Stretches and Simple Exercises to Improve Posture
Posture is how our body is aligned when we stand, sit, or lie down, and it affects not only our appearance but also our health. By properly aligning the body, you reduce stress on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments; help the nervous system function more efficiently; and lower the risk of conditions like overuse, injuries, and arthritis.
Good posture can deliver multiple benefits, including greater energy, improved circulation, and digestion, increased lung capacity, better balance, decreased lower back pain, and fewer headaches. As a bonus, you also look taller and more confident with good posture.
Poor posture is common among individuals of all ages. It is caused by weak core muscles, limited flexibility, obesity, and bad habits like sitting too much, slouching, or being hunched over a mobile phone. However, with enhanced awareness, stretches, and simple exercises, it is possible to improve your posture.
Stretches to Help Your Posture
Take on some, or all, of these stretches daily or several times per week. Hold each for 10 to 30 seconds while breathing naturally.
- Neck Stretch – Seated or standing, drop your chin to your chest to elongate the back of your neck. Then point your chin up toward the ceiling; hold and return to neutral. Drop your right ear to your right shoulder; then the left ear to the left shoulder.
- Chest and Shoulder Opener – Standing tall, grab your fingers behind your back and gently lift the arms. To modify, hold a rolled-up towel, belt, or yoga strap.
- Modified Backbend – Standing, place your palms on your lower back, tip up your chin and gently lean back to point your chest to the ceiling. Aim to open your chest rather than hyperextend your back.
- Cat Cow – On all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, inhale and arch your back (drop your belly and lift your head); exhale and round your spine, tuck your tailbone, and lower the crown of your head.
- Child’s Pose – From all fours, shift your hips back to your heels, with arms extended forward, and rest your forehead down.
- Hamstring and Calf Stretch – Lying on your back, extend your right leg straight and pull it toward your chest (use a towel, belt, or strap to assist if necessary). Flex your foot by pushing your heel toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
- Figure 4 – Lying on your back, bend your right knee and cross your right ankle over a straight left leg. Loop your hands around your left hamstring, bend your left knee, and pull both legs toward your chest. Repeat on the other side.
Exercises to Help Your Posture
Perform these exercises a few times a week to strengthen your core and increase kinesthetic awareness for proper alignment. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and repeat each 5 to 10 times.
- Isometric Row – Standing with your feet hip-distance apart, extend your arms in front with palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades back toward the spine, bend your elbows, and pull your elbows back alongside the torso. Extend your arms and repeat.
- Downward-Facing Dog – From all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart, lift your hips toward the ceiling and extend your legs straight, pressing your heels to the floor and dropping the crown of your head. Modify if necessary by bending your knees.
- Plank – In a push-up position with your hands about shoulder-width apart and navel pulled into your spine, keep your head and neck aligned with your spine and tailbone and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Modify by dropping to your forearms.
- Side Plank – Lying on your right side with your right elbow directly below your right shoulder, stack your hips and extend your legs with one ankle resting on top of the other. Modify by dropping your right knee. Hold, then repeat on the other side.
- Back Extension – Lying on your belly with your arms in a goal post position on the floor (elbows bent to 90 degrees), gently lift and lower your torso.
- Bridge – Lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart, lift your tailbone, glutes, and lower back, with your hands resting on the floor.
- Thoracic Rotation – Lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and twist them to the right, stacking your hips and knees. Extend your right arm to the right side, and rotate your torso so your left arm meets the right. Open your left arm back to the left side, aiming to lower your left shoulder blade to the floor, and repeat.
Awareness of your posture is half the battle, so correct yourself if you find yourself slouching throughout the day. Improve your alignment by performing these stretches and exercises regularly.
And remember to keep your head aligned over your spine, shoulders back and down, chest open and lifted, navel to spine, a natural lower back curve, and soft knees (not locked).
For additional guidance on improving your posture, consult a personal trainer or your primary physician.
For more than 25 years, Julie King has been a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer, holding certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the Aquatic Exercise Association and Schwinn/Mad Dogg Athletics. She also has extensive continuing education and instruction experience in PiYo, YogaFit and mat Pilates.
Over her career, Julie has led virtually every class format at commercial health clubs, corporate fitness centers, wellness centers, schools and online. A contributing editor for Club Business International magazine, she has been published in Club Industry, Fitness Management, Club Solutions, National Fitness Trade Journal and Gear Trends/SNEWS.
With a M.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Journalism, Julie is passionate about helping others to cultivate a love and habit of exercise.