The Ultimate Exercises to Improve Posture (Simple and Effective)
How many times in your childhood did your mother yell at you to stand upright or stop slouching?
Back then, it might have seemed like they were just being nagging, but in reality, our mothers were trying to prevent us from developing the habit of bad posture.
Today, a lot of people suffer from problems related to poor posture, and the worst part is that many of them do not even realize that they have poor posture.
How many times have you caught yourself slouching or hunching over your computer, looking down at your smartphone, cradling the phone between your head and shoulders, or sliding forward on your office seat?
All these are examples of poor posture, yet we engage in many of them without even realizing it.
Essentially, poor posture is any position where there is musculoskeletal distortion in the neck and back due to the spine being in unnatural positions for long periods of time.
WHY YOU SHOULD STRIVE FOR PROPER POSTURE
Even when we know that some of our habits lead to poor posture, many of us do nothing to correct our posture.
This is because we don’t know the negative impact of poor posture.
Apart from making you look unattractive and self-doubting, poor posture also has several negative effects on your health and wellbeing. These include:
Soreness and pain: Poor posture puts your body’s support system (your muscles and skeleton) in unnatural positions.
This unnatural position causes misalignment of the spine, resulting in pain in the affected areas.
Poor posture also misaligns your body’s natural weight distribution, which means that some of your muscles and bones have to bear more weight than they are supposed to.
They have to work harder to support this extra weight, leading to pain and soreness in these areas.
The areas that commonly experience pain and soreness include the lower back, the shoulders, the neck and the wrists.
Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases: Poor posture, such as slouching, puts pressure on the ribcage and diaphragm, which can put more pressure on the heart.
The misalignment of the spine can also result in constriction of blood vessels, resulting in poor circulation and conditions like deep vein thrombosis.
If left untreated, these conditions greatly increase your risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
Poor breathing: Apart from putting more pressure on the heart, pressure on the ribcage and diaphragm also prevents your lungs from expanding properly as you breathe in.
This in turns prevents your lungs from taking in as much oxygen as they should.
Negative mood: You might think that there is no connection between your body posture and your mood, but studies show otherwise.
According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Auckland, poor posture is associated with lower self-esteem, more fear, worse moods and greater use of negative words.
Increased stress: Poor posture has also been shown to lead to increased physical and mental stress.
Apart from the physical stress resulting from body pain and soreness, poor posture also increases the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body, leading to increased mental stress.
A study by the San Francisco State University asked students to walk down a hallway either in a slouched position or by cross-crawl skipping.
The group that walked in a slouched positions experienced decreased energy levels and higher feelings of depression.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: The function and sensitivity of your arms, wrists and hands is controlled by the nerves stemming from your upper back and neck.
Since poor posture largely affects these areas (the upper back and neck), it can result in pinching of these nerves, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a condition where someone experiences tightness, pain, tingling or numbness in the muscles throughout the arm.
Tension headaches: This is another problem caused by poor posture that is commonly experienced by office workers.
Sitting all day in a poorly set up workstation – a monitor or desk that is too low or too high, computer accessories that are not ergonomically designed, a chair that does not provide adequate support, and so on – puts a lot of strain and tension on your neck and shoulders.
Eventually, this tension works its way up your head, resulting in tension headaches.
Decreased motivation: I mentioned that poor posture often makes you feel less confident in yourself. This in turn causes you to lose motivation in going after your goals and ambitions.
Due to the appearance of self-doubt, others will also consider you as shy or timid, which will negatively affect you both in work-related and social situations.
Poor digestion: Just like it squeezes up your rib cage and diaphragm, hunching over and slouching also bunches up the organs around your abdomen together.
This leads to decreased ability to digest food, causing you to feel constipated. If left unaddressed for a long period of time, this can result in life-changing metabolic problems.
Fatigue: Poor posture unnaturally shifts your body weight, which means that some of your muscles have to work much harder to keep you upright.
This extra work is tiresome and requires more energy, therefore it leaves you feeling fatigued.
EXERCISES TO IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE
To avoid experiencing any of the negative effects discussed above, you need to actively work on correcting and improving your posture.
Good posture ensures that all the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments within your body are properly aligned in their correct position and that they are working optimally.
Good posture also helps your body to develop proper strength, balance and flexibility.
There is less strain on your body and you are less likely to experience any of the negative effects discussed above. In this section, we are going to look at some great exercises that can help you improve your posture.
Most of these exercises are easy to perform and do not need any complicated equipment, which means that you can easily perform them within the privacy of your home and without the need to invest a lot of money in expensive equipment.
A strong core is very important for developing good posture, and this simple exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your core.
The plank strengthens the several abdominal muscles, including the internal and external obliques, the rectus adbominis (the six pack muscles), as well as the erector spinae muscles on your back, the glutes, and the muscles on your shoulders.
Below are the steps on how to correctly perform the plank:
- Start by lying face down on the floor, with your legs and feet together and your palms alongside your shoulders in pushup position.
- Raise yourself up onto your forearms, such that your elbow and the rest of your forearm is touching the ground. Your forearms should also be parallel to each other.
- Lift up your lower body and knees such that only your forearms and toes remain touching the ground.
- Lock your abdominal and pelvic muscles to ensure that the middle part of your body does not sag. At this point, your legs, your spine, your shoulders, and your neck should be held straight, with your head facing downwards.
- Hold the position for a while as your breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. For starters, try to hold the position for about 30 seconds. You can gradually increase the length of time as your core becomes stronger.
This exercise helps you develop a strong back, which is also an important element for maintaining proper body posture.
This exercise works the erector spinae muscles, the muscles of the lower back as well as the glutes.
This exercise also improves the mobility and flexibility of the spine. Below are steps on how to properly perform back extensions.
- Start by lying face down on the floor, with your legs and feet together and your hands stretched outwards. Your feet should be outstretched, such that the tops of your feet are pressed against the floor.
- Using only your back muscles, slowly lift up your head and chest off the floor as you simultaneously lift up your feet off the floor. Don’t push down into your arms to lift up. At this point, only the middle section of your body (your stomach and hip bones) should be in contact with the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds and go back to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 – 15 times, increasing the number of reps as your back becomes stronger.
If you find it to perform the exercise, start off with an easier variation of the exercise where you lift up your head, chest and arms off the floor while your feet remain in contact with the floor.
You can later move on to the advanced variation as your back becomes stronger.
This is another simple exercise that you can do from anywhere, even inside your office.
This exercise is a great way to test your posture as well as to combat against rounded shoulders.
The exercise stretches out your shoulders and chest and helps strengthen a number of back muscles, including the trapezius, the rotator cuffs and the lats.
All you need to perform this exercise is a roomy wall space.
Follow the steps below to properly perform the wall angels.
- Start by standing with your back against the wall, with your heels a few inches from the base of the wall and your knees slightly bent.
- Make sure that your entire upper body – your head, shoulders and back – is touching the wall.
- Raise your arms with your elbows bent such that your lower arms are pointing upwards while your upper arms are parallel to the floor. The whole of your arms should also be leaning against the wall, with the palms facing outwards.
- Straighten your elbows to raise your arms above your head, such that they form a letter Y, with your head protruding from the center of the letter Y. As you raise your arms, make sure that they remain in contact with the wall.
- Hold the position for a few seconds and bring your arms back to the starting position, once again ensuring that contact with the wall is not lost.
- Repeat the arm movement 10 – 15 times.
The chin tuck is a great exercise for keeping your head aligned above the spine and reversing the poor, forward-head posture.
It is also one of the best exercises for combating the neck pain that results from poor posture.
The chin tuck exercise strengthens the upper thoracic extensor muscles, which are responsible for pulling the head back into alignment over the shoulders.
This exercise also stretches the suboccipital and scalene muscles.
The chin tuck exercise can be done in seated or standing position.
Below are the steps on how to correctly perform the chin tuck exercise.
- Sit or stand upright with your shoulders rolled back and down. Make sure that your head is looking straight ahead and that your ears are directly above your shoulders.
- Place one finger on your chin.
- Without moving your finger, slightly tuck in your chin and pull your head straight backwards until you feel a good stretch at the top of your neck and the base of your head. At this point, there should be a gap between your chin and finger. The finger merely acts as reference for the starting point.
- Hold the position for a few seconds and go back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement 10 – 15 times.
You should perform about 5 to 7 sets (15 rep each) of the exercise throughout the course of the day.
This not only strengthens your neck muscles, it also helps you create a habit of maintaining good head posture.
The best part about this exercise is that it can be done anytime and anywhere – as you eat breakfast, lunch or supper, on the train, while waiting at a red light, in the office, basically anywhere.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
The kneeling hip flexor stretch is a great exercise for loosening the hip flexor muscles.
These are a group of five muscles that connect to the pelvis and the femur.
These muscles play a huge rule in our standing posture.
Since the pelvis is the base of the spine, tight hip flexor muscles can lead to muscular imbalance in the lower back, leading to poor posture and sometimes lower back pain.
Your hip flexor muscles usually become short and tight when you spend a lot of time in seated positions.
Follow the steps below to correctly perform the kneeling hip flexor stretch.
- Kneel down with your left knee and stretch out your foot so that the top of your foot is against the floor. Place your right leg in front such that your thigh is parallel to the floor while your lower leg is perpendicular to the floor, with your knee bent at a 90 degree angle.
- Place your hands on your right knee, while ensuring that your back remains straight upright.
- Without getting your left knee off the floor, push your hips forward as your squeeze the muscles in your right buttock. Hold this position for about 30 seconds and go back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for about 10 – 15 times and then switch sides, placing your right knee down and bringing your left leg up.
Once you incorporate this exercise into your daily routine, you will notice that it becomes easier to stand or sit with a straight spine.
This exercise is actually a resting pose borrowed from yoga.
The child’s pose helps release tension in the muscles of your neck and lower back.
This position also lengthens your spine and stretches your hamstrings and glutes.
Follow the steps below to correctly perform the child’s pose.
- Start by kneeling down with your knees together and your big toes together. The upper part of your feet should be against the floor, with your heels pointing slightly outwards.
- Keeping your knees together and maintaining the position of your feet, sit down on your shin bones.
- Bend your body at your hips so that your face is almost touching the floor.
- Stretch your arms in front of you or bring them backwards such that your hands are next to your feet.
- Remain in this position for up to five minutes, while taking deep breaths that expand your ribcage.
Reverse Plank Bridge
This exercise is a variation of the plank, which we came across earlier.
The reverse plank bridge is one of the most effective exercises for straightening your lower back and getting rid of rounded shoulders.
The reverse plank bridge works on several muscle groups, including your erector spinae, the middle trapezius, the rhomboids, the front deltoids, the hip flexors, hip adductors, hip abductors and the lumbar spine.
This exercise also works your neck extensors. All in all, it is one of the best exercises for improving body posture.
Below are the steps for correctly performing the reverse plank bridge.
- Start by sitting down on the floor, with your legs in front of you. Place your hands behind you with your palms on the ground. You can have your fingers pointed backwards or forward.
- Press your palms and heels on the floor and lift your pelvis off the floor. Ensure that your knees, your pelvis and your shoulders are in line.
- Pull your shoulders back such that the shoulder blades come together while pushing your chest up.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds. As your core and shoulders muscles become stronger, you can gradually increase the time.
The Cat-Cow Stretch
This is another exercise that is borrowed from yoga.
The exercise consists of repeatedly moving the spine from flexion (a rounded position) to extension (an arched position).
The cat-cow exercise is great for increasing abdominal strength and spinal flexibility.
The movement of extending and flexing the spine also helps increase circulation in the discs of the spine.
This exercise is great for preventing and reducing back pain. It is also a great exercise for those who spend a lot of time in sitting positions.
Below are the steps on how to correctly perform the cat-cow stretch:
- Start by going down on your hands and knees. Your wrists, elbows and shoulders should be directly aligned below each other. Similarly, your knees should be directly below your hips. Your feet should be stretched out with the top of your feet against the floor. Spread out your fingers for better stability.
- Make sure that your spine is straight, with your shoulders and hips at the same level. Your head should be look down towards your fingers, such that your neck is also in line with your hips, spine and shoulders. This is the neutral position of the spine.
- Breathe in as you tilt your pelvis upwards and backwards such that your tailbone sticks up.
- Relax the abdominal muscles so that your belly moves towards the floor and at the same time arch your back downwards.
- Push your shoulders upwards and at the same time lift your head so that you end up gazing at the ceiling. Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Exhale as you now tilt your pelvis downwards and inwards, tucking in your tailbone.
- Follow by drawing your navel towards your spine and at the same time round your back upwards.
- Drop your head downwards as if you are trying to look at your navel. You want to end up with your ears between your biceps.
- Hold this position for a few seconds and then go back to step 3 as you inhale.
- Repeat the cycle as you inhale and exhale about 5 – 10 times.
- Once you are done with your last repetition, go back to the neutral spine position and hold it for a few seconds.
Good posture is very important for your health and wellbeing, and the eight exercises discussed in this article will help you improve your posture and reverse any negative effects you might be experiencing as a result of poor posture.
It’s good to note that for you to achieve results using these exercises, you should make them a part of your routine.
Poor posture is brought about by activities that are part of your daily routine, such as sitting all day at work and driving, therefore you should also perform these exercises every day.
If you perform them for only a few weeks and stop, you will soon go back to where you started.
Finally, I want to urge you to start performing these exercises today.
The older you get, the more pronounced the effects of poor posture become and the harder it is to reverse them, so don’t waste any time.
Get started right away.
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