We tend to think of “posture” as stagnant position that should be held at all times during the day, but physical therapist June Srisethnil, DPT, OCS, says this isn’t true. “Posture is dynamic, involves the entire body—yes, even your toes—and changes with different positions and activities to promote ideal spine alignment,” she says, adding that the key muscles for posture are the deep stabilizers that run along the spine, primarily the erector spinae.
Other muscle groups involved in maintaining ideal posture include the diaphragm, abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis), and pelvic floor muscles.
How working out and staying physically active can improve your posture
“Most importantly, exercise keeps the joints and muscles of your body strong and flexible,” explains Dr. Srisethnil. Each time you exercise postural muscles, they are getting a boost of blood flow, which keeps them extensible [meaning able to stretch] and healthy. Whether you want to prevent injury or treat a current one, exercises that build your awareness of the way you hold your body will ultimately help your posture.”
Moreover, you can strengthen the upper back and core muscles involved in supporting ideal posture by performing specific exercises that target postural muscles.
Let’s look at five exercises to improve your posture
1. Dead Bug
Dr. Srisethnil says that the dead bug exercise is great for postural training because it helps you master the ability to activate the lower abdominal muscles, as well as your deep core stabilizers, like the transverse abdominis, which is where you should almost always start with core training.
This exercise helps build the mind-body connection with your core muscles, enabling you to recruit them more easily and naturally during activities of daily living.
“Being able to keep your spine steady while moving your arms helps with everyday activities, like walking,” says Dr. Srisethnil. In this way, the dead bug move is a great functional core exercise—“functional” because it helps you better handle functions of the core in everyday life, such as stabilizing the spine and trunk while your limbs move in opposition during walking.
Cat-cow works to flex and extend the spine, increasing mobility and blood flow and releasing tension in the muscles that stabilize the spine.
In this way, the cat-cow stretch can improve posture by increasing flexibility in the spine and stretching and lengthening your neck and back instead of assuming a hunched or slouched posture. It can loosen tight muscles surrounding the spine that may otherwise limit a healthy, lengthened posture of your spine.
3. Bird dog
According to Dr. Srisethnil, bird dog is an excellent total-body exercise that strengthens some of the postural muscles we often forget about while simultaneously improving balance. “It’s especially good for those who sit at a desk all day, and can help to combat the effects of sitting too much,” she says.
Like the dead bug, the bird dog exercise is a functional core exercise that helps train your core to stabilize your spine while your limbs move. It strengthens your deep core muscles, lower back muscles, glutes, upper back, and shoulders, making it a highly efficient and effective core exercise.
Bird dog can help improve your posture because it strengthens the entire core and back, which can prevent slouching, and it can strengthen the smaller muscles in the upper back, such as the rhomboids and levator scapulae, which can help you keep your shoulders back and down (not slouched, hunched, or hiked up) for good posture.
4. Triceps dips
Admittedly, tricep dips aren’t usually the first exercise that comes to mind when people think of exercises to improve posture. “This move may seem like it only works the arms, but to target the triceps correctly requires holding an ideal static posture,” says Dr. Srisethnil. However, she says that in order to make this exercise one that improves your posture, you absolutely have to focus on your form. “People tend to let their shoulders slump forward too much as they lower their bottoms toward the ground,” she notes. “You should focus on keeping your shoulders back, and modify your range of motion if needed.”
One of the ways that tricep dips can improve your posture is by strengthening the chest. This can help you keep your chest up and proud when you sit and stand.
This is one of the most effective exercises to improve your posture because it strengthens the entire posterior chain (the back side of your body), which is important for being able to keep the spine erect with daily activities.
Poor posture typically involves slouching over, which puts the spine in an excessively flexed position. This exercise strengthens the muscles that extend the spine, enabling them to better hold the spine upright without succumbing to slumping over.
One form check: Dr. Srisethnil says that it’s important to not excessively arch your lower back.
Adding these exercises to your workout routine can make it that much easier to stand tall, sit upright, and maintain healthy posture throughout your day.
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