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exercises that'll help improve your posture: man doing upward dog at home

5 Exercises That’ll Help Improve Your Posture

If you spend the majority of your days sitting at a desk (*raises hand*), chances are your posture needs some work. Sitting for long periods in the same position—hunched over your computer, for example—puts strain on your muscles and joints, causing tightness, pain, and poor mobility. 

That doesn’t mean it’s either quit your desk job or be doomed to a lifetime of rounded shoulders, though. You can save your posture, as long as you’re willing to put in the work. Here, posture pros break down must-do exercises for straightening up those shoulders—plus a few tips for safeguarding your posture throughout the day.

Must-Do Exercises For Better Posture

Ready to commit to standing up straighter? Incorporate the following poses and strength exercises into your weekly movement routine (ideally three times per week).

cat cow stretch

1. Cat-Cow

This classic yoga pose helps get the spine moving and opens up the chest, shoulders, and abdominals, which are a few areas that tend to get tight when we sit for too long, notes Kelsey Decker, C.P.T., education coordinator StretchLab.

Instructions:

  1. Set up on the floor in a tabletop position: palms flat with shoulders stacked directly over wrists, knees on the floor beneath hips, and back flat.
  2. Begin the movement by tucking your chin to your chest and pushing up through your shoulders to round out your back. 
  3. As you round out your back, pull in your core and tuck your hips under your body. You should feel a stretch along your back. (This is cat pose.)
  4. Reverse the movement by untucking your hips and letting your stomach drop to create an arch in your lower back. 
  5. Pull your shoulders back and lift your head to look up. You should feel a stretch through your chest and abdominals. (This is cow pose.)
  6. Repeat the movement for 30 seconds to two minutes, inhaling as you move into cat pose and exhaling as you move into cow. 

2. Downward Dog to Upward Dog

Moving back and forth between these two yoga poses stretches and mobilizes postural muscles in the spine, chest, shoulders, and abdominals. It also stretches out the calves and hamstrings, which get tight from sitting for long periods of time.

Instructions:

  1. Begin on the floor in a high plank position with arms straight, palms flat on the floor with shoulders over wrists, core engaged, and legs extended straight back behind you.
  2. From here, push your hips up and back so your body forms an upside-down V. Keep your arms straight and allow your head to drop.
  3. Stay on your toes or try to drop your heels toward the ground to stretch out your calves. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. (This is downward dog.)
  4. Return to high plank.
  5. Then, shift your weight to your hands, drop your hips toward the floor, and roll your shoulders back to open your chest. Hold here for 20 to 30 seconds. (This is upward dog.)

Shot of a group of people doing some strength training in a fitness class

3. The World’s Greatest Stretch

“This stretch works by mobilizing the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine,” Decker says. Getting movement in these areas—particularly the middle and upper back portions that make up the thoracic spine—can help release tightness that results from spending so much time hunched over your computer.

Instructions:

  1. Begin on the floor in a high plank position with arms straight, palms flat on the floor with shoulders over wrists, core engaged, and legs extended straight back behind you.
  2. Step your left foot forward to the outside of your left hand. Keep your right knee off the floor.
  3. Lift your left hand off the ground and rotate your torso toward your left knee as you reach your left hand straight up toward the ceiling. Look toward your hand to rotate through your spine. Hold for 20 seconds.  
  4. Reverse the movement to return to a high plank. 
  5. Repeat on the other side. Do three reps per side.

4. Bent-Over Rear Deltoid Fly

Another great strength exercise that targets the upper back to help pull slouching shoulders back to a healthy position is the bent-over rear deltoid fly. “I typically program rear delt flies for all clients looking to improve their posture, as well as on upper body days that feature a lot of pressing movements,” says kinesiologist Jake Harcoff, C.S.C.S., owner of AIM Athletic in British Columbia.

Instructions:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand down at your sides.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips until your chest is almost parallel with the floor.
  3. Allow the weights to hang at arm’s length with your palms facing each other.
  4. Keeping your back flat and a slight bend in your elbows, squeeze your shoulder blades together to lift the dumbbells out to your sides until your arms are in line with your shoulders.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades once more, then lower the dumbbells back down with control.
  6. Do three to five sets of eight to 15 reps.

cable face pull

5. Resistance Band Face Pull

This resistance band exercise strengthens the muscles in the upper back—mainly the trapezius, rear deltoids, and rhomboids. Focusing on these muscles helps counteract the forward slouch that creeps in when we sit a lot. “I like to use this exercise as part of movement prep before training, but it can also be programmed into your workout,” says Harcoff. Include the banded face pull in all upper-body warm-ups and/or workouts. (FYI: You can also perform this move using the cable machine at the gym.)

Instructions:

  1. Anchor a resistance band to a sturdy fixture above your head. 
  2. Stand or kneel facing the anchor point and grip the band with both hands so your palms face the floor.
  3. Holding the band, back away from the anchor point until your arms are fully extended with your hands above shoulder-level and you feel slight tension in the band. 
  4. Bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull the band toward your face with both hands. Keep your elbows high throughout the movement. 
  5. Once your hands are close to your face, pause briefly. 
  6. Slowly extend your arms to return to the starting position.
  7. Do three to five sets of eight to 15 repetitions.

How To Combat Bad Posture Throughout The Workday

In addition to strength exercises, mobility moves, and stretches that specifically target the parts of the body responsible for posture, one of the best ways to straighten up your stature is to take frequent breaks from sitting throughout the day.

Read More: 7 Tips That’ll Help You Work From Home Happily And Effectively

Simply standing up from your chair helps straighten the spine and extend the hips, according to orthopedic physical therapist Stephanie Carter Kelley, Ph.D., P.T. Set a timer to go off every hour and take a few minutes to stand up, walk around, and stretch. 

For bonus points, add this easy stretch sequence to your standing breaks to nudge your posture back into a healthy position.

Instructions:

  1. While standing, inhale deeply and raise your arms overhead. This simple move lengthens your upper spine and helps your shoulder blades move freely, which is helpful if you’ve been working over a computer for a spell, Carter Kelley says. Hold for three deep breaths, then lower your arms.
  2. From here, step one foot forward, keeping both feet flat on the floor to maintain your balance, and hold this staggered, straight-leg stance. If you feel tightness in the front of your back hip, bend your front knee slightly, shift your weight forward a touch, and hold for three breaths. Return to standing, then repeat on the other side. “This movement helps open the hips and calves, which get stiff and tight from sitting,” explains Carter explains.
  3. Finally, place both hands on your desk and walk your feet back. Keeping your hands planted, shift your hips back and let your chest drop toward the floor into a modified downward dog. Allow your back to arch just a bit; don’t let it round up or hunch over. Take three deep breaths. This stretch opens up the hamstrings and shoulders, both of which tighten up from prolonged sitting, Carter Kelley says.

This quick sequence takes just a couple of minutes to move through—but trust us, you’ll feel the difference fast.

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