Given how many hours each day most adults engage in posture-compromising activities — such as sitting at desks, using computers while hunched over, driving, or watching TV — it's no wonder that poor posture is such a common issue. You'll know if your posture is lacking if you regularly carry yourself with rounded shoulders, a slouched over back, a forward-tilted head, and bent knees.
Not only does having poor posture make you appear less confident and even less attractive, but it can also lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms — such as back pain, trouble breathing, and headaches.
Happily, there are many simple exercises you can do to improve your posture, nearly all of which require no equipment or visits to a physical therapist or chiropractor. In this article, we'll look at how exercises work to help support the health of your spine, legs and more, and offer tips for safely performing the most effective exercises for postural improvement.
How Do Exercises Improve Posture?
Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to offset many of the most common causes of poor posture. That's because an active lifestyle and regular exercise (both aerobic and strength-training types) help to improve strength, muscle mass, stability, range of motion, and metabolic rate.
What are the most common causes of poor posture? Poor posture typically results from habits including:
Sitting down for many hours per day, especially while slouching
Living a mostly sedentary lifestyle
Not working in an ergonomic chair that supports the spine
Hunching your back when you stand or walk
Poor flexibility or stability, due to weakness or older age
Aside from avoiding the causes above, being generally active and building more movement into your everyday life can help to support a healthy posture.
Exercises can be effective at improving your posture and stance because they have the following beneficial effects:
Activate and strengthen your major muscle groups, including your core, lower back, and pelvic floor which stabilize your spine.
Stretch tight areas to prevent stiffness.
Improve range of motion in your torso by flexing, extending, and rotating your spine.
Prevent injury by strengthening the legs, so one doesn't overcompensate.
Improve balance, which reduces the risk for falls.
Strengthen the shoulders and upper back, which prevents slouching and neck pain.
Top Exercises for Better Posture
Now that you know why it's important to move and stretch your body to prevent slouching, stiffness and pain, let's look closer at the best exercises you can do to improve your overall posture:
1. Warm-up movements
Before moving on to more strength-focused exercises, it's a good idea to begin by simply moving your body to loosen up for several minutes. Try:
Wide arm circles and overhead arm lifts
Leg circles, in which you try to balance on one leg while moving the other
Forward folds, bending at your hips
Walking in place, or knee raises
Targets: core, lower back, shoulders, pelvis
How to do it: Start on the ground on your hands and knees. Straighten your legs as you lift your knees off the ground, keeping your elbows underneath your shoulders. Keep your feet hip-width apart and make sure your back is flat and your head and neck are neutral. Squeeze your quads, glutes, and core. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, then break and repeat if you can.
Targets: core, back, shoulders, pelvis
How to do it: Start on the ground on your hands and knees, with knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Start by rounding your back in a cat pose while tucking your spine outward and dropping your tailbone. Draw in your core and tuck your chin to your chest. Then reverse into cow pose by arching your back, relaxing your belly and lifting your chest and tailbone up. Repeat 20 times as you take deep breaths.
4. Glute Bridges
Targets: buttocks, legs, back, pelvis
How to do it: Lie on your back and bend your knees, placing feet hip-distance apart. Place your arms along your sides and roll shoulder blades under you as you engage your core. Press through heels to lift the hips off the ground. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then lower and repeat 10 times.
5. Downward-facing Dog
Targets: back, shoulders, hamstrings
How to do it: Start on hands and knees with hands shoulder-distance and feet hip-distance apart. Engage the lower belly by drawing the navel in towards the spine. Lift knees off the ground to form an upside-down V as you straighten your legs, and lift your tailbone up and back. Engage your shoulders and draw your belly in. Hold for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Targets: core, legs, pelvis, buttocks
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out. Send hips back to squat as you bend your knees, aiming to get thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your chest lifted and belly drawn in. Stand back up and repeat 10 to 20 times.
7. Knee-to-Chest Pose
Targets: buttocks, pelvis, hips, hamstrings
How to do it: Lie on your back with your legs straight out. Exhale and draw your right bended knee in toward your chest as you wrap your hands around the leg just below the knee. Your other legs should remain straight on the floor, with belly and shoulders relaxed. Hold for 15 seconds, then try straightening the lifted leg as you draw it closer to you. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 10 times.
8. Back Extensions/Supermans
Targets: back, core, buttocks
How to do it: Lay on your stomach on a yoga mat. Straighten arms in front of you, keeping your legs straight behind you. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you lift your arms off the ground, then try lifting your legs too. Hold for several seconds and return to neutral as you lower your torso. Repeat 10 times.