Stop right there—without moving, do a posture check. Back rounded? Chin sticking out? Don’t worry, strength training can help fix your hard-to-break slouching habits. Dr. Natalie Neuharth, doctor of physical therapy at Orthology in Washington D.C., shares tips on building better posture, starting with your workout.
Deep Neck Flexors
All those hours on your iPhone and computer give you a forward head posture, says Neuharth. For correct posture, you should keep your ears in line with your shoulders. To hold that posture all the time, you have to strengthen your deep neck muscles, which “act to your neck like the ‘core’ does to the back: creating stability and proper posture,” she says.
Try this exercise: Lie face up on a flat surface. Gently tuck chin and lift head 2 inches off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds. Lower head back to the floor, keeping chin tucked. Do 10 reps.
Seated Low Row
When you consistently practice poor posture, your upper traps become overactive and your lower traps—the muscles that pull our shoulder blades down and back—tend to “shut off,” says Neuharth.
Try this exercise: Start seated gripping the handles of a rowing machine or a resistance band tied to a stable object. Hands should face inward. Pull the cables towards you, focusing on keeping elbows close to your sides and shoulders relaxed, as you squeeze shoulder blades down and back. Use a weight that allows you to complete 15 reps with a bit of fatigue. Do 3 sets of 15 reps. While doing this exercise, make sure to pull your shoulders down and back to work the correct muscles, she says.
Prone Shoulder Extension Over Ball
This move strengthens your mid back and scapular muscles, says Neuharth. For more back strengthening exercises, try adding these to your routine, too.
Try this exercise: Start laying face down with your chest on an exercise ball, holding a light dumbbell (2 to 5 pounds) in each hand in front of the ball. Pull shoulders down and back, and then lift the arms just to your sides, so dumbbells are next to your hips as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return to starting position, and relax the shoulders. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.
Many workouts fail to target the obliques or the gluteus medius (a smaller muscle in the group of three muscles that form your butt), says Neuharth. Planks are a total-body exercise, but side planks specifically can help hit these two muscles and improve posture by creating more stability in your low back and pelvis.
Try this exercise: Lie on your side, elbow directly under your shoulder. Engage lower abdominal muscles before lifting hips into the air, as you try to create a straight line from head to toes. If you need to modify, you can start on your knees. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds maintaining proper form, and work your way up to a total of 2 minutes on each side.
Theraband Reverse Flys
Overworked and tight chest muscles can result in rounded shoulders, says Neuharth. To fight against that, this exercise strengthens your rear deltoids (the back of your shoulder muscle) and rhomboids (the middle of your upper back).
Try this exercise: Tie a TheraBand (resistance band) onto something sturdy like a doorknob or stable bar and grab either end. Start with arms stretched out in front of you, and bring them straight out to your sides, squeezing shoulder blades together at the end of the movement. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.
Quadruped Hip Extension
By isolating your glutes in this position, you also work some of the lower back extensor muscles, as well as your deep abdominal muscles, says Neuharth.
Try this exercise: Start on hands and knees (shoulders directly over hands, hips over knees) and engage lower abdominals. With knee bent, push your leg up towards the ceiling while squeezing your butt being mindful not to arch your back. Do 2 to 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.