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
- Tall-Kneeling Band Pull Apart
- Offset Carry
- TRX Y
- Prone Weighted Neck Extension
- Barbell Good Morning
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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.
Changing your body position by getting in the tall kneeling position trains your core and hip stability. It also trains your upper back and shoulder muscles. This is all fantastic for better posture because upper back endurance and strength control the position of your head.
Research suggests that for every inch your ears are forward from your shoulders, you increase the weight of your head on your spine by an additional 10 pounds (3). Isolating and strengthening your upper back goes a long way in avoiding the dreaded rounded shoulder posture.
Benefits of the Band Tall Kneeling Pull-Apart
- This pull-apart variation trains hip mobility, core stability, and the upper back at the same time.
- The tall kneeling position gives you instant feedback on your posture when you are performing the pull apart.
- With this exercise, you can train to help support your head and better posture.
How to Do the Band Tall Kneeling Pull-Apart
Take a shoulder-width grip of a resistance band. Get into the tall kneeling position. Put your knees underneath your hips. Engage your glutes. Plant your toes on the ground. Raise the band to shoulder height. With your chest up and shoulders down, pull the band apart. Keep your elbows extended. Once the band touches your upper chest, slowly return to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
The TRX Y is a great exercise for straightening up rounded shoulders. It does so by strengthening the muscles surrounding your shoulder, particularly the upper traps and upward rotators. When these muscles get stretched and weakened, rounding your shoulders all the time is not too far away.
The beauty of the TRX is that you can adjust the intensity by changing your foot position, making it accessible to both beginners and advanced lifters.
Benefits of the TRX Y
- This move strengthens the upper back and outward rotator, which are both important for good posture.
- You can customize this exercise for your body and needs by adjusting your foot position.
- Strengthening the overhead position is important for full-body strength and stability, whether or not you like to lift heavy overhead.
How to Do the TRX Y
Grip the TRX with an overhand grip. Adjust your foot position as needed. With your arms straight, shoulders down, and chest up, pull your arms into an overhead Y position. Avoid shrugging your upper traps. Pause for a second. Slowly lower down to the starting position. Reset and repeat.
Holding two differently-sized weights on each side forms a larger demand on your core to maintain stability, a neutral spine, and good posture. The greater the offset, the greater the demand for core stability and strength to maintain upright posture even when using the same overall load.
Benefits of the Offset Carry
- Offset carries can strengthen your grip.
- By performing these carries in a variety of positions (with weights by your side, racked, or overhead), you can customize the intensity.
- The offset nature of these carries targets your core stability to help improve your posture.
How to Do the Offset Carry
Grab either kettlebells or dumbbells. One bell should be about half the weight of the other. Hold the heavier weight by your side. Position the lighter weight in the waiter, rack, or overhead position. Keep your shoulders down and chest up. Walk the required distance. Swap sides and repeat.
You can’t have a list of posture exercises without including a neck exercise. The prone weighted neck extension is a simple and effective movement for improving the strength of your neck and forward head posture.
There’s no need to use a heavy load. Low weight with higher reps makes this exercise more effective and safer.
Benefits of the Prone Weighted Neck Extension
- This move strengthens the head and neck, which is needed for collision sports.
- This exercise improves forward head and rounded shoulder posture.
- By targeting your neck specifically, this move provides a unique opportunity to train a generally under-targeted area of your body.
How to Do the Prone Weighted Neck Extension
Lie face down on a weight bench. Position your head off the end of the bench. Place a folded towel and a weight plate on the floor. Pick up the towel and weight plate with both hands. The towel should be between your head and the plate. Move your head up by hyperextending your neck up in a pain-free range of motion. Pause for a second. Slowly lower by bending your neck down until your chin touches your upper chest.
Good mornings are a great exercise that trains the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Good mornings need to be mastered with lighter loads before increasing intensity and range of motion. When you do it right, it’s a fantastic exercise to strengthen and build posterior strength, which in turn will help with a more stable standing posture.
It’s worth noting that if you’re lacking shoulder mobility or you’re experiencing intense lower back pain, an alternative may be best. You can also start with bodyweight good mornings and progress from there.
Benefits of the Barbell Good Morning
- This is a fantastic exercise for spinal erector and glute strength, which will help with a more upright posture.
- Great engagement of the entire posterior chain and all the spinal stabilizers will help with standing posture.
- You’ll increase your coordination across your hips and torso, as well as your core strength.
How to Do the Barbell Good Morning
Step into a squat rack. Unrack the barbell on your traps. Walk out two or three steps. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at your hips. Keep your chest up and shoulders down until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Lift yourself to a standing position by contracting your glutes and hamstrings. Reset and repeat for reps.
Benefits of Posture-Specific Training
Exercises that you perform specifically to help your posture won’t only help you maintain a posture your grandma will be proud of. You’ll also increase your core strength, potentially reduce back pain, and develop more powerful main lifts.
Just because certain exercises help with your posture doesn’t mean they won’t also translate into stronger lifts. Exercises you integrate into your program to improve your posture will have other effects, as well. By targeting the muscles you need to strengthen for your posture, you’ll be mainly working your upper back and core. A more stable core and upper back are much better suited to lifting heavy with excellent form. By making these muscles stronger and more stable with posture-focused moves, you’re helping to ensure a carryover effect into your big lifts.
When you integrate eccentric moves and extensions into your program, you’re going to be strengthening your end ranges of motion. In doing so, you’re incorporating strength-based mobility training into your program. Focusing on movement patterns you might normally neglect you’ll be improving your mobility in planes of motion you usually don’t train.
Becoming a more mobile lifter is an important step on the path to becoming a stronger lifter. Increased mobility may well help you push past your sticking points in heavy lifts. It can also help decrease stiffness and potentially pain when you’re lifting.
Reduced Back Pain
Training to improve your posture may be helpful for reducing some back pain. This kind of pain can develop from hunching over a laptop or phone for most of the day, or from sitting without being able to stretch out your hips. You might need some lifestyle adjustments in addition to your training to truly iron out posture-related back pain. Fortunately, these exercises can help you become more mindful about your posture on a daily basis, which can help move the pain-reduction process along.
Unless it’s a primary training goal of yours — which is perfectly fine — you don’t need to dedicate an entire day to improving your posture. Instead, you can integrate any exercises on this list that you feel suit your needs into your already-existing program.
Notice where your posture tends to be particularly painful or otherwise burdensome. Does your chest tend to collapse as your shoulders round forward? Consider pulling movements like the tall-kneeling pull apart and seated face pull to Z-press. If you can’t seem to keep your neck upright for the life of you, opt for prone weighted neck extensions. Does your core seem to collapse when you need it most? Offset carries and good mornings can help quite a bit.
To determine how to integrate these moves, you’ll want to assess your goals. If you’re mainly aiming to strengthen your compound lifts, you need to emphasize recovery. In that case, integrate light versions of these exercises mainly into your warm-up, cool-down, or between-set mobility work. If you’re training generally with moderate or lighter weights, you might consider upping the ante and integrating weighted posture moves directly into your workouts.
Progressing Posture Training
Remember that training to improve your posture is largely about pain prevention and reduction, as well as a general strengthening of your back and core. To accomplish those goals, you don’t need to go very heavy with the moves on this list.
Instead, to progress these moves, you can focus first on performing them with perfect form. This is especially true for loaded exercises like the good morning. Once you’ve gotten that down, consider integrating these moves more times per week. Did you start by incorporating eccentric Romanian deadlifts once a week? Consider adding a lighter version of these movements in your warm-ups, then a heavier version in your workout.
You can also progress by slowing the movements down. While you want to perform every face pull and pull apart with control, deliberately performing these exercises on a tempo can progress them quite well.
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.
- 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.
- Postgrad Med J. 1975 Sep; 51(599): 682–683.The Physiology of the Joints. Volume 3. The Trunk and the Vertebral Column.
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