“Stand up straight!”
Most of us have heard this command at one point during our childhood. Strangely though, most young children start out with pretty good postures. It’s us adults that need a good reminder about posture, as well as a set of exercises to right the many years of terrible posture that can seriously affect our health and wellbeing. Proper body position affects the way our organs, muscles, and joints function, can eliminate chronic pains often experienced in the back, neck, and knees, and also makes people appear slimmer, more upright, and confident.
The first step towards improving your posture is becoming aware of how you stand and sit. Once you’re mindful of the positions you habitually take, you can begin to make adjustments. It’s important to strengthen the muscles using in good postures that typically weaken from lack of use, building a healthier body that looks and feels better. Practice these exercises every week to improve your posture.
Exercises to improve your posture
1. SQUAT HOLD
Strengthen your core and train your body’s stabilizer muscles by squatting down and holding that position. Begin with feet hip-width apart and shoulders retracted. Next, sit back and down—with your weight in your heels—as if you were sitting on a chair. Squat as low as you can, working towards the position where your quads are parallel to the ground. Once you achieve that position, hold it for up to 90 seconds.
Like the famed superhero, this move will make you feel as though you’re flying. Begin face down on the ground. Tighten your core and legs before lifting your arms and legs off the ground, all while lifting your face slightly as well, isolating your lower back. Hold for three seconds at the top of the move before lowering your arms and legs down. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Exercise every muscle in your core and lower back with a plank. This move will have you supporting your body weight on your forearms, elbows, and toes while stabilizing with your abdominal muscles, glutes, and back. Lying flat on your stomach, plant your forearms, elbows, and toes on the ground. When you’re ready, engage your body—especially your core—as you press your body off the ground, and think about tucking your belly button into your spine as you keep your back straight. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
4. HIP BRIDGE
Use this move to target the lower back, glutes, and core. To start, lay flat on your back. With your arms at your side, bend your knees, planting your feet flat on the floor while engaging your abs and glutes. Press through your heels to lift your hips off the ground, towards the sky. Hold for 10 seconds at the top before lowering your pelvis back to the ground.
This simple exercise will teach you to keep your chest up and shoulders back. Grip a body bar, broomstick, or yardstick at shoulder-width. Stand up straight, roll your shoulders back, and extend your arms in front of you while holding the bar. Next, squeeze your shoulder blades down and together towards your spine. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat up to 10 times.
6. MODIFIED V-SIT
This exercise is completed on the ground. Lay back onto the floor with knees bent. Extend your arms forward. Reaching forward, flex your abdominals and sit up, straightening your back to form a V-position with your hips. Once in this position, reach your arms up by your ears. Hold for ten seconds, then bring your arms back forward and lower yourself slowly back to the floor.
7. CRUNCH WITH TWIST
Lay on your back with your feet planted flat on the floor and your knees bent, and place your hands behind your head. Exhaling, lift your right shoulder from the floor and twist towards the left. As you inhale, lower your shoulder back to the floor and resume the starting position. Do the same on the opposite side to finish one repetition.
8. DUMBELL SIDE BENDS
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and relax your shoulders. Gripping a light weight in your left hand, slowly bend to the left side and then return to the starting position. Repeat on the right side with the weight in your right hand.
9. BACK EXTENSIONS
Lay face down on the floor and stretch your arms straight out above your head. Lift your shoulders off the ground as high as possible while ensuring your head is still in line with your spine, then return to the starting position.
10. PILATES SWIMMING
Start in the same position as you did with back extensions, face down with your arms extended above your head. Lift your left arm and right leg, keeping the limbs straight, then lower them back to the starting position. Then, lift your right arm and left leg in the same manner before returning to the starting position.
11. REVERSE DUMBBELL FLY
Hold one light dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other, standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend slightly forward at the waist and soften your knees, keeping your eyes facing front and your head up. Raise your arms to your sides until they are parallel with the floor with your elbows slightly bent, then slowly lower them back to the starting position.
12. SEATED DUMBBELL ROW
Sit on a chair holding a light dumbbell in either hand with your palms facing each other, and bend slightly forward at the waist. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while pushing your elbows back behind you, wait for a moment, then return to the starting position.
13. SHOULDER ROLLS
Either sit straight in a chair or stand with feet shoulder width apart to complete this exercise. As you inhale, raise your shoulders towards your ears, pause for a few seconds, then exhale as you pull your shoulder blades back down and return to the starting position.
14. SEATED TWIST
Sit straight in a chair with arms. As you exhale, turn your upper body to the right using the right arm of your chair, hold for a few breaths, then return to the starting position. Repeat these steps on the left side as well.
15. KNEELING STRETCH
Lunge with one leg forward and the other knee pressed down on a mat. Move your hands to the upright, lunging knee and push your hips forward to stretch the muscle connecting the hips and spine.
Exercise tips for improving posture
To make the most of these posture improving exercises, be sure to pull your abdominals in and up towards the spine as you work out. Do not try to take on too much too soon, rather complete the number of repetitions you are comfortable with and slowly work your way up as you exercise more often. Make sure you are in control of your breathing, inhaling and exhaling slowly and ensuring you aren’t holding your breath. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately.
Related: Back pain: Common causes and tips for treatment