Okay, we all know there’s no growing after puberty. In fact, the older you get, the more you shrink.
“As we get older, the fluid that fills the discs between the vertebrae of our spine loses volume, resulting in a decrease in height,” explains physical therapist Rob Ziegelbaum, DPT, clinical director and owner of Wall Street Physical Therapy in New York City.
Additionally, the hours we all spend hunched over a computer and smartphones cause our shoulders and head to slump—known as “Tech Neck,” Ziegelbaum says—costing us even more inches.
The good news: Correcting poor posture can immediately score you some altitude.
But to fully maximize one’s height, you have to look at the entire body, says Jeffrey Yellin, DPT, CSCS, regional clinical director for Professional Physical Therapy in Long Island and Queens. “Postural flexibility and stability plays a huge role in taking back those extra two to three inches that one might lose with rounded shoulders or a forward head position.”
Perfecting your posture is about more than just standing up straight. Check out these 7 steps to help you straighten out and gain a few extra inches.
Determine the Damage
Stand in front of a full length mirror and assess your own posture, suggests Ziegelbaum. Do your shoulders appear to be slumping down and forward? Is your head protruding out in front of your body? While watching yourself in the mirror, actively make corrections accordingly—lift your head, level your chin, pull your shoulders back and down, straighten the line across your right shoulder to your left, tighten your abdominal muscles, and draw in your bellybutton. Hold this position for three minutes and do not allow your body to slack into your "normal" posture, Ziegelbaum instructs. And notice what feels different in this position—aim to make those minor adjustments when away from the mirror.
Add Insoles to Your Shoes
The position of the foot and ankle are the beginning link in the postural chain, Yellin explains. “Having flat or pronated feet causes the lower leg to internally rotate, the hips to tilt forward, and the lower spine to compress,” he says. An easy way to address it: Scoop up some over-the-counter arch support, like Dr. Scholl's inserts.
Fortify your posture further by strengthening your ankles. Yellin’s go to move: Loop an elastic resistance band around your legs, right above the ankle. Move your right foot forward and backward for 30 reps, then out to the side and back in for 30 reps. Repeat on your left side.
Strengthen Your Shoulders
“The shoulders and shoulder blades tend to drive the position of the head when in an upright posture,” Yellin explains. You’re looking to counteract that Tech Neck and the undue strain a hunched over head has caused on your neck, compromising your height. Try these moves:
Both Yellin and Ziegelbaum suggest a super simple move to lengthen your chest and shoulder muscles: Standing in a doorway, raise both arms to the level of your shoulders and place your elbow and forearm on each side of the door frame. Step slightly forward until a comfortable pull is felt across the chest wall. (Don’t stretch to the point of pain.) Hold for 30 seconds, then step back and release. Repeat 3 times.
Scapular Stabilizer Muscles
Opt for workouts that force your scapula to retract, like seated rows, lat pull downs, or bent over rows. This will help you maintain healthy upper spinal alignment, maximizing your vertebral height, Yellin adds.
Try this move from Ziegelbaum to target your rhomboids: Holding TRX straps in each hand facing the anchor point, keeping your feet shoulder width apart. Lean back until the straps are holding your weight and your elbows are extended. Keeping your wrists straight, bend your elbows and pull your shoulder blades back as though you are trying to pinch a pencil between them. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.
Fortify Your Bones
Your bones weaken with age, but the more you can prevent disorders like osteoporosis, the more of your height you can maintain and maximize. Stock up on calcium, which helps strengthen your bones and vitamin D, essential for your bones to be able to absorb calcium. But studies show one of the most effective ways to fortify your bones is by working out. “In order to maintain bone strength, the bones need to be subjected to different stresses,” Yellin says. He recommends bodyweight exercises, like squats and pushups, to help your bones maintain strength and structure. And indeed, a 2015 study in Bone found that exercises that load your hips and spine, like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and overhead press, can help improve bone mass in men and may lower their risk for osteoporosis.
Develop a Yoga Practice
When your instructor tells you to lengthen, they mean it. In class, you’re often optimizing your skeletal structure, but the true work begins when you take that postural awareness to the other 23 hours of the day. “A regular and consistent yoga practice helps break down and reframe these old postural habit patterns,” says Chad Dennis, director of yoga at Wanderlust Hollywood.
Reclaim your true height and potential from the shortening that comes with age through Dennis’ three go-to moves:
Why it helps: This is a great posture to help gently stretch and elongate the hamstrings, one of the major contributors to back problems and loss of the natural Lumbar spine curve.
How to do it: On the floor on hands and knees, set your knees directly below your hips and hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor, hips toward the ceiling and back, lengthening your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis. Drive your heel toward the ground, keeping your knees straight but not locked. Firm your shoulder blades along your back. Breathe.
Mountain Pose with Lateral Flexion
Why it helps: This simple yet powerful pose helps stretch, elongate, and reopen the side bodies.
How to do it: Standing with your feet hip-width apart, reach the arms overhead, shoulders down, reaching through the top of the head. Grab your right wrist or forearm with your left hand and arc over to the left. Feel a deep stretch all the way down the entire right side of the body without compromising the integrity of the left side of the body. Return to center and switch sides.
Why it helps: Backbends help invigorate blood flow and, especially with the hands interlaced in this pose, help counterbalance the effects of an overly rounded and closed chest, head, and neck.
How to do it: Lie on your stomach with arms along the sides of your body, palms up, forehead resting on floor. Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor, squeezing your butt and reaching through your legs. Interlace your hands above your butt to help pull your chest higher.
A foam roller is good for more than just myofascial release—laying on top of the soft-but-rigid cylinder allows your vertebral column to decompress while still being supported by the foam, Ziegelbaum explains. “This acts as a neurological re-education for the body to relearn the proper postural position for carryover to standing.” Try it: Place the foam roller on the floor and lay with your spine directly on top of it, face up, keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the surfaces. Make sure that your head is on the roller, fully supported, and that the foam is aligned with your spine. Rest arms on your stomach, or allow them to splay out to the side and feel the release in your pectoral muscles. Maintain this position for 3 to 5 minutes.
Skip Stretching Machines
Inversion tables—machines that hang you upside by the legs or ankles—help expand the spine and decompress the joints, so it’s easy to assume they’d help optimize your height and posture. But the effects are short lived—once gravity gets ahold of you again, your tight spinal muscles revert to a compressed position, and you lose any momentary gains you may have seen, Yellin says. That's not to say they're not good for other things. "Although inversion tables might not help with increasing one’s height, there is conflicting evidence that does show a benefit to using them," says Yellin. "People with lower back pain, disc issues, or degenerative discs, might find inversion tables helpful as some studies show the traction forces that it provides can help in resolving these issues and re-aligning the disc alignment, as a supplemental treatment alongside physical therapy and medical care."