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Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world #1 in orthopedics.

The Better Posture Workout: 5 Moves to Try

Learn how to counteract bad posture with moves to strengthen and stretch.

Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world #1 in orthopedics.

Let’s face it: Most Americans have poor posture. Blame it on our jobs. “Typically, poor posture is related to where we work,” says Brian Goonan, PT, DPT, OCS, SFMA, ART, a physical therapist at HSS Westchester in White Plains, New York. “We look like whatever we spend the most time doing, so if we’re sitting with our head forward, our shoulders rounded and our hands locked into a keyboard all day, our bodies are going to adapt to that position.”

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But there is good news: Exercises and stretches that put our bodies in a different pattern can help. “If we do things that open our hands away from our center, turn our head upright and pull our shoulders back, we can counteract the adaptation,” Goonan adds.

Below is his prescription for better posture. These five moves are meant to be done in a progression. In other words, once you’ve mastered the first movement, you can proceed to the second, and so on. “You want to take care of any mobility issues first, then advance to the strength movements,” says Goonan.

Snow Angels 

  1. Begin with a foam roller on the floor lying on your back, face up. 
  2. Place your head, upper back, and tailbone on the foam roller, so you’re looking to the ceiling. Your knees should be bent. 
  3. Start with your hands on the floor by your hips, arms straight, palms up. 
  4. Slowly raise your arms toward your head (like you’re making a snow angel). Stop when you get to a point where your hands come off the ground. If they don’t, continue until your arms touch over your head.
  5. Slowly return your hands to your sides.
  6. Make sure you can keep your low back in contact with the foam roller throughout the movement.
  7. Repeat at least five times, or as many times as you want.

Note: Although the goal is to get your hands to touch above your head, you may not get there at first if your shoulders are tight. 

Open Book 

  1. Begin lying on your right side with your hips and legs at 90-degree angles and your arms extended out in front of you at shoulder height, palms together. 
  2. Raise your left hand toward the ceiling and around to your left side. Your eyes and head should follow your hand, so eventually the left side of your face rests on the ground. (This also may not happen the first time you try it.)
  3. Keep your right arm in contact with the ground at all times.
  4. Most people feel the stretch in the ribcage, but the stretch can migrate as you relax into it. 
  5. Return to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat for a total of at least five times on each side, more if you want.

Planks 

  1. Lie on your stomach, resting on your forearms. Place your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. You can opt for open palms or closed fists.
  2. Curl your toes under, engage your core and lift your body off the ground so your weight is resting equally on your elbows and toes. 
  3. Keeping your abs tight, maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. 
  4. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds at first, increasing the hold by five seconds each time, until you reach a total of 60 seconds.

Planks are a great way to build core strength, which Goonan says you need in order to perform the next two exercises properly. Once you’re able to hold the plank for 60 seconds with a flat back, you can progress. 

Weighted Carries

  1. Begin with a set of dumbbells or kettlebells beside you on the floor. Start with 12 pounds in each hand (10 pounds, or the weight of a bag, is also fine). Increase the weight as you get stronger. 
  2. To pick up the weights properly, contract your core and hinge your hips back as if to tap a wall behind you with your butt as your chest and head reach forward. When you get to the point where you can’t hinge anymore because your hamstrings won’t allow it, bend your knees and keep lowering your body with your hips back until your hands reach the weights sitting on the floor.
  3. Squeeze your lats and as you breathe out, engage your glutes and stand up with the weights in your hands down by your sides. Imagine a straight line from the top of your head down through the center of your pelvis. (Pretend you have a book on top of your head that you don’t want to fall.)
  4. Walk forward with the weights in your hands, keeping them close to your body at all times. Keep your core and glutes engaged and your eyes focused straight ahead as you walk. 
  5. Go about 30 steps, then turn around and walk back another 30 steps. 

Turkish Get-Ups

  1. These are an incredibly effective, efficient exercise that you only need to do once a week, says Goonan.
  2. Start on the floor on your back with a 10-pound dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand. You may also start with a yoga block or flip flop.
  3. Bend your right knee so your foot is flat on the floor a few inches from your butt and outside your hip. Extend your left leg at a 45-degree angle from your body.
  4. Keeping your knuckles pointed toward the ceiling, look at the weight and press it straight up and directly over your chest until your elbow is fully extended. 
  5. Push through your right heel and your left elbow to prop yourself up onto your left elbow. Keep your gaze at the weight the entire time. Imagine a straight vertical line from the weight down through your shoulders to your left elbow.
  6. Place your left palm on the floor and extend your elbow so you’re leaning on a straight arm.
  7. Thrust your hips off the ground into a bridge as you sweep your left leg back into a kneeling position underneath you. (This is the hardest part, and the keystone of the movement.)
  8. Shift your weight toward your left heel and come to a half-kneeling position. 
  9. Sweep your left leg from under your butt to behind you, so your knee is pointing straight in front of you. 
  10. Push your left foot into the floor, engage your core, and bring your feet together as you stand up. 

For an added challenge:

  1. Now that you’re standing, you’re going to do all the same moves in reverse order, keeping the weight above your head.
  2. Take a step back with your left leg, then bend it so you’re in a reverse lunge with your knee on the ground. 
  3. Sweep your left foot to the right.
  4. Shift your hips back toward your left heel, reach the left hand down and place it on the floor in front of your left knee.
  5. Shift your weight to your left hand and sweep the left leg out and extend it as you sit down.
  6. Bend your left elbow as you gently allow your back to come to the floor.
  7. Place the weight safely beside you. 
  8. Repeat the entire sequence with the weight in your left hand. 
  9. Repeat for a total of three reps on each side.

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