When a muscle contracts, its direct antagonist relaxes to an equal extent allowing smooth movement. Kettle bell exercises offer a great solution for those suffering with postural issues.
The posterior chain is responsible for straightening up the body (extensors) and counteracting all the forward bending that is so common today due to sitting and slouching. Those with Upper Crossed Syndrome need to strengthen the cervical flexor muscles, rhomboids, mid and lower traps.
For Lower Crossed Syndrome strengthen the abs, obliques, and buttocks (glute max and medium). The kettle bell slingshot will help improve your posture by forcing an upright position and driving the shoulders back and down.
Possibly one of the best beginners kettle bell exercises to improve posture is the slingshot should be performed with the core muscles tight and the hips stationary. The kettle bell regular row will strengthen the mid back and posterior shoulder muscles.
If you suffer from upper crossed syndrome then this kettle bell exercise will help pull the shoulders back and open up the chest. Perform slow repetitions focusing on pulling with the mid and lower back rather than the shoulder.
The kettle bell farmers carry is an excellent exercise to straighten up your posture and develop you core and oblique muscles. If you suffer with upper crossed syndrome then this exercise will help pull the shoulders back and create better alignment from head to toe.
If you have lower crossed syndrome then this exercise will develop and strengthen the core and oblique muscles which will better help with the stabilization of the pelvis. You can also perform the kettle bell farmers carry walking up a hill which will help to better develop the weak buttock muscles usually found in lower crossed syndrome.
Be sure to keep a nice high elbow and pull backwards horizontally to maximize the activation of the mid back. You will achieve huge core muscle activation while you hold the plank position without allowing your hips to drop.
The rowing aspect of the exercise will strengthen and develop the mid back which is important for all those suffering with upper crossed syndrome. You can ensure an effective rowing technique by pulling with the elbow back and upwards using a slow and controlled tempo.
The renegade row can be made slightly easier and safer by using just 1 kettle bell and placing the other hand on a box, bench or a Paraclete. The kettle bell windmill will strengthen the obliques, shoulders and back while at the same time opening up the hips and lengthening the hamstrings.
If you find it difficult to reach the floor with your hand then stop when you feel you need to bend your back leg. The lunge aspect of this exercise will strengthen and develop the glutes and hamstrings while the rotation will condition the core muscles and open up the back.
You must work on nice deep lunges making sure the back knee gets as close to the floor as possible in order to activate the buttock muscles correctly. Perform 12 – 24 total repetitions changing sides each rep for a workout to improve posture.
The kettle bell single leg dead lift exercise teaches good synergy and alignment between the upper and lower body while at the same time strengthening the glutes, core and back. It is important to keep the core tight and the back flat as you pivot through the hips.
Keep your weight back on your heel to load the hamstrings and glute muscles effectively. The back foot will try to rotate outwards so be mindful of this and keep the toes pointing towards the floor as much as possible.
The kettle bell swing is the ultimate full body conditioning exercise but is also excellent for improving your posture from head to toe. The swing is based on the dead lift movement pattern and so power is generated from the hips using the glutes and hamstrings.
The top section of the swing should involve a tight contraction of the glutes along with a bracing of the abs. For those suffering with lower crossed syndrome it is important to focus on rotating your tailbone underneath during this top part of the swing.
Don’t allow the kettle bell to pull you forwards as you swing, keep the shoulders back and down. The kettle bell side lunge will strengthen the glutes in the often neglected lateral plane which is important for fixing lower crossed syndrome.
The kettle bell Turkish get up is the ultimate full body mobility and strengthening exercise. The get up is another self-correcting exercise which means that you will find it very difficult to complete without good posture and body alignment.
If you aren’t on the kettle bell train yet, these exercises may be just what you need to change your mind! Kettle bells are incredible tools for strengthening your posterior chain (aka your backside).
When performing the following exercises properly, you will notice improvements in your posture and gains in your glutes. And while a nice plump booty may be on your vision board, a strong rear is more than just a way to fill out your jeans.
Strong glutes prevent back pain and injury, improve performance and power and allow you to burn more calories. Here are 6 kettle bell exercises to improve posture and grow a booty.
Squeeze your glutes (booty), quadriceps (thighs) and brace your abs at the top! To lower, press your hips back and work to tap the bell back between your heels each repetition while remaining a long spine and soft knees.
Your hips will drop low on this exercise while maintaining a tall spine. By holding the kettle bell at your chest, you get extra engagement of the muscles all along your spine.
Stand with feet hip-width or wider Turn your toes out slightly Keep your chest up and butt down throughout the exercise. Seal the outer edge of your feet and heels to the ground throughout the whole exercise.
Keep your chest lifted, as the kettle bell hangs straight down in front of your hips. Stand tall and squeeze your glutes, quads and brace your core.
Step opposite foot back and lower to lunge, so both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Rotate back to center, drive down through your front heel, and return to standing.
Focus on moving slowly and engaging your core to keep your balance. Shift your weight into your standing foot (heel especially) and slowly start to hinge your hips back.
Work to kick your floating leg straight behind you with strength. Maintain one line of energy (no hunching or collapsing) from your head to your floating heel.
Start with bell slightly ahead of your toes Place your hands on the bell while maintaining weight in your heels, a bend in your knees and a long spine. Squeeze buns, quads and your core at the top of each swing.
As a physical therapist, I see many people from all ages, with various injuries, and in various stages of dysfunction. I can say that very few people, even high-level athletes with years of fitness training, have any idea what optimum posture is.
In this article, I hope to convey at least a basic understanding of what optimum posture feels like and what to do to achieve it. Tonic muscles are designed for endurance; they can contract all day with minimal fatigue.
Both types of muscles are vitally important to overall health and fitness, and neither should be emphasized at the expense of the other. Even though it sounds easy to rest on the ligaments, in actuality many muscles are involved in maintaining a slouched posture.
These muscles become irritated quickly and are usually areas of pain, discomfort, dysfunction, and injury. There are many other problems with slouching too: adverse joint positioning (can lead to early arthritis and joint injuries), poor ability to initiate movement (because the body is not aligned in a position of readiness), and poor stability (because the body is not using its stabilizing muscles: the tonic muscles). Figure 2.
These people take on a military-style posture (head and shoulders pushed back, extended spine, etc) (Figure 2). Body alignment is not in an optimal position, limiting movement initiation.
Certainly a military-style posture is not a good alternative to sloughing. The String Method: Good, But Not Optimal Posture There are some good books out there (specifically in the alternative health sections on the ancient Chinese practices of Gong and Tai Chi) helping people achieve better posture by imagining that a string is suspending the top of their head in the air and constantly lifting them up (Figure 3). Instead of actively pulling the body out of a slouch (the traditional military-style posture), you are allowing a powerful image to do the work.
The image of a string lifting the body up leads to a modified military-style posture. This lift pulls our bodies out of alignment and creates unnecessary and injury-causing tension in the system.
Thus, the head rests balanced and relaxed on the neck, the neck on the thorax, the thorax on the pelvis, all the way down until the feet rest balanced and relaxed on the ground (Figure 4). Gravity pulls us down, and our balanced system allows the ground to push us back up.
We can talk all day about optimum posture, but without experiencing it, you will gain no appreciation and learn nothing. So let's get to the practical side of things: the Vertical Compression Test (VCT). The VCT was developed to test posture by challenging it through increasing the force of gravity through the postural system.
The tester places a hand on the bulk of muscle on each side of the subject's shoulders (the upper trapezium muscle, basically the soft spot between the neck, collar bone, and shoulder) (Figure 6). You want to stop the test the second you notice the subject STARTS to buckle under the pressure.
A person with optimal posture should be able to handle his or her own body weight without buckling while standing normally and remaining relaxed. He or she should simply stand there and observe what happens to his or her body as the force of gravity is multiplied. Go back to Figures 1-3 and perform a mental VCT on these postures (better yet, try to mimic the postures in the figures and have a partner perform a VCT on you).
Think about what happens to the person's body all day long because of poor posture. With the sloucher (Figure 7a), gravity is crunching the joints of her lower back all day causing wear and tear and eventually osteoarthritis.
Her rounded shoulders cause shortening of her chest muscles and an inability to reach above her head, limiting her strength and range of motion. Hopefully it becomes painfully clear why the military-style posture is not a good alternative after performing a VCT on someone using it (Figure 7b).
The lifted chest changes the length-tension relationship of the abdominal muscles and significantly weakens them. The shoulder blades are back and resting down on the rib cage, thus the chest is not elevated or depressed, but simply relaxed in a neutral position.
The neck is neither forward nor extended, but balanced evenly over the rib cage. VCT on the String Method (a) and on Optimal Posture (b). Remember that trying to understand these concepts by reading words and looking at pictures will get you nowhere.
Tight-Man Syndrome: False-Negative Vertical Compression Test Many strong individuals will attempt to overcome poor posture with tightness. By tightening their muscles they are able to maintain stability even with potentially horrible posture.
The physic muscles, although strong, will become injured through the same mechanisms as repetitive movement injuries. Their physic muscles will be chronically contracted, lack flexibility, and be painful to the touch.
Missing this key ingredient will lead to many false-negative tests, especially in the world of fitness (and even more so with strong Kettle bell lifters who don't want to show the slightest hint of weakness). Optimal Posture is a state where the body is perfectly balanced over the ground, a state where each segment of the body is balanced on the segment below it so that minimal muscular work is needed to maintain position.
The cranium rests on the first cervical vertebrae, the first cervical vertebrae rests on the second, and so on, so that the shoulder blades rest on the rib cage, the pelvis on the femurs, the femurs on the tibiae, the tibia on the bones of the feet, and all in such a way that minimal muscular work is required to maintain the position. It is also the position where the rib cage and abdominal viscera have full freedom of movement: breathing and digestion are free and unencumbered.
To achieve this state of ultimate balance, one must be very flexible, possess great soft tissue mobility, and have properly functioning tonic musculature (stability). Specific treatment from a skilled manual physical therapist or a consistent program of home exercises specifically designed to enhance posture will be necessary for most people to come even close to achieving optimal posture.
When you can remain relaxed while your partner performs a full body weight VCT and you do not buckle, you have achieved optimal posture. The only way to find this position is to experiment, but there are some guiding principles you should work with.
Looking at your partner from the side, the center of the knee joints should rest slightly in front of the ankle joints, a gentle curve should exist in the low back and the opposite curve in the upper back, the shoulders will rest directly above the hips, and the ears directly above the shoulders. The important thing is to not try to correct your head position when your upper back is way off, and not to spend all your time on a minor shoulder alignment problem when your lower back is so arched it could crack with your next step off a curb.
For now, settle on small improvements: an increase in your VCT (your partner reports that more force is needed before you buckle), you feel less strain when standing, you fell more ease in movement, etc. More than likely, you will not be able to physically achieve optimal posture because of mechanical restrictions limiting your ability to move certain joints and tissues of your body.
If you want to improve quickly, seek out a skilled manual physical therapist. If you don't mind putting in some time and effort, slow and steady self-treatment can free many restrictions that limit your ability to achieve optimal posture.
Look for future articles covering potential exercises that can be used to free the body for optimal posture. For now, basic flexibility and joint mobility drills like those taught in Pavel's books are highly recommended (Relax into Stretch, Super Joints, and Resilient are great for this purpose).
Of prime importance are ankle, hip, and chest flexibility, so focus there. Every second you stand and every step you take will be a VCT because the kettle bell will be adding to gravity and the force of the ground pushing back up against you will create the shock wave needed to test your system's response.
Poor posture places abnormal stress on our bodies and delivers early arthritis and many chronic injuries; optimal posture strengthens our physiques and maintains our health. Posture's connection to breathing (optimal posture allows ample mobility of the thoracic cage and abdominal viscera) makes it of prime importance to our general physical health also.
About the Author Dr. Jake Caldwell, DPT, CSS, ROC is a physical therapist and owner of Primitive Therapy, a physical therapy and personal training clinic in Lake Forest, CA. Jake earned three bachelors degrees from the University of California at San Diego in Biology, Psychology, and History, and earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy from Chapman University in Orange, CA.