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The Best Exercises to Improve Poor Posture

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 20, 2020 0 Comments

wall exercise for posture

Having a solid routine of posture exercises is a great way to maintain full-body health throughout your life. Whether you want to prevent future issues or work on improving your current body alignment, a combination of strengthening and stretching will do the trick. Keep reading to learn more about posture exercises.

How Stretches & Exercises Benefit Posture

There are many benefits for posture exercises, these include:

  • Minimize or prevent the effects of bad posture
  • Balanced muscle strength throughout the spine
  • Optimized spinal alignment
  • Fewer issues with neck pain, mid or lower back pain, headaches, and other joint issues
  • Adequate flexibility of the spine and chest for daily activities
  • Overall improved quality of life

For other tips on how to improve your posture, see our full guide.

Yoga Poses for Better Posture

Stretches and yoga poses are particularly useful for promoting spine flexibility and muscular balance, both key components for keeping good posture.

Cat Cow Stretch

Start by getting on your hands and knees. First, inhale as you push the upper back toward the ceiling and bring your chin toward your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Then slowly move into the opposite position as you exhale. Drop the belly toward the floor as you arch the low back and look up toward the ceiling. Focus on keeping the movement smooth throughout the entire spine.

Move back and forth 10-20 times for 1-3 sets while focusing on the rhythm of your breath.

Child’s Pose

Start again on your hands and knees. As you bend the knees and bring your butt toward your heels, bring your hands out in front of you as far as possible with the palms touching the floor. Relax your entire body, allowing your chest to move toward the floor as far as it will go. You will feel a stretch in your upper back, low back, and shoulders.

Hold 30-60 seconds for 1-3 sets. To focus on the mid-back while stretching, you can gently push your arms into the floor for leverage as you attempt to straighten your upper back.

Wall Posture

Start with the back of your head, mid-back, and butt against the wall with your feet about 6 inches from the wall. Your low back should be close to the wall and chin gently tucked. Then, maintain this posture while pushing the shoulders back until they touch the wall.

Hold your shoulders against the wall for 5-10 seconds for 10 repetitions, up to 1-2 sets. Don’t forget to breathe and keep the best possible posture. For progression ideas, continue watching the video below.

Back Strengthening Exercises

Back muscles play a crucial role in keeping the spine supported. The strength and endurance of the entire spine minimizes unnecessary strain and fatigue throughout the body. 

Scap Retraction Strengthening

Lie on your stomach with your forehead either touching the floor or supported with a small towel roll. Keep your arms at your side with the palms facing upward. To start, you will lift your arms off the ground as you simply squeeze the shoulder blades together. Do not let the back arch (keep the abdominal muscles and glutes tight) or your neck tense up.

Hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat for 10 repetitions for 1-2 sets. You can progress to further positions when you’re ready (see video), with the arms in a “T” or overhead position.

Resistance Band Exercises

Using a resistance band can help build endurance for posture muscles in the upper back. There are two options here: a low row or a wide row. For either one, secure the band around a sturdy object that is somewhere between hip and chest height. Hold the ends of the band with the palms facing up while keeping good posture. For the low row, bend the elbows to 90 degrees as you pull your elbows back and squeeze the shoulder blades together. For the wide row, keep only a slight bend in the elbows as you again squeeze the shoulder blades (similar to a reverse fly).

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions, 1-2 sets. Make sure to keep the neck relaxed, chin tucked, and avoid arching the low back. You should feel these between the shoulder blades.

Posture Training

These strength exercises are very specific to building your awareness of your posture, important for carryover with daily activities such as sitting.

Chin Tucks

Start by sitting in a chair with the back comfortably supported. With the spine in neutral and shoulders pulled back comfortably, you will simply tuck your chin toward your chest without changing the general position of your head (think small pivot). Imagine you are attempting to give yourself a double chin.

Move until you feel a stretch in the back of your head/neck and hold 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times for 1-2 sets. If you are having trouble keeping your posture in check, you can modify by lying on the floor.

Seated Pelvic Tilt

Sit on the edge of your seat. With the upper body in good position (no slouching, shoulders back, chin tucked), keep your entire spine in a straight line as you roll the pelvis forward and backward. Your low back will gently move between arching and rounding.

Move back and forth 10 times. Finish your last repetition by finding the comfortable “middle ground.” That is your neutral spine! Try to keep your spine there as often as possible with daily activities.

Foam Rolling Exercises for Posture

Supine I’s, Y’s, and T’s

Lie on a foam roller or towel roll with it directly under the spine (same set up as the chest stretch). Make sure your spine is in good alignment before beginning, as discussed throughout the article. Then, alternate between bringing your arms out to a “T,” then a “Y,” and lastly an “I.” Between each position, bring your arms straight out in front of you.  Don’t force the motion or lose your good posture.

Move for a count of 2 between all 3 positions, repeat 10 times each for 1-2 sets.

Foam Roller Chest Stretch

Grab a foam roller and lay it on the ground. To get in the starting position, sit at one end of the foam roller with the majority of the roller behind you. Keep the knees bent and feet flat on the floor as you lay back with the foam roller touching your entire spine and the back of your skull. Once in position, bring your hands out to the side into a “T”. Rest your hands on the ground and relax as you feel a stretch in the chest.

Hold the stretch 30-60 seconds for 1-3 sets. To modify, you can lay on the floor or a rolled towel to decrease the intensity. Alternatively, you can progress the stretch by bringing your arms up into a “Y” position (while still staying relaxed) or even a touchdown position.

Exercises to Avoid

Now that you know where to start, here’s what to avoid to minimize risk of injury.

  • Avoid or modify any position that you can’t adequately control including unnecessary. tension, holding your breath, or movement in the spine.
  • If you’re experiencing a stiff or sore back, avoid movements that involve extreme multiplanar motion, such as combining flexion and rotation at once. This is hard on the discs and ligaments.
  • Any movement that causes pain or neural symptoms (tingling, numbness, etc).
  • Weighted neck exercises.

Tips for a Safe Workout

Posture exercises should leave your entire body, especially the spine, feeling great. Here’s how to ensure that:

  • Always start with the basics. You need a solid understanding and awareness of your posture before you can train your muscles. 
  • Always focus on control: normal or deep breathing, relaxed neck, chin tucked, shoulders back, and low back only slightly arched.  
  • Remember that while there is an “ideal” spine alignment, we are all built a little differently. Don’t force anything that feels off for your body.
  • Progress exercises as you can tolerate to build dynamic endurance, strength, and proprioception. 
  • If you’re struggling with keeping good posture even with exercise, you may consider the use of a posture corrector.
  • Lastly, don't forget about your posture with the different positions you are in throughout the day, such as sleeping, sitting in your car and more. 

Taking the Right Precautions With Posture Exercises

 A good posture routine, although commonly neglected, is great for keeping the whole body in balance. So get started today and you won’t regret it. If you aren’t sure where to start or experience symptoms related to poor posture such as headaches, neural symptoms, spine pain, or brain fog, talk to your physical therapist or physician for advice moving forward.


Next Pages:

Yoga for Posture
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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