While this classic “swimmer’s posture” is often associated with many years and thousands of hours spent training in the pool, it is not only elite swimmers who are at risk. If you take a moment to imagine your upper back and neck in the same position as Phelps in the photo above, you’ll find yourself on your bike, in your car, at your desk, hovering over your phone and maybe even lying in your bed.
So much of life demands this forward head, rounded shoulder and upper back position that a quest for perfect, plumb-line posture would require an extreme work/training/home makeover. There is another option: embrace the demand.
A triathlete’s reality is one in which the body must regularly function in this forward position; embracing this demand will require a combination of recognition and reward. First, pay attention to how much time you spend looking like a swimmer. Understanding when and why you find your chin reaching out toward your toes is the first step.
Second, reward your hardworking body with the positional reverse: upper back (thoracic) extension. Gentle extension-biased exercises are the natural balance needed in the forward-leaning life. Here are a few specific ways to reward your body for working hard for you:
- Yoga positions such as sphinx, cobra and upward-facing dog, in which your core is engaged and your thoracic spine (upper back), cervical spine (neck), shoulders and wrists are extended instead of flexed
- Lying on a foam roller, face up with the roller perpendicular to your spine, the back of your head touching the roller and arms stretched out to the sides
- Lying over a large exercise or BOSU ball, face up and arms stretched out to the sides
- Camel part of the cat-camel exercise (on all fours, back “sagged” and neck extended with head up and eyes looking toward ceiling)
- Scapular stabilization exercises such as middle, high and low rows with pulleys or band
You don’t have to get out of the saddle or the pool, quit your job or give up your phone to take better care of your posture. Take care of the Phelps in you: embrace the forward-bent demand you place on your body each day by rewarding it with a few minutes of gentle extension stretches or adding rowing exercises to your strengthening program.
*If you aren’t sure if extension exercises are appropriate for you or want to learn which ones are best for you, visit www.outpatientpt.com to contact a Physical Therapist or Athletic Trainer at a clinic near you.