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Opinion

7 Stretches That Can Help Your Posture

Use these stretches to combat the negative effects of sitting so much.

When your commute has been about the length of your bedroom to the couch for the past six months, posture can take a big hit from sitting all day. It can cause hips to lock up and all kinds of weird configurations start taking shape around your low back. If working from home is screwing with your sit muscles, or your lifting game, or both, perhaps you should focus on stretches that can help your posture.

How To Know When To Stretch Your Hips Versus Your Hamstrings

Posture is not only what is seen near your neck and shoulders. Yes, you should be pulling more than you’re pushing; and yes, you need to work on your shoulder and thoracic mobility. But you also need to focus on the more subtle parts of posture, too — the posture by your hips, not just by your shoulders. If you tend to have low back pain, you might want to draw your attention to the lower portion of your posture.

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.

Hip Stretch
Image via Shutterstock/Nicholas Piccillo

A huge part of improving the more subtle (but powerful!) parts of your posture via stretching involves figuring out what you actually need to stretch and what you need to strengthen. If a lifter hasn’t been properly trained in mobility and flexibility work, they might have passively learned to stretch their hamstrings, but clueless about what to do with their hips.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

[Related: Podcast: Joe Yoon: Better stretching and mobility]

Can’t reach your toes without a very generous bend in your knees and throwing out your back? Your high school gym teacher might have told you to stretch your hamstrings because they were tight — and sure enough, they might be.

To the surprise of no one who has survived high school gym class, your high school gym teacher didn’t give you a complete picture. Your hamstrings might be tight if you can’t reach your toes: but it’s perhaps even more likely that your hamstrings feel tight because of a subtle postural issue that so many people in desk office culture have. If you’ve got an anterior pelvic tilt, tight hips might be more at play than tight hamstrings.

What Is Anterior Pelvic Tilt?

When talking about anatomy (and therefore, lifting), anterior refers to the front of your body. So anterior — front of your body — pelvic tilt means your pelvis tilts forward.

Tilt your pelvis forward and visualize it for yourself. This puts your hamstrings in a kind of perpetual state of stretch. No wonder you can’t stretch them any further — they’re already operating at or near maximum length. 

This tends to happen when people spend so much time sitting. Hips get tight and hamstrings, glutes, and core don’t really have to work while your low back sort of arches out along with your pelvic. Getting up and running through some stretches — for your hips, not your hamstrings — can do wonders for this jutting forward of your hips.

How Do I Know If I Have An Anterior Pelvic Tilt?

A slight arch in your low back is typical for most people, which can make it difficult to tell when slipping into an anterior tilt. The quickest way to assess informally is to look from the side to see if the front of your pelvis is lower than the back of your pelvis. A more in-depth way to check out this part of your posture is to lie on your back on a bench.

[Related: What’s the difference between active and passive stretching?]

Pin your low back all the way flat against the bench. Draw both knees up toward your armpit, maintaining your low back flush against the bench. Hug your left knee toward your armpit and let your right leg slowly descend back toward the bench. If you can’t get very far without your low back peeling off of the bench, you’ve likely got yourself an anteriorly tilted pelvis.

What Muscles Should I Strengthen With An Anterior Pelvic Tilt?

In response to your hamstrings being chronically overstretched, you’ve got to work to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. Think Romanian deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, and lots of lunges. You’ve also got to strengthen your anterior core by working on hollow holds, deadbugs, plank saws, front squats, and toe touches.

What Muscles Should I Stretch If I Have An Anterior Pelvic Tilt?

Hip flexors are tight when in an anterior pelvic tilt, so you’ll want to make sure to emphasize hip openers like long lunges, lizard and pigeon poses in yoga, and lateral hip shifts. You’ll also want to release your lower back with child’s pose, cat-cows, and figure-eight stretches (which will also get into your hips).

Stretches To Improve Your Posture And Help Correct Anterior Pelvic Tilt

So you’ve got to get into your hips, not necessarily your hamstrings. Dive into these stretches to help your posture out, aim for at least three rounds each, once or twice a day.

Lateral Hip Shifts

  • Stand with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart (where you can easily track your knees over your toes without collapsing your weight to either side).
  • Sit back in your hips toward the right without moving your hips up or down until your left leg is straight or relatively straight.
  • Without moving your feet, shift to the other side without your hips going up or down, like your hips are locked onto a horizontal rail.

Repeat 12 times on each side.

[Related: 3 exercises to help strengthen and improve posture]

Long Lunges

  • Sink into a forward lunge with your left leg out in front, but with that front foot a little farther forward than it normally would be.
  • Square your hips — AKA, pull your left hip forward and your right hip back.
  • Without carving your chest in and maintaining that squareness of your hips, push your hips forward.

Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

[Related: Get 1% better: a posture solution]

Lizard Pose

  • Sink into a long lunge with your hips squared.
  • With your left foot in front, plant your right hand just outside your right shoulder.
  • Draw your right forearm toward the ground between your left foot and right hand.

Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

[Related: Fight bad driving posture with this car mobility routine]

Pigeon Pose

  • Get into a high plank position.
  • Draw your left leg underneath you, reaching your left knee to your left elbow and your left ankle toward your right wrist.
  • Let your left leg settle roughly parallel to the front of your mat.
  • Open up your chest and make your torso as long as you can.
  • Sink down into the pose by carefully sinking onto your forearms.

Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

[Related: Best foam roller exercises for hips]

Child’s Pose

  • Get into an all-fours tabletop position with your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.
  • Walk your knees out as wide as your yoga mat.
  • Sink back into your hips, almost like you were sinking into a deep, deep squat.
  • Let your hands walk out toward the top of the mat and relax your shoulders and upper back.

Breathe into the pose for 60 seconds.

Cat-Cows

  • Start in tabletop position.
  • On an inhale, make a U with your back, drawing your belly button down toward the ground and tilting your tailbone up toward the sky.
  • On an exhale, arch your back (yep, like a cat), pulling your shoulder blades away from each other and toward the ground and tucking your tailbone down.

Go through a cycle of 20 breaths.

[Related: 3 coaches share their favorite active stretches for strength athletes]

Figure-Eights

  • Lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet on the ground. 
  • Cross your right ankle over your left thigh.
  • Loop your arms around your left thigh, pulling your left leg toward you (don’t yank, though).
  • Intensify the stretch by pushing your right knee toward the ground away from you.

Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Help Your Posture and Your Lifts

Of course, you can’t diagnose yourself out of a lifting rut or into optimal posture. But paying more attention to your body and tuning in to what your specific body needs are can put you — and your posture — in a much stronger position.

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