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I've been doing kung fu and tai chi for 3.5 years to date which has helped my posture. I can straighten out my back when I stand, but I still collapse my shoulders forwards when I stand because it's so ingrained. I can consciously open that area up (I like to pretend that I'm Superman getting ready to fly), but eventually I want this to become more natural so that I don't have to put in as much conscious effort as I am now.

I'm a programmer by trade spending a lot of time in front of a computer, but I suspect my hunching posture also comes from some self-esteem and psychological issues from being bullied when I was younger.

What are specific things I can do to work on this area? Will lower back exercises or reversing a hunch help? How would mentality come into play in achieving my goal?

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Here's a link to an article on T Nation, titled "Deconstructing Computer Guy". Don't let the horrid site design throw you off because the article is quite good. –  wdypdx22 Mar 24 '11 at 16:24
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Great link @wdypdx22. Here's more on the topic by Eric Cressey. In the "Best of 2010" he has a 4-part series on "Correcting Bad Posture". Love that guy. –  Rhea Mar 24 '11 at 16:31
    
Eric Cressey's stuff is quite good. I have the DVD, "Magnificent Mobility". It helped change my perspective on stretching and flexibility. –  wdypdx22 Mar 24 '11 at 16:33
    
Part 2 of (De)-Constructing Computer Guy...The other 23 Hours... –  wdypdx22 Mar 24 '11 at 16:36

5 Answers 5

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If you have the muscles already developed, then you just need to continue to consciously make an effort to activate them when they should be activated. It sounds like you are also in the third phase of the example that I cited on Dancing and the core. You just need to keep it up so that it becomes second nature to you as well.

I must confess, as a programmer also, I sit in a chair a large portion of my day, and during that time in my chair, I slump a lot. I'm working to correct this, and so every time I realize that I'm doing it, I make a conscious effort to correct it. I've also switched to sitting on an exercise ball the last half of the day as well. It doesn't "make you sit straight" but the muscles in your back start to bother you a lot quicker if you assume a poor posture which reminds you to sit up straight quicker.

I will agree that self-esteem will play a large part in your posture as well, and would suggest that if you have any serious self-esteem issues that you see a counselor. Low self-worth leads to a lot of other complications as well, including motivation and health. Leading a healthy lifestyle of diet and nutrition and feeling good about oneself is very important. I'd say that if you've been doing kung fu and tai chi for 3.5 years, you should be quite proud of your accomplishments to date.

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Good points overall. I actually sit in an Aeron chair at work though I almost never sit properly in it. I tend to lean on one armrest (triple widescreen monitor setup, I look at the left one the most) or fold one leg up into the seat. –  Matt Chan Mar 24 '11 at 16:02
    
I had both arm rests removed in my office chair coz I lean a lot and my elbows actually got sore from it. I also needed them removed to fit my legs under the keyboard tray. It took a while getting used to not having the security there. I kept feeling like I was going to fall off my seat as I sat. But removing the arm rests were definitely great for my posture since I couldn't lean anymore. Perhaps consider getting the arm rests removed? Does your office have an Ergonomics Team? You might want to have them look at your set-up - get some cool new toys ;) –  Rhea Mar 24 '11 at 16:15
    
When you catch yourself sitting improperly, just adjust and correct your posture. Eventually you'll get it. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 24 '11 at 16:17
    
Your answer is the most applicable to my situation. I didn't mention that I do have the muscles developed for it. I also didn't mention that the 3.5 years of practicing kung fu and tai chi has been a continouous period of training (nearly every day alternating between one or the other for at least an hour each time). –  Matt Chan Mar 25 '11 at 3:11

You can also try biofeedback using a sensor like the LUMOback that is work around the lower back and alerts you via your smart phonen when you slouch. That way you won't have to constantly mentally monitor your posture.

LUMOback is designed to measure lower back spinal posture. That generally correlates with poor neck and upper back posture. You might want to check if that is your case as well. If not, the guys behind LUMOback are working on a more general posture detection sensor.

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What worked for me:

  1. Deadlifts and squats. (Pullups wouldn't hurt.) Getting beastly strong in your back and shoulders will A) make keeping proper posture easier, since it'll take a smaller amount of effort from bigger, stronger muscles and B) give you awesome practice, since deadlifts and squats require a strongly locked-in shoulders-back position.
  2. Conscious decision to always keep good posture. Imagine a thread connected to the crown of your head pulling you as tall as can be.
  3. Stand-up desk to practice at work.

I'm in front of a laptop 9 hours a day. I was Quasimodo until I did this. Stretching, yoga and lightweight "core" exercises did nothing, because my back was not strong. Once you are strong the yoga, stretching and accessory exercises can be added back in, and will be very productive.

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I'm in the same boat as you in regards to self-esteem, and occupation, I was told seeing a chiropractor will help with posture. Besides aligning your spine and telling you what your posture should be like, they also have exercises that you perform at home to help your muscles adjust to your natural posture. Most health insurances cover up to 12 chiropractic visits per year.

Chiropractic Exercises for Better Posture

  • Reverse Shoulder Shrugs
  • Repetitive Chin Tuck Exercise
  • Towel Neck exercises

Referecnes:

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Great edit @Stefano! :D –  Ivo Flipse Mar 24 '11 at 16:46
    
Thank you for the suggestion. –  Stefano D Mar 24 '11 at 20:28

Back exercises (lateral pull downs, deadlifts, back extensions, planks - make sure you work the opposing muscle - your abs and chest) will definitely help your posture. I used to never work my back and after I did a lot of my friends have said I look "taller". Honestly, I attribute the majority of that to working out giving me a lot of confidence which made me stand straighter and the compliments were great affirmations of an added perk. Of course, having the muscles strong helped support my posture. You want to work on strengthening your core too as that's what holds you upright.

Shoulder stretches will greatly help loosen up and open your chest:

  1. Anterior Shoulder Stretch or Partner Chest Stretch

  2. Posterior Shoulder Stretch

  3. Chest Stretch

Not knowing the severity of your hunch, it will take time and lots of awareness of your posture to remember to push your shoulders back. As your muscles get stronger and as you get used to your new posture, it will come naturally. Ask your friends to call you out if you hunch and always check yourself out in a mirror (i.e. watch yourself walk into a restroom) or windows of buildings when walking down the street.

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I agree with everything you said. One additional strengthening exercise I'd recommend is an link external rotation exercise for the rotator cuff. –  Barbie Mar 24 '11 at 16:00
    
Thanks Barbie, great link! –  Rhea Mar 24 '11 at 16:35
    
I'd suggest you add that to your answer then @Rhea ;-) –  Ivo Flipse Mar 24 '11 at 16:45
    
Those are good things to know. I actually do some of those stretches before and after my classes. –  Matt Chan Mar 25 '11 at 3:11

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