Posture Exercises: 10 Best Exercises to Improve Posture
- Seated Thoracic Extensions
- Thoracic Twists
- Planks (The Right Way)
- Superman Extensions
- Lateral Rows
- Shoulder Press
- Front Squat
- Cervical Retraction or Neck Extension
- Overhead Chair Squats
1. Seated Thoracic Extensions
When it comes to posture exercises this is one of the most effective. It is considered a keystone exercise that is forgotten when correcting posture. Lower back, neck, and shoulders are always focused on but not the thoracic spine. This can be done in a standing position as well but excessive hip movement can occur and is not desired. The beauty of this exercise is that simply this correction can help correct poor neck and shoulder posture.
- Sit on a bench or chair
- Extend your feet as far out in front of your knees as you can. (this eliminates excessive hip motion during the exercise)
- Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it at the top of your chest near your collarbone and under your chin. The weight should be enough that you feel fatigue and difficulty after the 3rd set of ten.
- Slight forward lean at the hips so there is less than 90º at the hips.
- Starting in a slight sloughed position, elongate the abdomen, pushing it forward and lifting the chest to sit up tall. Imagine that there is a string halfway between the belly button and where the chest meets, and it is pulling your belly forward.
- Common Faults: knees tucked in; Hips swaying; rounding the back too much; rocking the hips back and forth; not lifting the chest upward toward the ceiling; leaning back.
2. Thoracic Twists
This exercise is often done wrong because of poor posture position.
- Our starting position will be in the quadruped tabletop position with our wrist under the shoulders and knees below the hips forming a 90º angle at the hips and the knees.
- Adjust your posture so you elongate the belly and lift the chest creating a nice straight line from shoulder to hips. There should be no rounding of the upper and middle back.
- Next, extend the working arm out to the side, parallel to the floor. For our purposes, it will be the right arm. The hand can be extended outward or placed behind the head, it doesn’t matter. If you place it behind the head don’t push down on your head.
- Finally, without rounding the back twist and rotate your upper and midback upward toward the ceiling. Don’t only move the arm. This is a very small movement, for some only 10º, while others may get 25º. If you are getting more than this, you have one or more components incorrect.
- Common Faults: sitting back on the heels; rounding the back; only moving the arm.
3. Planks (the right way)
Planks are important for transverse abdominis contraction. These muscle help to stabilize the spine during movement and help to create intra-abdominal pressure to support the spine. Again, posture is often lost in this exercise because of lack of correct exercise mechanics mainly and secondly due to fatigue.
- Starting on the floor prone. Place your feet behind you and prop up onto your elbows so they are below the shoulders.
- Create a straight line from shoulder to hips by lifting the chest and elongating the belly. When people see this occur they think the hips are sagging. They are not.
- Keep your neck in line with your body. It should not be tucked.
- Hold this position for up to 2 minutes for 1-3 repetitions.
- Common Faults: elbows are tucked underneath or extended too far; rounding of the thoracic spine; sagging of the hips; lifting the hips too high; going longer than capable and allowing all these mistakes to occur.
4. Superman Extensions
This is a great exercise because it can be done anywhere. This exercise usually involves the arms and legs, but we are only using the upper half of the body.
- Start laying on the floor stomach down in the prone position.
- Your arm placement depends on your strength and ability. Start in the beginner position with our hands by our side. More advanced people can have the hands under the chin, behind the head, or extended incrementally over the head.
- Elongate the belly and extend the chest off the floor as high as you can. The working pressure should be felt at the middle back below the shoulders and not in the lower back. If you feel it in the lower back bring the hands toward the shoulder, under the face or overhead to increase the resistance.
- Repeat slowly 10 times for 1-3 sets or hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on strength, endurance and skill level
- Common Faults: Lifting the feet off the floor; doing the movement too fast; elevating the hips off the floor creating a boat or bowl shape in the back; Extending too high focusing the pressure in the lower back because of low resistance.
For this exercise, you will need resistance bands or a reverse fly machine at the gym. If you’re at home use bands.
- First, grab a resistance band and tie it off to a supporting structure at shoulder height
- Stand with good posture by elongating the belly and pushing the chest upward.
- Grab your resistance band in front of your shoulders with palms facing upward.
- Step backward to add resistance, or grab further down the bands for added resistance.
- Keeping the hands and arms parallel to the floor, extend them backward stopping past the shoulders.
- Repeat 3 sets of 10
- Common Faults: Stopping at or before shoulder level; too much weight; rounded thoracic spine; palms facing forward or down; too much speed.
6. Lateral Rows
Do you remember the song called “I’m a little teapot”? Well it is also an exercise. This will also require a resistance band. Gym equipment can be modified for this as well. This was created by Gerald Ferencz to increase the load at the shoulder. Some exercises for rehab are great but they don’t fatigue the shoulder well because the arm muscles either fatigue first or joints further down the arm have too much stress on them. This creates a shorter working lever for the shoulder so more resistance can be applied.
- Anchor your resistance band at shoulder level.
- Take a step away from the anchor so that there is tension on the resistance band
- Facing the anchor, rotate the body away 90º away from the wall so shoulder and arm are in line with the band.
- Your arm should be in a stretched out position, at shoulder level, with the elbow pointed downward.
- The first part of the movement should involve the shoulder only. Squeeze the shoulder blade so that you bring is toward the spine, keeping the arm straight
- Next, with the elbow still facing downward, bring the elbow into your body, finishing with a 90º bend at the elbow. Try to eliminate the excessive bicep usage so don’t flex too much at the bicep
- Repeat 3 sets of 10
- Common Faults: Band placement is too high or too low; low starting tension; hips and shoulders not rotated 90º; Bending at the elbow too much.
7. Shoulder press
When the shoulder press exercise is done correctly it can activate the muscles of the middle back. Because the weight is in front of the chest the middle back muscles are recruited to support the upper body.
- Sit on a bench in the seated position
- Place your feet out in front of your knees
- Hold the weights in both hands in front of your shoulders
- Do not use the backrest. Sit slightly forward so you can recruit the muscles you need for posture support
- Sit with your chest pushed upward and elongating the belly.
- Push the weight straight up over your head and then lower the weight to the starting position
- Repeat 3 sets of 10
- Common faults: rounding the back; relying on the backrest; excessively arching the lower back; only doing a partial movement by bringing the arms only halfway down.
8. Front squat
This exercise will require hip mobility, shoulder mobility and middle back strength to stay in an upright position.
- Stand with your hips shoulder width apart.
- If you are using a barbell, the barbell will be placed in front of you across the shoulders toward the base of the neck and across the collar bone.
- Bring the arms up so they are parallel to the floor creating a shelf. Place the hands on the opposite shoulder crossing them in front of you. Your elbows should be pointing forward. (note* this position needs to be maintained thru 100% of the movement
- If you are using dumbbells, bring the weight up to the shoulders with arms parallel to the floor and elbows pointing forward.
- First, Hinge the hips to start the movement.
- The chest needs to stay upright thru the whole process.
- Slowly lower your hips to the floor. Your hip and hamstring flexibility will determine how far down you go. If you are not flexible, stop so your legs stay parallel to the floor. If you are extremely flexible continue with the hips down until your knees are fully bent.
- Push the weight back up to the starting position WITHOUT dipping the chest forward.
- Common Faults: not having the arms parallel to the floor. Not hinging the hips. Going too far when the hips are not that flexible. Allowing the chest to dip.
9. Cervical Retraction or Neck Extensions
The common exercise prescribed for forwarding head or neck is the chin tuck. The chin tuck is a greatly flawed exercise. Flaws come from the fact that resistance isn’t being applied to the neck. The movement is parallel to the floor so there needs to be an applied resistance. Also, depending on neck position, you can affect different levels of the neck. The common misconception is to call them a deep neck flexor exercise when truly you are trying to work the extensors.
- Sit on a chair or bench
- Have a good base with your feet and place them under the knees.
- Grab your TheraBand or resistance band and place it behind the head at the occiput.
- With the TheraBand in your hands, place it out in front of you with your upper arms parallel to the floor and the elbows bend at 90º and maintaining tension on the TheraBand.
- Sit up tall, elongating the belly and lifting the chest while keeping the core tight.
- Focus your gaze on an object in front of you and don’t lose sight of it.
- Retract your neck backward keeping focus on the object in front of you.
- Common Faults: arms move with the head; pivoting at the base of your head; slouching; low resistance
10. Overhead chair squats
This is a great exercise because of how dynamic it is. The movement itself borrows some of the key points of the other exercises I have listed.
- Sitting on a bench or chair (if the weight is light), place your feet under the knees so your knees make a straight line down toward the midfoot.
- Take your predetermined weight into your hands
- Sit with good upright posture by elongating the belly, lifting the chest, and contracting the back muscles. This will create a nice boat shaped curve in your back.
- Bend slightly forward from the hips maintaining the curve in the spine.
- Raise the weight in your hands overhead so that it is directly over the shoulders and the shoulders over the knees. At this point, the weight may be behind your head.
- Next push upward from the heels and midfoot being careful to not let the knees swing inward.
- Come to a standing position contracting the glutes and keeping the back muscles contracted. Be careful to not push the hips forward in front of the knees when you squeeze the glutes.
- Maintaining good posture and the weight directly over the heels, hinge the hips backward and come to a sit position
- Common Faults: weight comes forward of the knees and heels; dipping of the chest; no hip hinge on the way down; knees collapse inward.
While all these exercises are great to do for posture, there is one important thing to note. These exercises mean nothing if you are not being proactive about your posture. That means, after you start doing these exercises and get into the habit of slouching and being a zombie walker with your neck flexed forward, eyes on the phone and not paying attention to where you are walking, the work you just put in has become undone. Be proactive, be cognizant of everyday activities.