Photo: Courtesy of MacBreakz.
Sitting at your computer for hours on end can wreak havoc on your posture. Your gut presses outward, your shoulders slump, your chin juts upward, and the weight of your body gets stacked onto your spinal discs instead of being buoyed by your muscles. Then you leave work, and you're engrossed in your smartphone: checking Twitter, texting friends, reading from your Kindle app. Your shoulders round in and down, and your head bends forward at an angle that puts extra pressure on your cervical spine. It's all slowly training you to have terrible posture, and it's all no bueno. Bad posture can make you look insecure, depressed, even make you look heavier. It can also lead to a number of injuries and related health problems.
Thankfully, some thoughtful programmers have designed a few apps to monitor your poor posture habits and snap you back into correct alignment. We've scoured the Internet to find the best posture-perfecting apps for your computers, tablets and smartphones.
While all the apps in this list are quite helpful, each cautions that you should consult a medical professional, and that these programs are not substitutes for professional assessment, instruction, or care.
MacBreakZ is a comprehensive posture-building application that offers two programs: prevention and recovery mode. In prevention mode, the app demonstrates and prompts you to do stretches that can reduce muscle tension and promote good posture. At the start of your break, a gray transparent window appears, giving you a series of stretches with written instructions and illustrations. Most of the app's simple stretches can be done at your chair without looking too peculiar to anyone around you. There are a few that require you to get up, but you already know that you should be getting up and moving once an hour, right?
After a short, light stretch routine, the transparent gray window tells you, "It is now time for your break away from your computer." Spend the remaining minutes walking around, doing additional stretches, or engaging in some water cooler chatter. Hey, girl, you deserve it. A chime sounds to let you know your break is over, and the app continues to run as a discreet timer in your system's menu bar.
If you're already experiencing neck or back pain on the reg, worsening vision, or poor circulation in your extremities, choose recovery mode, which affords you 10-minute breaks after 20, 30, or 50 minutes of work (your choice). The default setting in prevention mode is for five-minute breaks; however, break periods are customizable in both modes. The app also allows you to customize displays and sounds based on workplace culture: formal/informal business environment, home office, private office, open floor plan.
Photo: Courtesy of Posture Man Pat.
Posture Man Pat's Mac-only app uses the Y-axis of your webcam to monitor your head height. Start slouching, and the app warns you that you've let your posture go. This app, created by sound designer Andrew Spitz, appears as a small window, giving you just what you need with minimal disruption so you can keep working. You can set the app to lightly dim your screen when you start to slump, to sound a bell, or both. Posture Man Pat tends to be more forgiving than competitor Nekoze, giving you some wiggle room to move naturally without constant alerts. But, rest assured that it's paying attention. Without thinking, I slouched and peered at something small on my screen, and *ding!* — Posture Man Pat was on it!
Photo: Courtesy of Posture Trainer.
Posture Trainer is a simple mobile app that uses your phone's accelerometer to detect when you're holding your phone horizontally and craning your neck downward (aka "text neck"). The app dims your screen, making it slightly irksome — though not impossible — to view content. Raise the phone until it’s held vertically at eye level, and normal brightness will be restored. You'll also notice that now your neck is in the proper upright position. Simple. Genius.
Photo: Courtesy of LUMOBack.
Lumo Back is the most expensive product on our list, but if you’re serious about posture, this impressive piece of wearable tech is seriously worth it. The device is four inches wide and less than two inches high, and comes attached to an adjustable elasticized waistband — easy to conceal and comfortable enough to forget you're even wearing it. Initial setup and calibration takes 15 minutes; then Lumo Back continuously sends data to your device via Bluetooth so you can monitor your posture while sitting, standing, or in motion. You're represented by a stick figure who moves with you in real time. When you're using correct alignment, your avatar is green and smiling. Slouch or lean into your lower back, and your figure becomes amber and frowning while your Lumo Back device gently vibrates. It's incredibly sensitive, and that precision is exactly what you need to guide you into proper alignment. The idea is that with regular usage, you'll develop muscle memory and exercise excellent carriage without Lumo nudging you.
One reason Lumo is both popular and expensive is that it does a lot more than just monitor your posture while you’re at your desk. The app lets you decide how long you’re allowed to be sedentary, and will notify you if you've exceeded your limit. (One flaw in this is that without looking at your phone/tablet, you won't know that that's why it buzzed you.) It’s also a pedometer, so you can track just how many calories you burned running for the subway and how many miles you rack up walking around the office. In the gym, Lumo can get a little confused about what you're doing and it isn't always capable of recognizing poor lifting technique, but it works well enough to dissuade you from compromising your lower back on the treadmill. And, if you're a MyFitnessPal user, Lumo will send its data directly to that app.
Wear Lumo while you sleep and it'll not only track your time in bed but also how long you spend in what position. The results are pretty fascinating (what up, left side sleepers!). However, Lumo can't tell if you're actually asleep or just binge watching House of Cards.
Photo: Courtesy of Nekoze.
With Nekoze, the Internet's unofficial mascot — a cat — watches you and mews when you become "nekoze" (Japanese for a person whose back is rounded like a frightened cat). Nekoze's default settings are highly sensitive — when I moved to brush aside a piece of hair, a small cartoon cat face appeared from my menu bar and mewed at me. Amazingly, I found that Nekoze understood when I was leaning back in my chair versus when I was actually slouching. Sometimes it mewed at me when I was sure I hadn't even moved. But Nekoze does allow you to customize your preferences to be a bit more lenient/less annoying. And, if the mewing starts to drive you or your coworkers nuts, you can disable sound in preferences. There are eight different cartoon cats that can appear, but don't fret about what each means. Since there is no documentation on this, we contacted the designer, Katsuma Tanaka, who said they exist solely for the sake of variety. Tanaka also cautioned that if laptop users change the angle of their screens, they will need to recalibrate the app.
The app also lets you set goals, customize just about everything, and has videos on both good posture and stretches. Pair it with any of the other apps in this list, and you’ll be looking perfectly poised in no time.