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A woman in a gym on a yoga mat doing stretches to help improve her posture

Your Posture is the Problem: How Posture Correction Can Change Everything

It’s no secret that everything in the modern world is very forward-focused. Whether sitting at a desk or cradling a newborn baby in your arms, you’re focusing on what’s in front of you. Even right now, you’re probably hunched forward, looking at your phone in your hand, reading.

It certainly makes sense why everything is forward-focused—you’re not going to have a conversation with your back to a person, and you can’t eat a meal on a table behind you. However, with an increasingly sedentary population, we’re not moving our bodies in enough ways to counteract the effects of all the sitting and slouching we do.

In fact, even active individuals who spend enough time exercising and strength training are not doing enough to directly counteract all the forward-facing we do. It takes concerted efforts to carry out posture correction, but we’re going to show you how. First, let’s talk about why healthy posture is essential.

What is Healthy Posture?

You probably imagine straight back posture when you hear healthy posture, but it’s far more complicated than that. Healthy posture is comprised of many different muscle groups and the entire skeletal system of the torso beginning at the neck.

From the top down, healthy posture involves:

Woman standing with poor posture and healthy posture

  • head position
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • chest
  • upper and lower back
  • abdomen
  • pelvic floor
  • glutes

A person with an ideal, healthy posture would stand with the following 5 checkpoints aligned in a straight, vertical line.

The 5 checkpoints are:

  • ear
  • shoulder
  • hip
  • knee
  • ankle

You can check your back posture for posture-correction purposes by taking a picture of yourself from the side and drawing a line from your ear to your ankle. Make a note of any checkpoints that stray from the line. It’s not atypical to see a sort of zig-zag line forming between these checkpoints, and if that’s the case, you probably have significant discomfort at various points in your body.

You’ll also note that standing with good alignment is very challenging if you have poor back posture. For example, pulling your hips under your ribcage and your shoulders back might feel darn near impossible to do for more than a minute, let alone an entire day.

Why Does Back Posture Matter?

Posture correction feels so challenging right off the bat because the body is an amazing working machine. It’s incredibly resilient and molds to what we do day in and day out.

If you’re slumped over a keyboard for most of the day, your muscles lengthen and tighten in places that make that position more supported. Additionally, chronic poor back posture can also change the skeletal system.

The very foundation of your body is molded to suit your default position. The bone structure of your collarbone and shoulders can literally change. Researchers have found horn-like bone spurs at the bases of the skulls from the way people excessively stare down at devices.

trainer at gym helping someone with their posture

The body has other measures of adapting and protecting itself beyond the skeletal system. For example, a “dowager’s hump” is a common name for an unsightly, fatty deposit at the base of the neck resulting from a chronic curve in the upper back.

The body adapts and makes these changes to protect itself, but unfortunately, these adaptions also cause discomfort, and sometimes, significant pain. Beyond discomfort and pain, however, real dangers and adverse symptoms result from the poor back posture.

The Dangers of Poor Back Posture

Because your posture involves so many body systems and groups, poor back posture has a variety of effects, some of which you might be surprised to learn.

Poor back posture can be directly related to:

  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • disability
  • mood
  • bladder incontinence
  • constipation
  • heartburn
  • slow or disrupted digestion
  • potbelly, mommy pooch, or ab separation known as diastasis recti
  • body pain and aches
  • fatigued muscles
  • tension headaches and migraines
  • hyperkyphosis, also known as a dowager’s hump

The muscle shortening and stretching along with the changes to bone structure can directly cause pain and discomfort, along with causing tension headaches and migraines. In addition, the resulting pressure created by misalignment can cause the body to form fatty deposits, including the dowager’s hump, to protect itself.

man slouched while looking at cell phone

Slouching forward and forward head posture (the jutting forward of the head in front of the body) can both limit breathing capacity, making it harder to breathe deeply.

Chronic slouched back posture can lead to chronic disability, and studies prove that when individuals, especially those already diagnosed with depression, slouch, they feel more fatigued and anxious than when they sit and stand with healthy posture.

When the abdomen isn’t in alignment, it places excessive pressure on the bladder and prevents the pelvic floor muscles from functioning effectively. This combination can lead to or exasperate incontinence, especially in postpartum women who have already experienced normal trauma in the area.

The same abdominal pressure mentioned above can also disrupt the natural digestive process leading to stomach problems and constipation. It can also cause the esophagus to allow stomach acid to pass into the passageway, leading to heartburn and acid reflux.

Over time, poor back posture can lead to the potbelly appearance or what’s commonly referred to as the mommy pooch. In addition, improper alignment can place pressure on the abdominal wall and lead to diastasis recti or separating of the rectus abdominis. While this condition is prevalent in pregnant and postpartum women, men can also suffer. Even relatively thin people can look like they have excess fat accumulation around their midsection when they’re really just suffering from these ailments, all potentially resulting from poor back posture.

This lengthy list of symptoms can all feed off of and cause one another, and that’s precisely why truly effective posture correction involves far more than just pulling your shoulders back. Instead, it requires a holistic approach, which involves stretching, releasing, and strengthening all muscles primarily or secondarily involved in a healthy posture.

The Benefits of Posture Correction

The good news is that posture correction, or the act of correcting one’s posture, can improve or reverse many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with poor back posture.

Posture correction allows for:

woman stretching her back in gym
  • easier, deeper breathing
  • improved self-esteem and confidence
  • reduced or eliminated back pain
  • a better mood
  • fewer digestive issues
  • the appearance of being thinner
  • headache and migraine relief
  • range of motion and flexibility maintenance
  • more energy

Along with those obvious benefits, posture correction can be a game-changer for active individuals, particularly those who stay active with exercises like lifting weights, because it can help you meet your aesthetic goals in addition to relieving pain and reducing the risk of injury. It also improves circulation, which is better for fitness results because nutrient-rich blood can better reach the muscles.

The following are exercise-specific posture correction recommendations:

  • maintain alignment, especially the neck with the spine
  • keep your ears over your shoulders, usually with the chin down (avoid looking up or forward into a mirror)
  • keep your shoulders back, in line with your hips
  • avoid locking out the knees
  • maintain a neutral pelvis—for many of us, that means pulling the tailbone under to account for the slight-natural anterior pelvic tilt

Posture Correction How-To

By committing to posture correction, you can reverse the ailments you are likely dealing with and reap the benefits of healthy posture for the rest of your life. But making lasting changes with posture correction takes time. Consider the years and years of poor back posture you’re attempting to reverse.

Our posture correction guide includes 3 steps:

  • Step One: Release
  • Step Two: Stretch
  • Step Three: Strengthen
Woman using foam roller massager to stretch out her back

In step one activities, you’ll be using compression and massage to release the fascia and deep connective tissues that have become damaged or wrinkled because of chronic poor back posture.

Step two involves stretching and lengthening the muscles to improve range of motion and build lasting flexibility. The combination of releasing and stretching works much like stretching a rubber band plagued with knots. First, you untie the knots. Only then can you effectively stretch the band.

Next comes strengthening. Holding your body in correct alignment or healthy posture requires a significant amount of strength. Strengthening the muscles is especially important where they have become weak over years of not working as they should. Both flexibility and strength are essentially “use it or lose it” things, and though the loss is not permanent, it can take more time and effort to regain strength and mobility.

These steps aren’t completed consecutively; instead, you’ll work on them concurrently to build lasting healthy posture. You will complete foam rolling and stretching daily, while strengthening takes place three days per week, with a day of rest between each, to allow for adequate rest--an equally important piece in the building strength puzzle.

This program is designed to be a supplemental workout, meaning you can use it with your current program.

While you can use it alone, we highly recommend following a strength training program that includes all major muscles groups and ideally the following compound movements:

  • squat
  • hip hinge
  • vertical pull
  • vertical press
  • horizontal pull
  • horizontal press
Man doing a squat while looking at his laptop in his living room

If you are following a workout program, work these exercises in with days that include rows, pushups, etc. For example, if the healthy posture correction program includes a bent row and so does your other workout program, you only have to complete the exercise once.

Perform exercises so that you’re not lifting the same muscle groups two days in a row. For example, don’t do ab workouts on Monday and Tuesday. Instead, always allow for a day of rest for that group between workouts.

Should I Use a Posture Brace?

Before getting into our healthy posture correction program, let’s talk about posture braces. A posture brace is a worn device that helps to bring awareness to back posture and temporarily correct it.  

Typically, a posture brace has a cross-back and adjustable elastic straps that go over the shoulders and across the chest. Ideally, they align the spine to create a healthy posture.

Do Posture Braces Work?

Posture Braces can be helpful in the following ways:

  • posture braces bring awareness to healthy posture
  • posture braces can help create a long-forgotten mind-muscle connection with the muscles that should be working 

Beyond that, posture braces don’t have much benefit. A posture brace doesn’t strengthen your muscles, so as soon as the device comes off, there goes your healthy posture. However, the addition of using a posture brace and our healthy posture correction program can be helpful if you want an extra reminder to maintain your new back posture throughout the day, even when you’re not working out.

Begin by wearing the posture brace for 15-30 minutes per day for three to four days per week. Gradually, you can increase your use of the posture brace if you prefer. However, wearing a posture brace is not necessary while you work out.

The Healthy Posture Correction Program

Woman standing in yoga clothes with correct posture

Now for the program that’s sure to have you well on your way to a life-long healthy posture. Use this supplemental workout for 90 days, increasing weight as you can. The stretches and foam rolling are things you can (and should) continue regularly for the rest of your life.

After 90 days, you can discontinue the strength training portion, but your workout routine should still include those six compound movements to maintain your strength.

Because research proves that knowing the benefits of an exercise actually makes that exercise more effective, each step includes a list of specific benefits.

Step 1: Release

Frequency: Daily

Equipment: Foam Roller

About Foam Rolling: Foam rolling is a form of self-myo-facial release. It is inexpensive, convenient, and effective. In addition, it doesn’t take very much time.

The proven benefits are:

  • reduced pain
  • increased range of motion
  • temporarily reduced cellulite appearance
  • better relaxation
  • improved back posture

Routine: For each muscle group, position yourself on the foam roller so you can use the weight of your body. With firm compression, gently roll until you come across any areas that seem to “skip” or feel especially tender. When you find such a spot, apply even pressure for 30 seconds. Then begin slowly rolling the area for another 30 seconds. Complete this technique across the length of the muscle, making sure not to skip the 30 seconds of compression. 

Shoulders—Begin by lying on your chest with the foam roller at a 45-degree angle (from the neck) in the area between the delt and the chest. Slowly work to the bottom of the muscle, the area where the delt and the bicep meet. If needed, reduce the pressure on your shoulder by using your opposite hand, arm, or knee to distribute your body weight. Repeat on the other side.

Chest—Beginning in the same area as above, at the same 45-degree angle, begin rolling the opposite direction over the length of the chest muscles. Women can avoid breast tissue. Repeat on the other side.

Lats—Begin by lying on your side with the foam roller horizontally across your armpit. Next, start working down the length of the side of your lat muscle, making sure to follow the muscle as it moves towards the center of your back. Then, repeat on the other side.

Woman using foam roller to improve posture

How Does Foam Rolling Help Posture Correction?

Foam rolling obviously has various benefits, but how does it fit with posture correction? Foam rolling in these strategic areas—the lats, the chest, and the shoulders—work to release knots and damage in the muscles that are typically weakened and shorted because of poor back posture.

In the short-term, increased blood flow warms the muscle and rushes nutrient-rich blood to the area. Immediately following the rolling routine, you will begin stretching.

Over time, the damaged tissue is gradually broken up and removed. As a result, blood flow can return to the area, and you can achieve a greater range of motion. 

Step 2: Stretch

Frequency: Daily

Equipment: None

About Stretching: Not unlike foam rolling, stretching is safe, inexpensive, and effective. You don’t need any equipment; all you need is your body, the floor, and maybe a wall. While stretching is easiest when your muscles are slightly warm, it’s ok to stretch cold muscles, as long as you’re not pushing past your limits.

With this program, you will be stretching many of the muscles after you’ve foam-rolled. Foam rolling increases circulation, helping to warm up the muscles. Feel free to foam roll your glutes and quads to warm up the other muscle groups.

The benefits of regular stretching include:

  • better athletic performance
  • decreased injury risk
  • a fuller range of motion, which contributes to more strength
  • increased blood flow, which allows for optimal recovery
  • healthy posture long-term

Routine: Hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Stretch in a smooth motion and avoid bouncing. Aim for slight discomfort, but never pain, making sure to maintain proper form as noted. Breathe deeply and focus on the stretching muscles.

woman in workout clothes stretching her neck

Neck Wall Stretch—Stand against a wall and get into a healthy posture. Place your toes against the wall, knees stacked above ankles, hips above knees, ribcage above hips, and roll your shoulders back. Lift one arm straight above your head and place your hand, palm facing down, on the wall. Turn your head towards your lifted shoulder and tilt your head back as if you’re trying to look at your glute on that side. Repeat on the other side.

Lying Neck Tilt—Lying flat on your back, again, bring your attention to a healthy posture. Pull your shoulders back, flat against the floor. Position your hips into a neutral position and maintain a slight bend in the knees. Pull your chin in as if you’re trying to tuck it into your neck. This should create a lovely double chin effect, with a nice stretch felt up and down the back of the neck. Hold this stretch for 60 seconds.

How Do These Stretches Help Healthy Posture?

The neck wall stretch addresses stiffness and tightness in the neck resulting from chronic slouching. The lying neck tilt stretches the deep muscles in the neck that have weakened as a result of the forward head posture that frequently presents with slouching. Both of these stretches also directly combat the dowager’s hump.

Chest Stretch—

Lying face down on the floor, bring your arms to a T, perpendicular to your torso. Slowly roll onto your left shoulder, lift the right hip, and place that right foot on the other side of your left leg. You should be feeling a pretty significant stretch across the front of the pec muscle. If you need a little more, bend that left arm to 90 degrees. Repeat on the right side.

Shoulder Stretch—

Woman stretching shoulders in chair

Position yourself on your knees facing a chair or a low table. Maintaining a neutral pelvis and healthy posture alignment of the spine, place your elbows on the table, so the triceps are resting on the flat surface. Lower the head and neck, ideally lower than the shoulders and arms. You should feel a stretch in the shoulders.

How Do These Stretches Help Healthy Posture?

With typical slouching back posture, the chest and shoulders become extremely tight as those muscles shorten and the strength wastes away. These stretches, combined with foam rolling, help restore the function and range of motion to the shoulders and the chest, allowing the shoulders to fall into proper alignment according to the healthy posture checkpoints listed above, in line with the ears.

Hip Flexor Stretch—

on your knees on the floor, bring the right foot to a 90-degree angle in front of your body. Your raised knee should be directly in front of your hip, and the knee on the floor should be directly under that hip. Maintaining a healthy posture and keeping the hips in line with each other, lean forward on the bent knee. You should be feeling a stretch in the hip flexor of the straightened hip. Repeat on the other side.

How Does This Stretch Help Healthy Posture?

With poor back posture, the pelvis often ends up in an unnatural position, and, in the same way the muscles shorten and lengthen in the chest and shoulders, the muscles adapt and begin holding the pelvis into place. Because most people have a slight anterior pelvic tilt already, the tilt can be exasperated with incorrect back posture. One muscle group that shortens and holds the pelvis in this position is the hip flexors, so stretching them can be an integral part of correcting this alignment for more optimal healthy posture. 

Step 3: Strengthen

Frequency: Three days per week

Equipment: Gym equipment, or adapt with dumbbells

Man strength training at gym, pushing weights across the floor

About Strengthening: Strength training is an incredible way to bring movement and exercise into your life. Strength training can benefit most people, especially those who need to work on posture correction. Along with building the strength to allow for permanent posture correction, strength training is known for the following benefits:

  • building confidence
  • building muscle mass
  • increasing strength
  • protecting bone density
  • creating lasting weight loss and weight maintenance

Unless otherwise noted, perform each exercise in two sets of 10 to 15 reps. As time goes on and strength increases, add an additional set until you reach four sets. A good increment for increasing sets is about every six to eight weeks.

Depending on the number of reps, you should be using a challenging weight. For example, if you’re doing 10 reps, it should be challenging, but not impossible, to finish all 10.

Routine Day 1:

Neck Tuck and Lift—You will be in the same position as the lying neck tuck for this exercise. With your chin tucked and nice, healthy posture, raise your head off the floor 1 inch. Hold for a five-count, then release, but maintain the tuck for the entire set. Each five-count hold is one rep in a set.

How Does This Exercise Help with Posture Correction?

As with the stretch, this exercise builds strength in the deep neck muscles to strengthen and pull the head back in proper alignment with the back posture.

Lateral Shoulder Raise—Standing or sitting, hold dumbbells in each hand in a neutral grip, pull your shoulders back in line with your ears. Straighten out your back posture and hold your core tight as you raise your arms to the side until they’re in line with your shoulders. The arms should stay straight without locking out the elbows for the entire duration.

Rear Delt Fly—Leaning forward at the hips with a light dumbbell in each hand, allow the arms to hang straight down. Then, slowly and with control, raise the arms laterally until they align with the shoulders.

Workout room

Chest Press—On a flat bench, lay on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Using a barbell or two dumbbells, lower until the barbell or dumbbells align with your chest and push up. Never lock out the elbows.

Fly—On a flat bench, on your back, hold two dumbbells in a neutral grip straight above you. With control, lower the dumbbells laterally until they align with your torso, then raise them back up. There’s no need to bring your arms any farther toward your midline than your shoulder.

Face Pull—With a rope attachment on a cable machine on the highest setting, hold one side of the rope in each hand. Bend at the elbows and pull the rope toward each ear with your palms facing together. Squeeze the rear delts and slowly return to the starting position.

How Do These Exercises Help with Posture Correction?

These exercises help with permanent posture correction because they strengthen the muscles in and around the chest and shoulders to help pull shoulders back into alignment for proper back posture.

Routine Day 2:

Shoulder Press—Sitting with your back straight with strong, healthy posture, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. Press your arms up straight without locking the elbows.

Lawn Mower Pull—Using a cable machine on the lowest setting, hold the clip in your palm and pull up toward your ear as if you’re attempting to start a gas lawnmower. Return to the starting position and repeat. Repeat with the other arm.

Bent Wide Row—Start by standing with a barbell on the ground horizontally in front of you. With both hands, grab the bar in a wide grip. When you contract your back and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the bar to your chest, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle. Healthy posture is very important for this exercise, so ensure that your pelvis is neutral and your neck, ribs, and hips form a straight line.

Bent Narrow Row—Using the same stance and bar, flip your grip, so your palms are facing up and much closer together. Your nipple line is a good place to start. Maintain that healthy posture and imagine pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades as you pull back.

Squats—Using a barbell on a squat rack, place the barbell across the back of your shoulders and step back. Maintaining that healthy posture, tight core, and neutral pelvis, sit back as if you would sit on a chair. Keep your torso up with a proud chest and the neck in line with the spine. Squat to a depth of about 90 degrees before pushing through your heels and up into the starting position. This is a challenging exercise with massive rewards, but you must maintain that strong back posture.

How Do These Exercises Help with Posture Correction?

Woman in yoga pose to improve posture

The second routine day is continuing to build strength in the shoulder muscles while also beginning to focus on the traps. The traps are the main muscles used in healthy posture, and they’re often stretched and weakened by chronic slouching. By strengthening the traps, you’re helping stabilize the spine and bring it back into alignment. Squats are included in the posture correction work because they help strengthen the glutes and pelvic floor along with other leg muscles.

Routine Day 3:

Dead Bug—laying flat on your back, raise your arms above you so they’re in line with your shoulders. Bring your knees above your hips, bent at a 90-degree angle. Contract your core, and slowly straighten the left leg to about 6 inches above the floor while you simultaneously lower the right arm behind your head. Neither the arm nor the foot should touch the ground before bringing both back into the starting position. Repeat with the opposite combination. Instead of performing reps, do this exercise for two sets of 30 seconds.

Hollow Body Hold—Laying flat on your back, with your low back pressed firmly into the ground and your arms stretched above your head, raise your arms and your legs so that your body forms a bowl-like shape. Hold this position for 30 seconds and perform two sets.

Plank—In the starting pushup position, hold your body in a straight line. The core should be tight, and you should work to maintain that healthy back posture and alignment for the duration of the hold. Do two sets of 30-second holds.

Hip Bridges—Laying flat on your back, bend your knees so that your feet are just beyond your glutes. Then, tuck the tailbone under and raise your hips with even pressure on each heel. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat. It’s important that you’re maintaining healthy posture in your spine along with the tuck. Add a dumbbell or barbell across your hips to increase resistance as you build strength.

How Do These Exercises Help with Posture Correction?

man stretching on a yoga mat to improve posture

This combination of exercises builds core strength in the deep, transverse abdominal layer that helps stabilize the spine and often becomes weak with poor back posture. In addition to the core work, we also have hip bridges designed to continue building pelvic floor and glute strength to bring that pelvis into alignment for ideal healthy posture.

Nutritional Support for Healthy Posture Correction

If this is your first experience with strength training, we highly suggest a protein supplement to support your increased activity level. If you’re already using a protein supplement, you might be interested in adding an essential amino acid supplement to support your recovery to allow maximum growth and strength.

With time and dedication, this healthy posture correction program will help straighten the skeletal system so that the checkpoints all line up. This will be lasting posture correction because, with the strengthening portion, you’re teaching the muscles how to hold those bones and helping to build the deep strength required for those muscles to keep the bones in alignment. Before long, you will experience reduced pain and tension, followed by all the benefits of having healthy posture.

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