reps. With each rep hold your finishing position for about three to four seconds for maximum contraction to feel the squeeze.
After working on this with my client for about a month, his neck pain started to subside and we could see improvement with his posture. When dressed in a suit and tie he looked more powerful—like a winner. That work really paid off when he won his next election.
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