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Fix Bad Posture: Top 14 Exercises for Optimal Posture

Optimal posture is essential for a physically healthy body. Many people suffer back pain due to improper posture, but the negative effects are endless. Having bad posture will not just put loads of compressive forces on your spine, it will cause muscular imbalances, tightness & limitations, pain, joint degeneration, and be detrimental to organ function. That’s why improving your posture may fix lower back pain.

To fix bad posture, we need a good ratio of stretching and strengthening exercises, hence why I created a Posture-Fixing Protocol which you can do completely free, at your home with no (or minimal) equipment for 10-20 minutes daily. Improving your posture can have a tremendous effect on your physical health, performance, and well-being, so let’s dive right into it.

Posture: Static vs Dynamic

Posture is the alignment of your body segments in space. There are different types of posture, the main three being the static ones like sitting, standing, and lying. There are also dynamic postures, which have to do with your movement patterns, for example, how are you walking, jumping, or lifting objects.

When improving posture you want to pay good attention to both static and dynamic types, since how you dynamically move affects your muscular balances in a static posture, and the other way around.

The point of this protocol is:

  • To stretch out the tight muscles that limit the normal range of motion
  • To strengthen the main stabilizer muscles that are too weak to support our frame.
  • To program our brain to choose the optimal posture by default, even in hard situations.
  • To learn how to properly move, to maintain this optimal posture.

Bad Posture

Bad posture is a common problem, in all age categories, including teens, adults, and the elderly population. Whether our postural misalignment comes from genetic predisposition, is a muscular imbalance, or bony deformity, it can be improved.

Now, most of the population suffers from a bad posture that is soluble very easily, in a matter of weeks since it usually comes from muscular imbalances.

The other part of the population which may have genetic, bony deformities will do best by consulting a kinesiologist, doctor, or physiotherapist to access their problems.

Bad Posture Causes & Negative Side Effects

Bad posture is mainly caused by one thing: Sitting too much!! There is nothing that causes bad posture more than excessive sitting. This is because when we sit we use some muscles over others, which causes shortening or tightening of the muscles and weakening of the main stabilizer muscles.

If your lifestyle looks like 8 hours of sitting at a desk job, 8 hours of sleeping, and 4 hours of driving, watching TV and eating, you will be grateful for giving yourself the time to read this article.

Other causes of bad posture: sitting with slouched shoulder, being overweight, talking on your phone too much on one side, carrying a one-side bag, lifting objects improperly, heavy weight lifting for a longer duration, multiaxial spine movements with loads, and training the wrong muscles.

Some of the negative side effects that come with improper posture are:

  • Pain in the neck
  • Spine misalignment
  • Shoulders and lower back, numbness
  • Pain in the legs
  • Improper organ function
  • False breathing pattern
  • Poor circulation
  • Impaired lung function
  • Impaired digestive function.

Types of Bad Posture

There are many different types of bad posture, but on average humans mostly suffer from three basic types. A lot of times one’s postural misalignment is a combination of all three.

  • Scoliosis – Lateral Deviation
  • Kyphosis – Forward Head
  • Lordosis – Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Scoliosis is abnormal, sideways spine curvature. Usually comes with a growth spurt, or is caused by cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. There may be one (C-shaped) excessive spine curvature on one side, or on two sides (both in thoracic and lumbar regions, called S-shaped).

Usually, the shoulders and hips are not vertically aligned and this can cause back pain. There is a concave and convex side of the spine, and most muscles in the back and hips are affected, especially the erector spine, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, serratus anterior, and latissimus dorsi.

The best way to check scoliosis is to bend forward and look at the shoulders and spine.

It is one of the most common sitting problems, also known as a forward head posture. An excessive kyphotic spine curvature in the thoracic area, accompanied by the forward head position which significantly increases compressive forces on the neck, due to increased external flexion arm moment.

The problem in kyphosis is that scapular retractors and adductors such as rhomboids and trapezius are weaker, while pectoralis (chest) and shoulder muscles are tighter.

The anterior pelvic tilt is a postural misalignment in which our pelvis is tilted forward. This gives off a look of increased lordotic curvature of the lumbar spine, which increases the compressive load on the lumbar vertebrae.

The superior pelvis is forward while the inferior part is tilted backward. The main cause of this posture is tight hip flexors, especially iliopsoas muscle, and weak glutes and abdominal muscles. This is one of the most common lower back pain causing problems, that tighten our back muscles.

Key Point

Bad Posture: Bad posture is most commonly a combination of scoliosis, lordosis, or kyphosis in the population. Including exercise that can improve your spine mobility, strengthen your lower traps, scapular retractors, core stabilizers, gluteus and stretch out hip flexors, upper traps, chest and front shoulder can significantly improve your posture which has many important benefits, one of which is reducing compressive forces on your spine

Scientific Reviews on Corrective Exercise for Postural Improvement

Many studies confirm the positive effects of corrective exercise programs in people with spinal misalignment and bad posture. Literature shows that strengthening and stretching key muscles can significantly help and improve posture. So, this is a quick overview of what the main studies/reviews found:

  • Applied stretching and strengthening results in postural improvement, when focusing on both the neural and muscular components. (1)
  • In 8 weeks, 3 times a week, 20 minutes a session of corrective exercise significantly reduce shoulder, mid-back, and low back pain, also considered to improve work efficiency in students and sedentary adults. (2)
  • Sixty women with neck pain benefited from a combination of manual therapy and stabilizing exercises. There were significant neck and back pain reductions, as well as improvement in function. (3)
  • In forward head posture or kyphosis, Kendall and McKenzie’s exercise protocol that incorporates applied exercises for specific muscles showed significant improvement in craniovertebral angle and scapular index, having a positive effect on shoulder and head posture. (4)

This shows us that exercise can be very helpful and in fact, one of the best ways to correct our posture in a natural and active way, now let’s hop onto the program.

Goals of our Posture-Fixing Protocol

Since science approves it, a good, specific, and structured plan that targets the main key muscles that are causing bad posture can be beneficial for improving bad posture. First here is a list of our goals that follow the program, so you understand why you will be doing these exact exercise protocols.

This combination of exercises is specifically designed to target weak or tight muscles causing bad posture such as kyphosis, scoliosis, lordosis, or a combination of these. Our main goal is to:

1. Strengthen the weak muscles such as:

Neck stabilizers, deep cervical muscles, lower trapezoid muscles as well as scapular retractors (adductors) such as rhomboid minor and major, strengthen core and gluteus muscles.

2. Stabilize the main core, hip, and shoulder stabilizers such as:

Transverse and Oblique abdominis, erector spine and multifidus, rhomboids, infraspinatus, and teres minor as well as the gluteus medius, minimus, and maximus, and hip adductors and abductors. 

3. Increase the flexibility/stretch out shortened, tight muscles:

Upper Trapezoid, sternocleidomastoid and lateral neck flexors, chest and shoulder muscles (pectoralis major and anterior deltoid), gluteus and hip flexors, especially iliopsoas. 

Top 16 Exercise to Fix Bad Posture

Disclaimer: Make sure you move in the optimal range of motion, where you feel light stretch or contraction of the muscle, but never sharp pain. In case you have suffered an injury or you are unsure, make sure you speak with your physical therapist or get a kinesiologist examination/approval.

Exercise Protocol

The exercise protocol consists of 14 exercises, and it takes around 10-20 minutes to be done. Usually, the reps vary, but with contractions, we do 7-10 repetitive contractions x 2 sets, while with the flexibility we stretch for around 30 seconds x 2-3 sets. We start with spinal mobility, do a couple of strengthening exercises and stretch at the end, finishing up with massage to reduce tension.

#1 Cat-Cow

Set yourself on all fours on the floor (knees and hands)
Slowly inhale and tilt your pelvis anteriorly, look up
Slowly exhale and push your core and back up, butt and head down
Repeat 7 times

#2 Elbow-Supported Stretch

Having a chair or table in front of you, place your elbows up
Hands are behind (interlaced fingers) head
you are kneeling down, head between your elbows
Slowly lean forward, extend your thoracic spine
Hands go behind your head further, then go back
Repeat for 7 times (slowly)  

#3 Spinal Foam Roller Mobility

Place a foam roller on the ground
Lay down on your back and place the roller on your thoracic spine
Slowly interlace your fingers behind your head
Extend the spine (thoracic) while keeping your pelvic leveled
Your head and pelvis are down lower, your chest is higher
Slowly reverse (as in cat-cow) and come back
Repeat 7 times (slowly)

#4 Over-and-Backs

Grab a long towel (rolled) and on its ends
Standing straight, slowly raise your arms overhead
While doing so, try to stretch the towel laterally (adduct your shoulder)
If you feel pain lifting overhead, grip a little bit wider
Once you overhead, if comfortable you can go behind (as well as you don’t feel pain)
If your shoulders are healthy, you can go behind your head (circular motion)
Then get back, hands in front of your torso, shoulder level
Do this circle or half-circle (lift) for 7 repetitions

#5 Chin Tucks

Stand against a wall, keeping your spine straight
Tuck your chin in and straighten your neck
the go back in your neutral position
Repeat 10 times

primal movement patterns

#6 Scapular Retractions

Stick option:
Lay on your stomach down, grab a stick and extend your hands forward (holding it)
Slowly flex your arms to bring the stick behind your head, while adducting your scapulas
Repeat 7 times slowly, while straightening the spine.

Non-Stick Option:
Laying down on your stomach, place your hands in front (not touching the floor)
Slowly flex your arms and bring your elbows back and hands leveled behind your head
Repeat 7 times slowly, while straightening the spine.

In case you have weights or TRX, make sure you are doing this exercise with them, it activates rhomboids and lower trapezoids better.

#7 Airplaning

Set yourself on all fours
Slowly lift and extend your right arm and left leg
Squeeze in, pulling your right elbow to the left knee
Repeat the cycle 5 times on each side

#8 Plank Pose

Get into the plank position, hands and feet on the floor
The spine is neutral, squeeze your glutes and don’t let your hips to fall forward
Hold on for 30 seconds, and repeat 3 times

#9 Glute Bridge

Lying on your back, flexed knee, feet are on the ground
Rotate your feet so toes point slightly outwards
Set your hands on the floor, flex your core
Push through your heels and drive the glutes up
Then slowly go down
Repeat 10 times

#10 Hip Abduction

Lie on your right side
Right arm under your head
Flex both knees
Slowly lift your right knee by abducting the hip
Do not rotate your pelvis, then set the knee back down
Repeat 7-10 times, 2 sets on both sides

#11 Iliopsoas Stretch

Lunge position, Right leg is in front
Straighten your spine and hold to a wall (on the right)
Tilt your pelvis posteriorly
Raise your left arm overhead
Slowly lunge deeper, push your pelvis and bend to the right side
Breathe deep for 5 seconds
Repeat on the other side (4 times each)

#12 Gluteus Stretch

Lie on your back and flex both knees
Now rotate your right leg so you press your right ankle to the left knee
Pull your left knee towards your chest (pulsating motion)
Breathe deep for 10 seconds
Repeat on the other side (4 times each)

#13 Neck Ball Massage

If you have a tennis or massage small ball place it on your traps
Go against the wall and roll up and down on your upper trapezoid muscles
Roll left and right a couple of times and breathe deep
Massage each side for 2 minutes

#14 Lateral (Side) Neck Stretch

Sitting or standing grab your head with the right hand
Slowly pull to the right (laterally) while extending (abducting your left arm)
Hold for 30 seconds, breathe deep, and switch sides
Repeat 3 times (each side)

Make sure you do these exercises 4-6 times a week, as time progresses your posture will get better and the pain in your lower back, thoracic spine, or neck will slowly decrease. As you go through the routing, you will be a lot faster, because you won’t have to read and set everything up, but you will achieve the flow. A great way to use this is as a nighttime relaxing workout, a morning routine, or a warm-up before your training or yoga/pilates session.

Optimal Posture

The optimal posture is all about reducing the compression on your spine while allowing a good ratio of strong and flexible muscles and also maintaining great joint mobility and circulation.

In Kinesiology terms, we can look at the LoG or Line of Gravity, for those of you who are interested in how compressive forces act on the spine.

The Perfect posture is said to have a straight Line of Gravity that passes through:

  • Ear (Mastoid Process of Skull)
  • Shoulder Joint Point (slightly anterior)
  • Lumbar Spine Point
  • Hip Joint Point (slightly posteriorly)
  • Knee Joint point
  • Ankle Joint Point (slightly anterior)

This minimizes the pressure on the spine that most common postural misalignments are causing, especially in the neck region, thoracic and lumbar region. Postural misalignment can be caused by increased compressive forces due to increased external or internal flexion arm, which makes some muscles work harder (become tighter) and other work less (become weaker).

With optimal posture, you will not just reduce compression on the spine but also improve circulation, organ and muscle function, joint function as well as your overall physical health, performance, and well-being.

conclusion

Most common postural imbalances come from excessive sitting, which causes weak scapular retractors & abdominal stabilizers, and tight (short) hip flexors and chest muscles. Optimal posture will allow for better circulation, proper joint, internal organ, and muscle function while improving your well-being and physical health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which stretches are best to improve posture?

The exercises that stretch out your front shoulder, chest muscles, side neck flexors, upper trapezoids, lower back, and gluteus muscles.

How do you fix bad posture?

Following this exercise protocol that can activate scapular retractors, stretch out tighter chest, traps, hip flexors, and glutes while strengthening your abdominal stabilizers, can significantly help. Also, make sure you consciously work on straightening your spine whenever you think of it.

How do i improve sitting posture?

Consciously reminding you to sit straight, investing in a good ergonomic chair, setting up your desk station more ergonomically (with a monitor), and doing simple office stretches every hour can significantly help.

How can i train myself to improve my posture?

Having a more active lifestyle, in which you incorporate weight lifting without skipping back day and core stabilization can significantly help. From personal experience, just looking at people with a straight spine and following some of their routines significantly helps in programming your brain to keep your spine straight. Once it is a habit and you learn to activate the right muscles and stop compensating with the wrong ones, you will have great posture.

Which strengthening exercises are good for posture?

The best strengthening exercise should involve scapular retractors (lower traps and rhomboids), Core stabilizers (obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spine) as well as hip extensors and abductors (gluteus minimus, maximus, and medius). So look into a bent-over row, squats, plank & airplanning, hip abductions, and pull-ups.

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