Poor posture is often the result of sitting for long periods of time slouched over at the computer. Smartphones are also a culprit, as many people look down for long periods of time, resulting in a forward head posture that's been called "tech neck."
"When we sit all day typing and texting on devices, certain muscles become painful and tight while other muscles become weak,"says Jonathan Jordan, a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach and group fitness instructor at Equinox. "Over time, those shortened muscles pull us into poor posture and the reciprocal lengthened or weakened muscles can't pull us out of it."
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Most people are aware that bad posture can lead to back and neck pain, but it may also have an impact on your mental well-being. A small study in the September 2015 issue of Health Psychology found that those who sat with good posture reported higher self esteem, lower fear and improved mood over those who were slumped over.
But incorporating weight-lifting into your routine by using dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or weight machines strengthens the muscles that will pull you out of that slumped-over position, enabling you to stand tall and with confidence. That means strengthening the mid and lower back muscles (rhomboids and trapezius), shoulder external rotators, neck extensors, glutes and and core, Jordan says.
If you're wondering how much weight you should lift, the answer depends on your fitness level. But the good news is that your postural muscles are fairly easily trained if you're consistent, especially for beginners.
“You don’t have to lift heavy if you’re new to strength training," says kuudose expert trainer Rick Richey, CSCS. "You just have to lift more than you usually do and then build from there.”
Try These 5 Weight-Lifting Exercises for Better Posture
1. Farmer's Carry
- Pick a weight that's heavy enough to challenge you but one you can safely pick up and put down without rounding your back.
- Hold the weights down by your sides.
- Make sure you're gripping the weights with all your fingers, including your pinky finger.
- Walk smoothly and evenly, without stomping your feet, as you keep your shoulders back.
- Start with walking 25 feet and go up from there.
“This exercise is my go-to for folks working too many hours at a desk,” Jordan says. This postural strengthening exercise works it all, including the core, glutes, arms and back. To maintain proper form, pretend like you're balancing a book on your head as you walk.
2. Seated Cable Row
- Sit on the platform with shoulders back and hold onto the cable attachment.
- Pull the handle back towards your midsection, as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight, as you straighten your arms back in the starting position.
Seated rows are a great strengthening exercise that target the muscles that help keep your shoulders back and spine erect. These can be done as cable rows at the gym, with a resistance band tied to a door knob or as a bent-over row using a barbell or dumbbells.
3. Lat Pulldown
- Sitting at the lat pulldown machine, grab onto the bar with hands slightly wider than your shoulders and and palms facing away from you.
- Sit up straight and pull the bar down until it stops between your chin and your chest as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Return to the starting position with control.
The lat pulldown is an excellent exercise to correct and prevent the rounded-back and slouched-over posture. Instead of a weight machine, you can also use a resistance band anchored above your head to perform the same exercise at home.
4. Glute Bridge With Weights
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointing to the ceiling and your feet flat on the floor.
- Place one weight in each hand and rest them on top of your hip. You can also use one dumbbell or a barbell across both your hips.
- Lift your hips off of the ground as you squeeze your glutes and pause at the top.
- Lower back down to the starting position with control.
If your glutes are weak, it leads a postural imbalance and results in a “knock-knee” position, Richey says. This bridge with weights is great at strengthening the gluteus maximus.
5. Reverse Snow Angels
- Lie on your stomach with light weights in each hand.
- Start with your arms straight out to the side, thumbs facing up.
- Lift your chest and arms and move your arms down to your sides.
- Return back to the starting position with arms out to the side.
- Start with 12 reps, adding more as you get stronger.
Celebrity trainer Joey Thurman, CPT, says this exercise is great for strengthening your postural muscles.
"Lying prone on the floor takes away any momentum," he says. That means you can only rely on muscular strength, which makes this exercise challenging. Because of that, Thurman recommends using lighter weights and working your way up.