Having good posture is important for so many reasons. Not only does it help you present yourself in a more confident matter, but it also helps prevent degenerative neck and shoulder problems, chronic hip and knee injuries, as well as a permanent curve in your spine.
First, it’s important to avoid things that negatively affect your posture. “Some issues that cause bad posture include sitting at a desk all day, certain sports where your bent over for much of play, and having an unbalanced workout,” says Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. Second, “it’s important to hit the muscles in the back and posterior chain, as those are the muscles that help ‘pull’ you upright,” Gary says.
To help you stand up straight and tall, we asked Gary to share some of the best exercises to improve posture.
1. Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Stand with feet next to one another. Step your right foot about 2 feet in front of your left foot, in staggered stance, right foot flat on the floor. Bend your right knee and lower your body until your left knee is close to the ground, forcing your left heel off the ground. Lift arms overhead, lean slightly backward, looking toward the back wall. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch sides.
“Tight hips are usually one of the main reasons for bad posture,” Gary says. “By doing a standing hip flexor stretch, you are releasing tension on the front part of your pelvis, which will allow your lower spine to return to a more neutral position, while at the same time retracting your shoulders. Both are necessary for good posture.”
2. Glute Bridge
Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet on the ground, shoulder width apart, as close to your glutes as you can get them. Place your arms long at your sides, palms down. Contract your glutes and core and push through feet, lifting your glutes, hips, and core off the ground so only your shoulders and head are on ground. Slowly lower. Repeat 15 times.
“First, this move improves glute activation in an unloaded condition,” Gary says. “Tight hips and weak glutes usually spell bad posture. Second, a glute bridge done properly elicits the scapular retraction, necessary for good posture.”
3. Prone Back Extension
Lie flat on your stomach on the floor. Place your arms long at your sides, palms up. Pull shoulders back and simultaneously lift your head, shoulders, chest, arms, and legs off the ground as high as you can. Hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat three times.
“This is a great way to work your posterior core,” Gary says. “It helps you work those antiflexion and stabilizing muscles in your back that help you stand up tall.”
4. Elbow Plank
From a kneeling position, place your forearms on the floor, shoulders stacked directly over your elbows. Extended your legs out behind you, with only your toes on the ground. Your body should be in straight line from head to toe. Keep your core tight, butt down, and shoulders back. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
“Elbow planks help you learn to keep a neutral spine, engaging your glutes and core,” Gary says.
5. Dumbbell Row
Stand with feet hip width apart, a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keeping your back flat, hinge slightly at the hips so that your upper body is at a forward angle. Keeping elbows tight to body, squeeze shoulder blades together as you bend elbows and pull dumbbells toward your chest. Slowly lower. Do three sets of 10 reps.
“A dumbbell row is great for retracting your shoulder blades while maintaining tight glutes and a neutral spine — the symbols of good posture,” says Gary.
6. Farmer’s Carry
Stand holding a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand, arms down at your sides. With good posture, walk from one side of the room to other and back. Repeat three times.
“Like carrying your grocery bags, the farmer’s carry is a great way to train your erectors and stabilizers under a load, so that they are more active under normal conditions,” Gary says.
7. Jumping Rope
Jumping rope — a posture-improving idea compliments of Gray Cook of Functional Movement Systems — forces you to engage your posture muscles.
“This is an interesting one; jumping rope calls for the correct posture for you to be able to do it properly. In order to keep the rope going you must stand tall with your shoulders back and chest out. If you don’t, the rope will catch,” Gary says.