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Try These 9 Posture Exercises for a Desk-Bound Lifestyle

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

Stop right there — without moving, do a posture examination. Back curved? Chin protruding? Dowager’s hump? While these slouched positions may feel more comfortable in the moment, poor posture doesn’t just look “blah.” Over time, slumping can cause significant stress and injury to your body, too.

“Poor posture can cause certain muscles to weaken while causing others to become overused leading to muscle imbalances,” explains Franco Calabrese, P.T., D.P.T., clinical director at React Physical Therapy. “This will create force inequities between larger and smaller muscles. This can cause functional movement to be limited and often strenuous, which can increase the probability of an injury.”

These risks are especially prevalent if you’re susceptible to poor posture while working at a desk for the majority of the day. Other common causes of poor posture include sitting or standing for an excessive duration, a lack of physical activity, previous muscle or joint injury, and muscle imbalances or weaknesses, adds Calabrese.

“How you move outside of your workout affects how you feel just as much — if not more so — as the time spent in the workout,” explains Maggie Umberger, certified FRC mobility specialist and NASM-certified personal trainer. “If you’re spending the majority of your day in positions that compromise your posture, we’re going to start experiencing the effects of that.”

But strength training and posture exercises can help counteract the cumulative effects of poor posture, adds Umberger. Posture workouts can also enhance your body awareness to improve posture outside of your workouts.

“Upper body posture exercises will engage the rotator cuff, middle and lower trapezius muscles, posterior deltoids, and lats, which allow for depression of the shoulder blade and avoid rounding of the shoulder joint,” says Calabrese.

This posture workout, designed by Doug Holt, trainer and owner of Conditioning Specialists in Santa Barbara, CA and Natalie Miller, D.P.T., physical therapist at Vaida Wellness Center in Minnesota, combats chest tightness (which exacerbates poor posture) and strengthens the muscles that pull back the shoulder blades to build better posture. (It’s one of most people’s major muscle imbalances.)

Remember, as with any new workout, start slowly and aim for consistency when incorporating posture exercises into your routine. “Often, people pursue the fancy and new exercises when simple exercises, if executed properly, over a longer period will enhance positive results,” says Calabrese. “It is important that you perform upper and lower body exercises to maintain a well-rounded impact on muscles and joints.”

This posture workout, demonstrated by Umberger, can be done anywhere, thanks to portable resistance bands. Find some wall and floor space so you have room to maneuver into these posture exercises as well. (No equipment available? Try this weight-free posture workout instead.)

Try This Power Training Posture Workout
How it operates:
Two or three times a week, perform 1 set of each pose exercise, taking a break for up to 60 seconds between sets. Repeat twice in total for 3 sets.
What you’ll require:
1 lightweight and 1 moderate resistance band (handles optional).

1. “Y” Lift

A.

Start in the tabletop or quadruped position: knees on the floor, directly beneath the hips, and hands on the floor, directly beneath the shoulders. Secure a lightweight resistance band with the right palm in tabletop and hold the other end in the left hand.

B.

Pull the shoulders down and back. Raise the left arm to shoulder height at a 45-degree angle in a “Y” shape with the left thumb pointing up, squeezing the left shoulder blade onto the back.

C.

Return to the starting position and relax the shoulders. That is one repetition.

Do 12 to 15 repetitions. Switch sides.

2. Elevated Row

A.

Secure the center of a moderate resistance band at chest height while seated on the floor. Hold both handles shoulder-width apart at chest height in front of the torso, with the palms facing the ground (band should be tight).

B.

Bend the elbows, pulling the hands toward the shoulders. Avoid lifting the shoulders towards the ears; focus on keeping the tops of the shoulders relaxed, moving through the back muscles, and avoiding flaring the rib cage.

C.

Slowly return to the starting position. That is one repetition.

Do 15 to 20 repetitions.

3. Vertical Band Pull-Apart

A.

Hold a lightweight or moderate resistance band with one hand on each end. Start with the arms stretched out in front of the torso at chest height.

B.

Keeping the arms straight (but not locked), extend them out to the sides to stretch the band, squeezing the shoulder blades together at the end of the movement.

C.

Return to the starting position, keeping the movement slow and controlled. That is one repetition.

Do 15 repetitions.

4. Four-Legged Hip Extension

A. Commence in a surface or quadruped stance: knees on floor, directly beneath hips, and hands on floor, directly beneath shoulders.

B. Elevate left leg with knee bent at 90 degrees, sole of left foot facing upwards towards the sky.

B. Throb left leg in the direction of the sky while tightening buttocks, being cautious not to arch the lower back.

Perform 15 repetitions.

5. Seated Low Row

A. Fasten the center of a medium resistance band at chest elevation while seated on the floor. Grasp both ends of the band with hands facing inward.

B. Draw the ends of the band towards the torso, concentrating on keeping elbows close to the sides and shoulders relaxed, while squeezing shoulder blades down and back.

C. With control, extend arms in reverse towards the front and return to the starting position. That is one repetition.

Perform 15 repetitions.

6. Side Plank

A. Lie on the right side, right elbow directly beneath right shoulder.

B. Activate lower abdominal muscles before lifting hips into the air with legs fully extended to create a straight line from head to toes. To maintain the focus on core and shoulder stability, keep the left hip precisely stacked on top of the right hip or slightly forward.

Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

7. Neck Flexion

A. Lie face up on a level surface, feet flat on the floor and both knees bent.

B. Gently tuck the chin and raise the head 2 inches off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds.

C. Lower the head back to the floor, keeping the chin tucked. That is one repetition.

Perform 10 repetitions.

8. Wall Breathing with Chest Expansion

A. From an upright kneeling position, face away from the wall. Check posture first and observe if the rib cage is protruding forward. Exhale and feel the ribs come back into place and the weight shift slightly backwards. Avoid pushing the head and chin forward.

B. Gently extend arms behind and towards wall. Maintaining core involvement, inhale into the sides of rib cage completely.

C. At the peak of an inhalation, sense the chest expand. During an exhalation, maintain arm extension, engage the core, and prevent shoulders from slumping forward. Avoid rounding the shoulders just to touch the wall. Instead, keep the collarbones wide, gently retract the shoulder blades, and align the rib cage over your pelvis to foster an optimal breathing pattern.

Repeat for 10 breaths.

9. Floor Angels

A. Lie on your back with knees bent and arms forming a goal post shape, palms facing upward.

B. Inhale, exhale, and feel the ribs draw towards the floor.

C. Without elevating the ribs away from the floor, slide the backs of your arms up and down to any extent. Keep the movement minimal to avoid lifting the rib cage off the floor. Strive to keep as much of the backs of your arms in contact with the ground throughout.

Repeat for 10 breaths.

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