10 Things Your Posture Says About Your Health

The crazy things experts can tell about you with one glance
By Linda Melone, CSCS, Prevention

The way you sit and stand reveals more about your body than you'd think. Muscular imbalances, tight areas, and weak spots create a chain reaction throughout your body that manifest in subtle ways. Here are some of the most common body secrets you may be unaware you're giving away.

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1. The clue: slouching
What it reveals: tight hamstrings

Poor posture and slouching at your keyboard when you sit can mean tight hamstrings (the muscles in back of your thighs), says Erika Bloom, founder of Erika Bloom Pilates Plus, NYC. "Your hamstrings attach into your pelvis, so if they're tight, they can pull your sit bones forward and under when you sit, causing your spine to round." Bloom recommends this great new hamstring stretch to allow you to sit up straight with ease.

2. The clue: heavy-looking hips
What it reveals: weak feet

They may sound unrelated, but outer hips that appear to be carrying extra fat may be due to weak feet, says Bloom. "When you drop your arches and collapse into your feet you'll often sink into your hips, too. The tops of your thigh bones move out and forward, actually sitting in the socket differently, and your pelvis sinks down and forward as well." Bloom says this gives the appearance of heavy hips, while also weakening the outer hip muscles, encouraging the issue to continue.

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3. The clue: a protruding lower belly
What it reveals to a Pilates expert: tight lats

If your lats (short for latissimus dorsi, large back muscles) are tight, they can cause your torso to compress and your spine to arch, says Bloom. "This moves all of your insides forward, giving the appearance of a 'poochy' belly. Simply stretching your lats can do wonders for realigning your torso for a leaner look." Try this stretch: Stand in a doorway and bend to the right, reaching your left arm overhead to hold onto the door frame. Lean your weight to the left to deepen the stretch while breathing deeply.

4. The clue: protruding belly
What it reveals to a fitness pro: weak core, overarching back

If you cut out the ice cream and stretch your lats and still notice a puffed-out belly, your core and lower back may be weak, which allows your midsection to hang out, says Joel Harper, a celebrity trainer in NYC. Harper recommends alternating an abdominal exercise (like a plank) with a lower back exercise (such as a back extension). "Practice pulling in your stomach from your shirt while going through your day, too," he says.

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5. The clue: a butt that droops
What it reveals: weak back muscles

Trouble filling out the back of your jeans? If your butt is flat or sags, it could be from weak deep core muscles, particularly the deep back muscles called multifidi, says Bloom. These deep core muscles stabilize the spine to give your low back a slight, natural arch forward, and also rotates your pelvis out of a posterior tuck. This neutral position is not only healthy for your spine, it has the added bonus of giving one the appearance of a round, perky backside. (Target your butt with these 5 moves to fight gravity.)

6. The clue: one foot turns out
What it reveals: a tight hip

If you feel you're standing straight but notice one of your feet tends to turn outward, your hips may be tight and out of alignment, says Harper. A hiked-up hip requires strengthening the inner and outer thigh muscles (adductor and abductors), making sure to use perfect form. To strengthen outer thighs, try this penguin walk with fitness tubing around your ankles for added resistance. Good inner thigh moves include squeezing a fitness ball or Pilates circle between your knees.

7. The clue: one shoulder higher than the other
What it reveals: muscular imbalance

Carrying a heavy purse or laptop on the same side of your body every day can cause an imbalance where one shoulder appears higher than the other, says Harper. Fixes include shoulder presses and shrugs, and be sure to stretch the tighter side longer, says Harper. One good stretch: Stand in a doorway and place right forearm on doorframe, elbow at shoulder height. Gently press your chest toward the doorway, feeling a stretch in the right side of your chest and shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.

8. The clue: rounded shoulders
What it reveals: a weak chest and overstretched back

Sitting at a desk all day can turn you into a hunchback with rounded shoulders, made worse by a weak chest and an overstretched back, says Harper. Strengthening your chest with push-ups and stretching against a wall can help. Perform push-ups, holding the lower position for one minute (or as long as you can) followed by a chest opening stretch. A good one to try is wall angels: Stand with your back against a wall, feet slightly in front of the wall, shoulder width apart. Bring arms up and out into a goal post position; slowly bring arms up and overhead until fingers touch while keeping elbows against the wall.

9. The clue: forward head
What it reveals: tight, weak neck muscles

Sleeping on too many pillows or poor posture in general can cause this forward head position, says Shaw Bronner PhD, director in the department of physical therapy, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. "Often this indicates tightness in muscles at the base of the skull and in the superficial neck muscles, while deep neck flexors are weak." To begin to correct this, try the chin tuck exercise, demonstrated in this quick video.

10. The clue: standing with one hip dropped
What it reveals: a weak gluteus medius

If one of your hips drops lower than the other when you stand, you may have a weak gluteus medius muscle, a muscle critical for controlling the hip and knee, says Bronner. The side opposite the dropped limb is the weaker side. To fix it, Bronner recommends this move: Lie on your left side with your back against the wall. Make sure your head, buttocks, and heels are touching the wall. With your right (weak muscle) leg in parallel (knee facing forward), push back into the wall as you slide the right leg up the wall. You will feel the muscle along the right side of your pelvis tighten as your repeat the exercise. Repeat 15 times, slowly. Repeat for five days per week for four to six weeks.

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