If you're like most people these days, you probably spend a lot of time hunched over -- looking at your phone, staring into a computer screen -- and your back bears the burden. Poor posture causes the shoulders to round forward and can actually make you appear shorter than you are. Fix your posture and stand tall by doing exercises that strengthen some muscles and lengthen others.
Strengthening + Lengthening
Postural kyphosis, the clinical term for rounding of the upper back due to poor posture, is the combination of tight chest muscles and weakened upper back muscles that result from slouching. Tight chest muscles pull the spine and shoulders forward, and weak back muscles aren't strong enough to maintain good posture.
Your core muscles -- your lower back and abs -- also play a major role in supporting your torso and keeping your spine long and strong. Therefore, you want to strengthen your entire back and abs and stretch your chest on a regular basis.
Back and Ab Strengthening Exercises
This exercise strengthens your back and your abs. It's also a good test to judge your current range of motion and to see how far you've come a few weeks or months down the road.
How to do it:
- Stand against a wall with your entire back pressed against it and your feet a few inches away from the wall. Contract your core muscles.
- Raise your arms up with your elbows bent and the backs of your hands against the wall.
- Continue to extend your arms overhead as far as you can without your back arching away from the wall. When you can't extend your arms any further without arching your back, return to the starting position and repeat for a total of two sets of 10 repetitions.
The close-grip row targets your upper and mid-back, mimicking the action of pulling your shoulder blades together for good posture. You can do this standing with a resistance band anchored to a point at chest-height or seated in a cable machine.
How to do it:
- Whether seated or standing, contract your core muscles and sit up straight.
- Grab the handles of the cable machine or resistance band with your arms extended out in front of you and your palms facing each other.
- Keep your core muscles contracted as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly pull the handles in toward your ribs.
- Come back to the starting point with control and repeat. Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
This simple body weight exercise strengthens the entire back and stretches the front of the body as well.
How to do it:
- Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat. Extend your arms and legs in opposite directions. Open your arms out to a Y and keep your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your legs, arms and chest off the floor, using the strength of your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your shoulders back. Keep your neck long.
- Hold at the top for five to 10 seconds, then lower down with control. Repeat.
- Do three sets of eight repetitions.
Chest Stretching Exercise
You really only need one exercise to stretch your chest. This simple wall stretch will help lengthen tight chest muscles and help you stand taller.
How to do it:
- Place your right hand on a wall at about chest height. Position the right side of your body perpendicular to the wall and far enough away that your right arm is extended.
- Turn your body away from the wall and lean forward so you feel a stretch across the right side of your chest and shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
- Perform three times on each side.
Practice Good Posture
Sitting with good posture during the day is an exercise in itself. Remind yourself throughout the day to sit up tall, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your head back in line with your spine. If you have trouble remembering, put a sticky note on your computer or some other point in your work space that you look at often.
Too much sitting is bad for your posture and your health. Get out of your chair frequently. Walk around and stretch for a few minutes several times a day.
Also remember to follow a balanced strength-training and stretching program that strengthens and lengthens all the muscles of your body, not just your back, core and chest.