People spend a lot of time hunched over. A study published in JAMA surveyed 6,000 people and a quarter of them reported sitting for more than eight hours a day. (1) And all that sitting can wreak havoc on your posture, causing lower back pain. (2) In the gym, poor posture can lead to a reduced range of motion and poor form on moves like the back squat and bench press.
In addition to standing more and taking frequent walks throughout the day, you can improve your posture and hopefully relieve back pain by focusing on a select few exercises. The posture exercises on this list will strengthen your shoulders, traps, and spinal erectors, which all play a role in stabilizing your spine and keeping you upright.
The Best Posture Exercises
- Thoracic Spine Extensions on a Physioball
- Seated Face Pull to Z-Press
- Eccentric Romanian Deadlifts
- Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Cable Row
- The Wall Test
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Your spinal erectors, which are the muscles in your lower back that surround your spine, are responsible for stabilizing your spine. By strengthening it, you’re improving your spinal stability. Also, stronger spinal erectors will mean you can brace harder and stay rigid during heavy deadlifts. Strengthening your lower back is a great way to prevent low-back pain. A T-spine extension flexes your spinal erectors to lift your back upward. Compared to a GHD bench, lying on a physioball reduces lower back pressure since you’re not supporting as much of your body weight.
Benefits of the Thoracic Spine Extensions on a Physioball
- Stronger spinal erectors.
- The physioball supports less back pressure during the exercise, as more of your bodyweight.
How to Do Thoracic Spine Extensions on a Physioball
Kneel in front of an exercise ball and place your stomach on it. Place both hands behind your head and allow your chest to sink forward. Now, flex your entire back and raise your chest off of the ball. You’ll feel your lower back activate — hold that position for a few seconds, then lower yourself back down.
The seated face pull is a great corrective posture exercise for a couple of reasons because it forces you to work important posture muscles from a seated position. When you’re seated on the ground, your posture muscles are already working to keep you upright. Then, pulling and pushing a band even further activates your and strengthens your rear delts and middle-upper back muscles.
Benefits of the Seated Face Pull to Z-Press
- Forces you to work from an already active position, thus reinforcing better posture even more than other exercises.
- The push-and-pull combination of this move lights up your rear delts and middle back.
How to Do the Seated Face Pull to Z-Press
Loop an exercise band around a pole or a squat rack. Sit down on the floor, about two feet away from the band’s anchor point. Place both of your wrists inside one end of the band and spread your arms apart, so they make a “W.” Now, extend them forward and then pull them back, keeping your arms bent at 90 degrees. Once the band is right in front of your face, press your hands up. That’s one rep.
The Romanian Deadlift emphasizes the hinge of the deadlift by relying more on the lower back and hamstrings to move the weight. Reducing the load you lift and slowing down the lifting tempo increases the time under tension of your spinal erectors — and stronger spinal erectors mean more spinal stability. Even though you’re not lifting heavy, there’s still a lot of carryover to your traditional deadlift as the same muscles are being taxed.
Benefits of the Eccentric Romanian Deadlift
- Taxes the entire posterior chain — mainly the hamstrings and spinal erectors — to improve back strength.
- This move will have more carryover to your deadlift compared to other posture exercises.
How to Do the Eccentric Romanian Deadlift
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold one in each hand. Assume a standard deadlift stance, with your feet set shoulder-width apart. Keep the dumbbells close to your thighs and then hinge forward at the hips, to a count of six seconds, until the weights are at the middle of your shins. Drive your glutes forward to raise the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
The half-kneeling single-arm cable row addresses two key components of posture. By starting in a half-kneeling position, one can stack their ribs over their hips, creating better postural alignment. Adding the row on the cable machine creates an element of rotation that forces the body to stabilize throughout the movement. Not to mention, you’re also strengthening and targeting your back muscles. As a bonus, kneeling will also tax the quads. Just be sure to switch sides each set.
Benefits of the Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Row
- Creates great postural alignment.
- The row adds a state of rotation, which forces the core and back muscles to work harder.
- As a bonus, you’ll get extra quad work in.
How to Do the Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Row
Attach a D-handle to a cable pulley and set it to about mid-height. Grab the handle in one hand and step back about one foot. Kneel, keeping your torso upright. The knee opposite the arm holding the handle should be up. Row the handle to your side until your elbow passes your torso, and then switch hands and knees.
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Though it’s called a “test,” this move, which has you force yourself into an upright position and perform band pull-aparts, can help reinforce good body positioning. By pinning yourself against a wall and performing pull-aparts, you’ll train your body to stay in good posture as you actively move. It essentially trains your brain to become more comfortable in this position. You can do this at the start or end of your workout or even mid-day to break up all that sitting you probably do.
Benefits of the Wall Test
- Teaches your body to become comfortable in proper posture positioning.
- Using the wall forces you to maintain a good position.
How to Do the Wall Test
Stand against a wall so that there’s no space between your lower back and the wall, and your head is firmly planted. Hold a band in both hands, with an underhand grip, and then pull the band apart until your arms touch the wall. If that’s too tough, no sweat — pull the band as far apart as is comfortable and then work up to a full range of motion.
Poor posture may not play a role in pain or injury, but it will reduce your range of motion with the big three. Instead of compensating to access full ROM, spend some time doing these five posture exercises to stand up straighter and crush your lifts.
- Ussery EN, Fulton JE, Galuska DA, Katzmarzyk PT, Carlson SA. Joint Prevalence of Sitting Time and Leisure-Time Physical Activity Among US Adults, 2015-2016. JAMA. 2018;320(19):2036–2038. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.17797
- Gupta N, Christiansen CS, Hallman DM, Korshøj M, Carneiro IG, Holtermann A. Is objectively measured sitting time associated with low back pain? A cross-sectional investigation in the NOMAD study. PLoS One. 2015;10(3):e0121159. Published 2015 Mar 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121159
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