I don’t know how common this is, but many of the stretching/strengthening exercises in my first fitness class at a local senior center (yes, I am that old.) involve bending forward with the back in flexion and few or no “equalizing” back extension exercises. This is particularly true of the mat exercises, which include crunches (modified sit-ups) for strengthening abdominals, and also the bending-forward, reaching-for-the-toes exercises for stretching hip extensors (hamstrings). But crunches can worsen sway back posture, and touching the toes, though supposed to be done with straight back, end up being a back flexion stretch as most of the participants round their backs in the effort to reach their toes. Meanwhile the strengthening of back extensors, the muscles that pull our backs erect, is ignored. If exercises only target front abdominals for strengthening and end up stretching opposing back extensors, that is a prescription for worsening hunched posture. The more bending forward exercises there are, the more that body and posture will tend to bend forward. After all, isn’t that what these exercises are training the body to do? For healthy balanced posture, at least equal attention must be given to back extensor strengthening. And for those who already have hunched posture, more attention must be given to back extensors, and depending on the type of faulty posture, only particular abdominals may need to be strengthened and perhaps abdominal strengthening is not needed at all, in fact may be counter-productive as in flat back posture. For a senior population already tending toward hunched posture because of increases in chronic illness and age-related decline in bone density (a risk for wedging of vertebral bodies and compression fractures with bending forward exercises), a balanced muscle strengthening program is even more important.
The rest of the class, which includes 30 minutes of aerobics is enjoyable. Doing the steps to “up beat” music keeps participants coming back and that is important. I intend to stay with the class especially for the step aerobics, which gets the heart pumping but not excessively. There is no pressure to do all the exercises and I can opt out of the exercises that are counter to my posture type (flat back).
I’m also attending 2 Tai Chi classes. One taught by a volunteer and another by a Community College teacher. Tai Chi is done slowly, mindfully, with arms and legs coordinated and both moving throughout the movements. All of which is very challenging for me. However, from what I see so far, Tai Chi by itself does not improve posture. Over half the participants have a more kephotic upper back than is healthy. Perhaps if there were mirrors on all the walls or practices were video-recorded, and people actually saw themselves maybe they’d straighten up. But how likely is that?