What if I told you how to make your back feel better, your core stronger and your arms buff all at once?
If I told you it could happen with one move would you believe me??
Of course. it’s not that easy, but there is one super simple move that you can use daily that adds up to all those benefits.
STOP TRYING TO STAND UP STRAIGHT.
There, I said it.
It’s the weirdest piece of advice you will ever receive from an exercise teacher!
Most of us lean much of our body weight onto the fronts of our feet. When you are pregnant or holding a baby the urge to counter that extra weight makes it even worse.
This alignment puts strain on your ligaments, as they work like seat belts to stop you from falling all the way forward. Muscles don’t activate the way they should for better strength and there are fewer calories getting burned throughout your day.
How to Improve Your Alignment for Overall Strength and Balance
Let your butt shift back so that more of your body weight is over the centre of your heels rather than the balls of your feet. Let your back relax and your shoulders float forward in a way that seems TOTALLY COUNTER INTUITIVE!! This is the opposite of “stand up straight and pull your shoulders back”.
The problem with the up and back approach is that it often ends up shearing your ribs and pelvis forward, which puts a lot of extra load on your back, hip and neck muscles. Add a baby or a pregnant belly to that setup and bam! Back pain.
So here’s the deal: allow yourself to trade what feels “right” for what feels comfortable.
This new position should give you back relief, wake up your glutes and upper abdominals, work your arms (if you are holding a baby) and yes, your head and shoulders may be a little further forward than you are used to.
In fact, once you are in that position, you will probably FEEL as though you are rolled over like a question mark! A mirror is a vital tool as you get used to it….
Here is a little demo of what things LOOK like and how they FEEL.
(Chelsea is obviously a new mum, but anyone can play with these positions, whether they have a new baby or not!)
In the first picture, Chelsea FEELS normal and upright (following the social norm of standing straight with shoulders back), but her back doesn’t feel great and her core feels disconnected.
If you look at the blue line you can see that in fact her weight is forward of the center of gravity through the middle of her torso.
Your core muscles don’t work optimally in this position!
In the second picture, you can see that her body is lined up better and she FEELS that her back is stable and her core is immediately contributing to her stance.
Her arms are working more to hold her beautiful baby!
In the third picture she is showing how she FEELS in the second picture…. This is why how you feel you are positioned may not be the most reliable source of information!
In those pictures we got three different ways of “feeling” that were all true in one way or another, but contradictory in others. We are really accustomed to our current alignment, and even if you don’t feel 100% pain free, you are comfortable in the usual placement of your parts.
Changing them may feel better physically, but they will sure as hell feel weird psychologically!
Things to Look Out For
Please remember that ever body is different! Your body is doing the best it can to get you through the day. These are ways to explore feeling BETTER, not worse. I love sharing through the wonderful world of the interwebs, but I’m not right there with you, so I can’t know how you are feeling as you read this or try it with your own body. If this doesn’t feel good to you please don’t continue in a way that doesn’t serve you! Thanks. : ))
If you lean your whole body back from your shoulders to get your weight over your heels, you will feel your quads (thigh muscles) turn on. If that happens, let you bottom half ease back, as your top half eases forward. Go to a place that feels happy and comfy for your back and your relaxed thighs. You and your body will respond differently than mine, or your friend or your partner!
Let your head and shoulders roll forward to a degree that makes YOUR back and neck feel good. For some people that will be more, for some people that will be less. It might mean you roll yourself far enough forward that this is not a useful position to walk around in the world because you’re looking at your toes. That’s ok! Use this position as a standing practice whenever it’s convenient for you.
There are a few contributing factors to the sticky spots that make this position so strange and hard to find.
Tight shoulders and upper back muscles are often big contributors to this situation. If you add some extra movements that juice up your upper body in novel directions everything changes! Adding a daily dose of hanging from things is great-monkey bars, trees, doorways, stair railings, stop signs are all easily available for opening up and strengthening your shoulder girdle.
Tight feet, calves and hamstrings can also be factors in how the rest of your body balances itself. Try this short lower leg stretch & strength series to help!
It isn’t really as easy as one simple step. It never is… beware the overly simple solution! But it is as easy as recognizing that there are simple steps that add up to the benefit you want! The more you open up all the limiting factors, the more stable and upright you will be, and the less hunchy you will feel!
As your belly grows, allowing yourself to soften your back and let your sternum and ribs ease down will keep your weight more centered and your core better aligned. This positioning may help to avoid diastasis recti (mummy tummy) after delivery as well as the oh-so-common third trimester back pain.
When you carry a baby around all day long, you can do one of two things: build amazing arm muscles or leverage your torso so that you carry the baby more with your back and your hips. If you change your position a little bit your baby will suddenly seem much heavier, because you are really using your arms to carry with. It’s like doing a million bicep curls every day. Here’s to the mama pipes!
So why doesn’t everyone do this as a matter of course?
Because it often requires you to move in ways that feel strange and unwieldy. Because it requires some changing to both the active and resting lengths of your muscles. And often, because no one has ever mentioned that it works! Did anyone ever tell you that the best route to good posture is to let yourself roll forward?? I bet not!
I have to remind myself a thousand times a day because I also have a real tendency to lean my pelvis forward. One of the best reminders is to notice any time you are leaning against something- the counter, the sink, the checkout counter at the store.. anywhere that you can feel you are LEANING rather than STANDING!
Also, my photographer/honey wanted you to know that this was actually done in the chaos of making dinner!
As always, move at your own pace, respect your tissues and pay attention to pain or tension signals and let me know what you think!
I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.