I’ve read countless blogs on posture that display some version of the stretch above. I wouldn’t recommend this stretch for one simple reason: when so much of your time is spent with your head down and forward, why encourage your body to be more flexible in that direction? While it may feel good temporarily, it just perpetuates and often worsens the problem.
Stretching –– one of the keys to achieving good posture –– needs to be done correctly and with care. So we first need to determine which structures in your body are actually tight. Notice I did not say that we need to stretch the ones that feel tight! I recommend stretching, but probably not the way you’re used to.
For example, try this Windmill Test:
- Get into a hands and knees position.
- Place your right forearm and elbow in the centerline of your body, under your chest and ,just a few inches in front of your knees.
- Place your opposite hand behind your head (as shown).
- Rotate your head, neck, and torso to point your elbow up toward the ceiling (as shown).
- You pass this test if you keep your hips centered (not drifting off to the right or left) and are able to point your elbow straight up, perpendicular to the ceiling, while breathing normally. If you fail any of these criteria, you don’t pass. Repeat this test on both sides. If you don’t pass the test on either side, it means you’ve got some work to do.
The best way to improve your tissue mobility is by stretching at a mild intensity for a long time. This applies to dense connective tissue like tendons, ligaments, or muscles that are genuinely short and need to be lengthened. The drawback of this approach is that the stretched structures grow weaker. For instance, many people are prescribed boots that maintain a dorsiflexed ankle position for many hours during the night in order to lengthen the achilles. These can be helpful for certain conditions, but they weaken the achilles tendon. Fortunately there’s another more effective option, but it takes a longer time to accomplish.
The solution is ‘active mobility stretching’.This technique goes by many different names, but whatever it’s called, it refers to stretching by activating the opposing muscles. This approach takes more concentration and effort, but the long-term results are better –– and you don't sacrifice tissue integrity and create unnecessary weaknesses. The extra effort will be worth it in the long run. And you will retain your results much better than if you use a purely passive stretch.
So, if you didn’t pass the Windmill Test on both sides, try this stretch for the next seven days, then re-test yourself to see if you improve:
- Lie on your side with your head on a folded pillow and the knee of your top leg pressed into a folded pillow (as shown).
- With your lower arm held in front of your body with your palm facing the ceiling, rotate your head, torso and upper arm (as shown).
- Rotate as far as possible, attempting to reach with your upper shoulder blade and arm back toward the ground, keeping elbows straight at all times.
- Hold for 15 seconds, then take a 5 second break. Repeat this 20 times, once per day.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.