In case you don’t already know, there’s a lot of value in having good posture. Not only does good posture boost your body image and make you look better in a suit, but it also helps decrease your likelihood of injury. It minimizes the load on your skeletal muscles, and enables your body to move more freely and efficiently. Poor posture can lead to anything from headaches, to rotator cuff injuries, back pain, and many other common ailments. In other words, fixing your posture could fix a lot of your problems.
Often times, when I help people feel what good posture actually is, the first thing they tell me is “I feel weird”. This is because our bodies become used to the posture that we spend most of our time in. But this doesn’t make your bad posture ok.
A quick exercise you can try at home is to balance something on your head – you’ll probably straighten your spine and naturally place your head in a more correct position. The challenge then becomes to maintain this optimal posture throughout the majority of your day.
Which Muscles To Stretch vs. Strengthen?
If you search online, you’ll find a seemingly unending list of exercises to do to improve your posture. All the information can get overwhelming, leaving you unsure of where to start. Let’s simplify things bit.
There are a lot of common patterns of poor posture that people share – for example, forward head posture, forward rounded shoulders, and Janda’s upper and lower crossed syndromes. These patterns frequently lead to specific muscles either being tight, or overstretched and weak.
Muscles to Stretch
If you had all day, the most common muscles that you should stretch include:
3. Hip Flexors
Muscles to Strengthen
And these are the most common muscles that you should strengthen:
1. Mid- and Lower-Trapezius
2. Anterior & Posterior Core
3. Glute Muscles
Depending on which specific postural pattern you tend to have, you may not need to stretch and strengthen all of the above, but I’ve also never seen people who are too flexible with the first list, or too strong with the second.
What Is Good Posture?
Ideally, your posture will match the alignment chart you see in the doctor’s office.
When looking at the side, the plumb line (vertical line with your center of mass) should go through your ear and stay in line with the middle of your shoulder, middle of your pelvis, and down to the front of your heel (middle of the foot).
If you stand with your back to the wall, your head should be near the wall or touching when you look straight ahead (and not up). Your shoulders should rest near the wall with your thumbs pointing forward. You should have a small arch in your low back with your glutes touching the wall.
With some mindfulness of how you sit and stand in your daily life, you’ll start to reinforce proper posture as a habit. If you want to kickstart the effects, here’s an effective and efficient workout to reinforce good form and posture.
Workout (& Exercises) to Fix Poor Posture
The following exercises don’t specifically target each and every muscle listed above, but instead aim to correct multiple muscles and body regions simultaneously for a more efficient workout.
Warm-up: Start by foam rolling your thoracic spine for 1-minute. This exercise helps straighten the upper spine. Since most of us tend to slouch more than we should, it’s a good idea to start your workout with this.
|Sets & Reps/Time
|1. Wall Angels
|2 x 10 reps (per min)
|2. Hip Hinge with Hands Overhead
|10 x 10 sec holds
|3. Standing Horizontal Abduction with TRX (or Band)
|10 x 10 sec holds
|4. Farmer’s Carry
|2 x 1 min
|5. Double- or Single-Leg Bridge Hold
|2 x 1 min
1. Wall Angels
Instructions: Stand next to the wall, keep good posture, and raise your arms up the wall while keeping your core tight and ribcage down. Your spine should remain neutral, even as your raise your arms up. You should be able to extend your arms fully overhead while still touching the wall, without arching your back. If performed correctly, you’ll feel the middle of your back and your abs contract to stabilize your spine.
2. Hip Hinge with Hands Over Head
Instructions: The emphasis here is on movement and flexibility. Performing the hip hinge with your arms overhead will stretch out your thoracolumbar fascia in the mid-back while challenging your core. The cues I constantly repeat for this exercise are, “Hips back, and hands high!”
3. Standing Horizontal Abduction with TRX (or Band)
The goal here is to strengthen your mid-back and shoulder blade muscles by opening up your chest and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Make sure not to flare your ribs out. Keep your core tight the entire time. You can perform this exercise with a resistance band, or a suspension trainer like the TRX. Stand tall and keep your head and neck in a straight line throughout the entire movement.
4. Farmer’s Carry
Instructions: This exercise may actually be the most important. I mentioned earlier that most people will self-correct their posture if you put something on their head. The same thing happens when you carry something heavy. Carrying heavy things with bad posture is uncomfortable, and you won’t be able to do it for long.
Do a farmer’s carry with a heavy weight, focusing on standing tall, keeping your shoulders back, and minimizing any spinal movement. This exercise teaches you just how tall you can be, and need to be when lifting heavy weights. Remember this feeling as you go through all of your other exercises.
For an extra challenge (only if you have the adequate flexibility), try a waiter’s carry, holding the kettlebell in the overhead position.
5. Double- or Single-Leg Bridge Hold
Instructions: Finish your posture-fixing workout by challenging your posterior muscles. Progress to the single-leg bridge once you’ve built up your strength and endurance. Not only will this exercise improve the endurance of your back muscles, but you’ll also strengthen your glutes.
If you mix this workout into your routine 2-3 days per week, you should definitely see improvements in your posture. But the goal is to have this carry over into your daily life – when you sit at your desk, when you’re standing and talking to people, and in your other workouts.
Best Solution To Fix Bad Posture Long-term
Fixing your posture is about fixing your behavior. To correct and improve your posture, you must emphasize it throughout the day until it is ingrained in your muscle memory.
Step 1: Set Up Your Environment For Good Posture
At your desk, have proper lumbar support and use it. Sit upright.
In your car, set your rearview mirror so that it’s angled a little higher than normal. That way, you can only see properly when you sit tall.
When standing and walking, before you go anywhere or before you speak to anyone, stand tall and relaxed.
Step 2: Strength Train with Proper Form & Technique
Exercises performed with poor form only reinforce poor posture. If you drop your head towards the floor while doing pushups, your head will be pulling on your upper traps and levator scapula, reinforcing forward head posture. Just because this position makes the exercise feel easier doesn’t mean you’re doing it right!
This is also why standing full-body exercises are better than machine-based exercises. You have to pay more attention to your form and technique when performing standing full-body movements.
Step 3: Posture Affects Mood, & Mood Affects Posture
When you force yourself to smile big, you usually feel happier. The same applies to standing fully upright with good posture. Much like how our nerves are wired to make connections between facial expression and mood, we have connections between body language and mood. Think of it this way: “Walk like a boss”.
Have you ever seen a CEO give a speech onstage with poor posture? By habitually standing tall, you’ll present yourself as a more competent and confident individual, and you’ll feel more confident.
The reality is, you don’t have all day, and I’m not one to emphasize specific isolated stretches or exercises to fix the strength or weakness of a specific muscle group. You can do exercises and stretches all day, but if you resume your poor posture as soon as you step out of the gym or sit in front of your desk, you basically just wasted your entire time exercising.
Prioritize good posture by implementing the workout above and setting yourself up for success in your life. Then, show off your leaner, more confident, and healthier image by standing tall!