Posture isn’t where most people start when looking to improve their quality of life — but it should be. Studies show that 80% of Americans experience back pain due to poor posture at some point in their lives, despite the fact that a few key exercises can help prevent pain.
“Core exercises focus on strengthening the muscles along the spine,” says Tyler Waclawski, a certified exercise physiologist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Because these muscles are activated in nearly every movement we make, strengthening them can have a huge impact on how you feel everyday.”
Before starting any exercises, remember: there shouldn’t be pain involved with any movements. It’s okay to stress the muscles or to feel fatigued, says Waclawski, but you never want to push it to the point of pain. You may also want to experiment with the time of day you stretch.
“A lot of people think they need to get up and do stretches immediately,” says Waclawski, “But I find it’s ideal to do these early-afternoon. It will wake you up before the 2 o’clock crash and make you aware of your posture so you can finish the day strong.”
“Planks are the exercise everybody loves to hate!” says Waclawski, laughing, “but they are truly one of the best all-around core exercises because they work so many muscles.”
- Start on your forearms and toes. Make sure your elbows are under your shoulders and your forearms are parallel with each other. If that’s too difficult, drop from your feet to your knees.
- Straighten your back. Don’t round it, and don’t let your hips drop towards the ground.
- Hold for an amount of time that’s challenging but allows you to keep proper form.
Try 3 sets of:
- 10 seconds for beginners.
- 15-30 seconds for intermediate.
- As long as you can until you feel yourself losing form for advanced.
“This exercise works everything on your lower and mid-back,” says Waclawksi, “so basically everything you don’t see when you look in the mirror.”
- Lie down on your stomach.
- Stretch your arms out above your head on the ground, slightly out to the side.
- Lift your arms and legs off of the ground, squeezing your shoulders back.
You can do supermans:
- With a hold at the top for 10 seconds, making sure you keep breathing.
- With repetitions. Do 3 sets of 10, holding for 1-2 seconds at the top.
3. Bird dogs
“Bird dogs are a great, dynamic core exercise that works muscles from your shoulders all the way down to your hips,” says Waclawski. “These help with back stabilization, building strength along the back of the body.”
- Start in the tabletop position (on your hands and knees, as a child would be while crawling). Make sure your knees are under your hips and your hands are under your shoulders.
- Lift your right arm and left leg, focusing on keeping your lifted arm and leg parallel with the ground.
- Repeat with your left arm and right leg.
- As repetitions of 10 on one leg, then 10 on the other.
- As a timed hold for 10 seconds on one side and then 10 seconds on the other.
4. Toe reach / hamstring stretch
“Where the bird dog works several muscles at the same time, a hamstring stretch allows you to zero in on one area,” says Waclawski. “It can be done sitting or standing, and you don’t have to be able to reach your toes to benefit from it! Whatever you can do is good; just start somewhere.”
- Sit on the ground with your legs in front of you.
- Straighten your back and don’t round your shoulders.
- Reach towards your toes as until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper leg.
- Stand up straight and don’t round your shoulders.
- Put one leg out in front of you with your heel on the ground.
- Reach towards your toes until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper leg.
For either version, try to hold for 15-30 seconds, working your way up to 60 seconds over time. Make sure to maintain a normal breathing pattern while holding any stretch.
5. Glute stretch
“This stretch works both the hip and glute, which includes everything in and around the hip region of the leg that’s not touching the ground,” says Waclawski.
- Sit in a chair in a tall posture.
- Bring one leg up and cross it onto the other, placing the outside ankle of the raised leg on the thigh of the seated leg.
- Lean forward to intensify the stretch if needed.
Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, and then repeat with the other leg raised.
More from Waclawski on WellTuned:
- Acute lower back pain 101: causes, treatments & prevention
- Posture 101: good posture, bad posture + 5 tips to improve yours
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.