Have you been slacking in the posture department?
Thanks to our smartphones, iPads and more, many of us spend our days with our necks craning down to stare at our devices. Working from home has also created complications, affectionately referred to by experts as “pandemic posture.”
Fixing your posture can not only relieve back or neck pain, “it can also have a significant impact on all things related to our respiratory function, core and pelvic health,” explained Trista Zinn, a trainer and founder of Coreset Fitness.
Taking tiny steps toward improving your posture is the best way to go. Here are 16 exercises to try to help get you standing and sitting straighter.
“This exercise works all the muscles of the back, and helps counterbalance the weight of the chest and support the spine,” explained Sebastien Lagree, a trainer and founder of Lagree Fitness.
Sit cross-legged or straddle a bench with cables or bands wrapped around a doorknob or floor mount in front of you. Next, pull the handles back toward your rib cage.
“As you continue to pull the handles toward you, focus on lifting the spine or sitting taller,” Lagree said. “Each time you pull the handles in, aim to sit higher.”
If you don’t have a cable system at home, or access to a gym, grab some free weights and perform bent-over rows.
“Strengthening the muscles that retract the scapula leads to better posture,” said Dr. Alejandro Badia, an orthopedic surgeon in Miami. “This also helps avoid shoulder pain, which often occurs when we slouch or work in a slumped position.”
Bend your knees and lean your upper body forward, keeping a straight spine. Start with your arms straight down in front of you with your palms facing your body, then pull the weights back, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top. Try not to over-extend the movement: Stop right when you get to where your pockets would be on your pants ― i.e., near your hips. Lower your weights and repeat the movement.
This is an equipment-free exercise, and a popular yoga move. Get into an all-fours position on your hands and knees. From here, arch your back, bringing your chest and head up while your stomach drops down.
“You then move the opposite way, round your back towards the ceiling, bring your stomach in and your chin to your chest,” said Joy Puleo, a pilates instructor and Balanced Body Education Program Manager. Hold each position for a second or two and repeat eight to 10 times.
This exercise, she said, can provide a good stretch on the front of your body where muscles are tight, as well as strengthen the back muscles to help maintain a good posture.
For this exercise, you’ll need a resistance band. “Hold the band with straight arms in front of you at chest level,” Puleo said. “Retract your shoulders back, keep your core tight and your spine neutral, and pull the band apart so your hands go out in opposite directions.”
This exercise stretches the tight chest muscles and strengthens the underworked back muscles. Puleo said to aim for 10-15 reps, rest for a minute, and repeat for a total of three rounds.
Doorway Chest Stretch
“Since the chest is usually tight in a person with bad posture, doing a doorway stretch can truly help loosen those muscles and make it easier to maintain a good posture throughout the day,” Puleo explained.
Place your hands and elbows on a door frame, and take a small step forward until you feel a stretch at the chest. Hold the stretch for 15-25 seconds, take a minute of rest, and repeat as needed.
This exercise strengthens the erector spinae muscles, which are responsible for helping the body to extend and rotate the spine.
“This move does not require any apparatus and can be done on the floor,” Lagree said. Lie face down on a mat. Keep your arms alongside your body, and slowly lift your head and chest off the floor. Repeat for 30-60 seconds.
Badia said this exercise strengthens the paraspinal muscles that support your back and hamstrings, all of which help posture.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold free weights in front of your thighs ― you can also perform the move with just your body weight. “Make sure your back is not arched, feet are flat and your butt is pushed back,” Badia explained.
Keep your shoulders straight and push your hips back, with your knees slightly bent, lower the weights below your knees, keeping them as close to your body as possible. Then stand back up.
When sitting or working at a computer all day, people’s posture tends to become hunched and their shoulders rounded forward.
“Shoulder blade squeezes strengthen muscles in the upper back that hold the upper body in good posture,” said Kandis Daroski, a physical therapist with Hinge Health. To perform these, stand or sit up straight with your arms by your side and elbows bent. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down your back. Hold for five seconds. Relax your arms and shoulders. Repeat 10-15 times.
Open Book Rotations
“In order to assume or get into good posture, one must have the necessary flexibility and mobility,” Daroski said. The open book exercise, she explained, improves mobility of the upper back and neck and provides a gentle stretch to the front of the shoulders.
Start by lying on your side with knees bent, arms extended in front of your chest, and hands together. Keeping your legs together, slowly raise your top arm and rotate your trunk open. Follow your moving hand with your eye gaze to rotate the neck as well. Hold for five seconds in the open position and perform 10 times on each side. “This is a great exercise to start or end your day with,” Daroski said. “Try performing it in bed.”
Daroski said chin tucks are a great way to negate the effects of forward head posture. “They help strengthen muscles deep within the neck that keep the head pulled back in good posture,” she said.
Begin in a lying down or standing position. Slowly draw your head back so your ears line up with your shoulders; this is a small movement. Hold this position for five seconds. Repeat for five to 10 repetitions.
“With prolonged sitting or standing in poor posture, the muscles of the abdomen can become weak, which allows for an increase in the arch of the low back,” Daroski said.
Abdominal bracing can help improve the strength of the core muscles by providing support to your low back and improving your standing posture, she explained.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Next, engage your abdominal muscles as though you are pulling your belly button toward your spine. Hold for five seconds, then repeat 10-15 times. “This exercise can also be performed in a sitting or standing position,” Daroski said.
Shoulder shrugs are another exercise that can help target tech neck. These exercises “relax and loosen up neck muscles, like the trapezius, that can be overworked while the neck is in a forward position,” explained Dr. Oluseun Olufade, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory School of Medicine and an adviser to BackEmbrace.
Raise your shoulders up toward your ears. Shrug both shoulders at the same time and hold for three seconds. Try three sets of 10 reps, twice a day.
Hands-Clasped Chest Opener
“This opens up the chest and stretches the front of the shoulders, helping to improve posture,” said Alissa Tucker, a certified personal trainer and master trainer at AKT.
Begin sitting or standing tall. Roll your shoulders down and back and clasp your hands behind back. Hold for up to 30 seconds. This is a great stretch that can be performed during the workday, Tucker said. “Repeat multiple times a day while at your desk.”
“This can be done lying on the floor with a foam roller or seated at your desk, using the back of the chair,” Tucker explained.
Begin seated with the foam roller or chair at ― or just under ― your shoulder blades. Bring both hands behind your head and draw the elbows in toward your face. Keep your abs engaged and your lower back straight as you lean back over the chair or foam roller, then slowly return to your starting position, bringing your chin toward your chest.
Move slowly and repeat eight to 10 times. “This stretch is great for counteracting the rounded forward position of the thoracic spine by bringing the thoracic spine into a little bit of extension,” Tucker said.
This is another exercise you can do seated at your desk. “I like to use a small towel for this one, though it can be done without,” Tucker said.
Sit up tall, place the towel on the back of your head, holding it with both hands by your ears. Press the head back into the towel and hold for five seconds then release. Repeat 10-15 times.
Tucker said to be careful that you’re not holding too much tension in your neck during this exercise. “It should be a gentle movement,” she explained. “This strengthens the deep flexor muscles in the back of the neck to help keep the neck in proper alignment over the shoulders.”
Remember making snow angels as a kid? This is a similar idea and is “a great exercise for shoulder mobility,” said Joshua Kozak, CEO of the online fitness center HASfit.
Lie down on your back with your hands above your hand, elbows flat down on the ground and palms facing upward. “Drag those elbows and your hands straight down into your body while keeping your arms flat on the ground,” Kozak said. “When you reach the furthest point, stretch them straight overhead.”
Try your best to keep contact with your arms and the floor and your lower back flat on the ground throughout the move.