Exercises to Improve Posture

Tamsen Butler
Contributor Del Sandeen
woman practicing yoga at home

The average person spends the majority of their day in a forward flexion - meaning they are seated and their shoulders are rolled forward. If this isn't counteracted with the opposing posture of a back extension, the forward flexion can become the body's default position. Some exercises can improve posture when done regularly and intentionally.

Posture Exercises to Try

You can incorporate any of these moves into your fitness routine. Aim to do these exercises at intervals of 2-3 sets, with 8-10 reps per set, two or three times a week. For the posture exercises you perform while in a chair, you might be able to do these throughout the workday, whenever you have an extra few minutes.

Seated Scapular Retraction

This simple exercise pulls the scapular muscles (the shoulders) together to stretch the chest open.

  1. Sitting in a chair with feet on the ground and the spine neutral, roll your shoulders back and sit tall.
  2. Extend your arms out in front of you, with the arms facing each other. Reach.
  3. Inhale deeply.
  4. Pull your shoulder blades together while pulling the arms out to your side (palms facing forward). Squeeze the shoulder blades together, to the point of a stretch and not pain.
  5. Exhale and return the arms to the beginning position, taking care to not round your back.
Man Sitting On Chair In Boat

Simple Neck Correction

For many people, bad posture begins with a forward head posture that pushes the head forward and puts the neck in a strained position. Reset your neck throughout the day with this simple exercise.

  1. From either a seated or standing position, slowly bring your chin to your chest.
  2. Return to your original position, but ensure it's a correct posture without the head coming forward from an extended neck.
  3. If you feel you need more help in resetting your posture, roll your shoulders back and down.

Elbow Plank

A properly executed plank forces your back to remain straight while strengthening your core muscles to assist with good posture.

  1. Move into a plank position on your elbows/forearms. If you are new to planks, this can be done on the knees instead of the toes.
  2. While in the position, focus on squaring your hips and maintaining a flat back.
  3. Don't allow your shoulders to bunch up or tighten excessively and don't allow your stomach to sag (or your glutes to pike up).
  4. Hold the plank for around 20-30 seconds. Repeat once or twice, depending on your capabilities.
Woman in yoga plank position

Back Extension

A back extension not only strengthens the erector spinae (back muscles), but it also counteracts the perpetual forward flexion most people spend their days in. This can be done on a stability ball or on an adjustable ab bench.

  1. If using an adjustable ab bench, adjust it to where you can hinge your hips to move forward freely. If using a ball, position yourself to where your torso is on the ball with your legs extended behind you and feet on the floor.
  2. Place your hands to the side of your face with elbows extended outward or crossed in front of you. Advanced exercisers can hold a weight in the hands in front of them.
  3. On an ab bench, hinge forward slowly, keeping your back as straight as you can. Descend for a count of three, hold at the bottom for one count, then return to your original position for a count of three. Don't hyperextend your back by going beyond your starting position.
  4. On a stability ball, lift the shoulders up and back, raising your chest off the ball. This isn't a big movement and should be done slowly before returning to your original position.
woman doing back extensions

Goddess Pose - Utkata Konasana

This simple yoga pose, done up against a wall, compels your body into a tall, neutral spine. Practicing this pose regularly helps train your muscles to accept this good posture as a normal state.

  1. Stand up against a wall, with your back toward the wall.
  2. Assume goddess pose, pushing back toward the wall.
  3. Focus on pulling the shoulders together and keeping your back flat against the wall.
  4. Hold the pose for around 20-30 seconds. Repeat once or twice, depending on your capabilities.
Ocean Goddess Squat pose

Lat Pull-Down

Strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscle in turn strengthens the back and shoulders and helps the body feel more comfortable in a correct posture. This can be done with a lat pull-down machine, with dumbbells, or even with resistance bands.

  1. Sit at the machine, adjusting as necessary so you can sit tall.
  2. Grasp the bar above you with an overhand grip.
  3. For a count of three, pull the bar down in front of you to the chest. Keep your neck relaxed to avoid neck strain.
  4. Hold the bar at your chest for one count.
  5. Release the bar in a slow, controlled move lasting three counts.

Activities for Better Posture

Some forms of exercise demand good posture for proper form, making them ideal activities for those wanting to improve their posture.

Yoga

Yoga makes the practitioner very aware of their body and positioning. Balance and strength are both developed through yoga practice, both of which are vital to proper posture. Aim to practice yoga twice a week if possible, either using the workout as a strength workout or as a recovery day.

People stretching in yoga class

Pilates

Pilates is all about strengthening the core, which helps lead to a more stable body. This compels your body to stand stronger and longer. Like yoga, Pilates should be done twice a week if possible, in addition to your other workouts.

Women in the fitness center

Barre

Barre fitness is a popular exercise that is quite similar to ballet movements, promoting an elongated, strong spine and excellent posture. This strengthening class can be done with or without hand weights and will build strength while improving posture.

Women doing barre workout together

Moves to Improve Posture

Since it's typically activities of daily living that harms posture, it makes sense that little changes throughout the day can help improve posture:

  • Raise your smartphone to eye level instead of hunching over to check it.
  • Set a timer on your phone or computer to remind you hourly to sit up straight, roll your shoulders back, or even get up and stretch.
  • Whenever you pass a reflective surface, check out your posture and make corrections.
  • Ensure your workspace is as ergonomically correct as possible for your body to avoid slumping or straining.

Seeing Improvements

If you make an effort to do these exercises along with intentionally correcting your posture throughout the day, you will begin to see improvements quickly. Standing up with a neutral, elongated spine will start to feel more natural and comfortable within a couple weeks, if not sooner.

Good Posture Benefits

Maintaining proper posture will help your overall appearance. Just by standing and sitting straighter, your stomach will naturally be held in instead of bulging out. It may take some practice to keep your abdominals tight, but with time and frequent posture exercises, it will become second nature to stand tall and sit up straight in a chair.

Exercises to Improve Posture