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How to Improve Your Posture—and Why It’s Important For Your Workouts

Experts explain how bad posture happens, and share 12 exercises to make it right.

By Lauren MazzoJanuary 23, 2024


If you’ve ever been yelled at to “sit up straight,” you probably think posture is a matter of willpower. In reality, “it's really hard to sustain perfect ,” explains Dorian Saint-Danic, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, a physical therapist at [P]rehab. “A lot of mental and physical effort goes into that, so it's unrealistic to sustain for an extended amount of time.” 

While mindfulness is some of it, our posture is generally a product of how we live our lives. And unfortunately, that means many of us have less than ideal posture, whether because we sit at a desk all day, work on our feet for hours, or play a particular sport.

Still, it’s worth paying attention to. Maintaining proper posture from head to toe can help you avoid pain, prevent injury, and move more efficiently overall, says Austin Cagley, who leads Global Instructor Development at Peloton. It has a wave of repercussions over your daily life and workouts. 

Luckily, exercise can also be part of the solution. Read on to understand how posture works and what posture exercises you can do to improve yours.

What Is Posture and Why Is It Important?

“Posture is the alignment of your body at rest or during movement,” Cagley explains—and it’s more than just pulling your shoulders back. “Good posture involves a neutral spine, balanced muscle engagement, and proper alignment of joints. This alignment allows for efficient movement, reduces wear and tear on your body, and prevents pain.” 

What does the ideal posture look like? Well, “good posture is a spectrum rather than one set position,” Dorian explains. Generally, “we're looking to stack the head over the shoulders, the shoulders over the hips, and the hips over the ankles.” Three body regions typically dictate that position, he says: the cervical spine (neck), scapulas (shoulder blades), and pelvis (hips).

What Causes Bad Posture?

To a small degree, posture can be affected by things outside of your control, like genetics. Some injuries and medical conditions (scoliosis, for example) can also directly affect your posture and flexibility, Cagley says.

Otherwise, your posture is largely dictated by your lifestyle, including how you move, spend your time, and the positions your body is in when you’re doing those activities. Habitual and repetitive movements create muscle imbalances—tightness or weakness in specific muscles that can pull your body out of alignment, Cagley explains. Habits like “slouching while sitting or standing, carrying heavy bags unevenly, and prolonged screen time can lead to poor posture,” he adds. 

Your workouts can even be part of the problem. For example, repetitive types of training (think: running or cycling) can lead you to develop disproportionate strength within your body. Imbalanced strength training programs can also be a culprit, explains Chris Gagliardi, CSCS, an American Council on Exercise expert.

Finally, stress can play a role. “Chronic stress can lead to muscle tension and tightness, affecting your posture,” Cagley says.

How to Improve Your Posture With Exercise

To improve your posture using exercise, you need to first pinpoint what’s causing any issues. “Understanding how we arrived at our habitual postures is important for deciding which exercises or movements might help,” explains Gagliardi.

Because bad posture is often caused by muscle weakness, tightness, or imbalance, the best way to improve posture is using a combination of strengthening and stretching. Together, improving the strength and endurance of postural muscles and encouraging length in tight ones can help reestablish the proper relationships between opposing muscles, Gagliardi says. “You’re looking to align the body so that your joints can move freely in all the directions they’re intended to move and restore balance to your muscles so the tension they create is equal and opposite.”

Workouts that combine strengthening and stretching (like yoga, Pilates, and mobility) can help encourage this balance, too. In fact, you’ll probably recognize some of the exercises below from these types of classes.

12 Best Exercises to Improve Your Posture

Generally, to improve posture, you’ll want to focus on strengthening the core, back, and shoulder muscles and stretching the chest, hamstrings, and hip flexors, Cagley says. However, depending on what’s going on in your body, you may need to focus on other things. If you’re experiencing any type of pain or want a more personalized assessment, it’s a good idea to consult a physical therapist for guidance. In the meantime, these posture exercises and stretches help tackle the most common imbalances.

1. Quadruped Chin Tuck with Scapular Push-up 

This posture exercise, recommended by Dorian, helps strengthen your deep neck stabilizers and serratus anterior, both of which tend to weaken if you’re sitting with forward-rounded shoulders, he says.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a quadruped position. Tuck your chin slightly to lengthen the back of your neck. Your head should be in line with your shoulders.

  2. Lower your chest between your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your core engaged, and try not to let your ribs flare open or your lower back arch.

  3. Press into your palms as if trying to push the floor away, and allow your upper back to lift and shoulders to round. 

  4. Repeat for 10-30 seconds. Do 3-5 sets.

Muscles worked: deep neck stabilizers, serratus anterior (a fan-shaped muscle that lies along the ribs, under the shoulder blade)

2. Seated Band Pull-Apart

This move combines both upper-body and lower-body postural work, Dorian says. You’re using your rhomboids and middle trapezius to retract your shoulder blades while also being aware of your core: try not to allow your ribs to flare open or arch your lower back. Focus on keeping your shoulders stacked over your hips.

  1. Sit on a chair or bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a long resistance band in both hands at belly button height with your arms extended but not locked.

  2. Keeping your arms long, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your hands out to your sides until they’re in line with your shoulders. 

  3. Slowly reverse the movement, drawing your hands together in front of your torso.

  4. That’s one rep. Do two to three sets of 15-20 reps.

Muscles worked: upper back muscles (rhomboids and middle traps)

3. Dead Bug Variation

Both Dorian and Gagliardi recommend this move, which asks you to find a neutral position with the lower back, stabilize your core, and strengthen your hip flexors. “This is a common misconception: We feel tightness, stiffness in the hip flexors, and we think we just need to stretch,” Dorian explains. “But the hip flexors are important in terms of movement and strength and power production, and it's just necessary to have strength and length of the hip flexors.”

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet lifted off the ground, and shins parallel to the floor. 

  2. Press the right palm into the left thigh. Hold this position, extend your right leg and reach your left arm by your ear, hovering both off the floor. Keep your core engaged, and don’t let your lower back arch off the ground.

  3. Bring your arm and leg back to center to return to start. Do 10-15 reps reps, then repeat on the other side. Do 2-3 sets.

Muscles worked: hip flexors, core 

4. Single-leg Glute Bridge with Knee Drive

This move translates to standing posture, as it asks your gluteus maximus to extend your hip and hold your body upright, Dorian says. At the same time, you’re working the hip flexor mobility on the opposite side.

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core, tucking your hips under just slightly, and place your weight into the right heel. 

  2. Press into your right heel to lift your hips off the ground into a glute bridge. Keeping your left knee bent at 90 degrees, draw your left knee toward your chest. Press your right hand into your left thigh and maintain tension, pushing your knee into your hand and your hand into your knee.

  3. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds, trying not to let your hips tilt side to side or back arch. Repeat on the other side. Do two to three sets.

Muscles worked: glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings, core 

Kristin McGee doing a plank

5. Plank

Planks are great for core and shoulder strength and promote a neutral spine, says Cagley. To ensure correct form, feel free to modify by resting your knees on the floor. 

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your palms directly underneath your shoulders. 

  2. Extend each leg, balancing on the balls of your feet, and lift your knees off the floor to find a plank position.

  3. Keep your neck long, shoulder blades squeezing together, and core engaged. Try not to let your upper back round up toward the ceiling or your hips drop toward the floor. 

  4. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds. 

Muscles worked: core, shoulders, back, glutes, quads

Emma Lovewell Bird-Dog GIF

6. Bird-Dog 

This posture exercise “improves core stability and spinal alignment while stretching the hips and back,” says Cagley. 

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your palms on the floor directly underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.

  2. Engage your core to find a neutral spine. Maintaining this position, lift your right hand off the floor and extend your arm forward at shoulder height, bicep next to your ear. At the same time, extend your left leg back behind you at hip height, flexing your foot, with your knee pointing down at the floor.

  3. Hold for one second, then return your hand and foot to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. Do 8 reps.

Muscles worked: upper back, lower back, core, glutes

7. Superman

The classic superman exercise “strengthens back muscles and counteracts slouching,” says Cagley. 

  1. Lay face-down on the floor with your arms and legs outstretched. Keep your neck long and allow your forehead to rest on the floor.

  2. Keeping your gaze on the floor, lift your arms and legs a few inches. Hold for one second, then lower them to the floor. 

  3. That’s one rep. Do 8 reps.

Muscles worked: upper back, lower back, core, glutes, hamstrings

8. Prone IYTWO Series 

This series of moves, recommended by Gagliardi, focuses on scapular stabilization, helping to counteract the common postural issue of forward-rounded shoulders.

  1. Lie face-down on the floor with your arms and legs extended, palms facing each other. Engage your core to stabilize your spine. Pull your shoulders back and down and keep your neck long, gazing at the floor. Hold this position.

  2. “I” Formation: Exhale and lift your arms off the floor with palms facing inward, biceps by your ears. Focus on lifting through your shoulders and not the lower back. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

  3. “Y” Formation: From the same starting position, exhale and lift your arms off the floor, moving them slightly outward so your body forms a “Y” shape with palms facing inward. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

  4. “T” Formation: From the same starting position, exhale and lift your arms off the floor, moving them out to the sides so your body forms a “T” shape, with your palms facing forward. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

  5. “W” Formation: From the same starting position, exhale and lift your arms off the floor, bending your elbows and drawing them towards your hips to form a “W” shape. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

  6. “O” Formation: From the same starting position, move your arms down to your sides.  Exhale and elevate your shoulders, then reach both arms behind your lower back, bending your elbows inward to overlap your hands into an “O” shape. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

Muscles worked: upper back, shoulders

9. Neck Stretch

Gagliardi recommends these stretches to help relax tight muscles around your neck and upper back.

  1. Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, your core engaged, and your shoulders pulled down and back.

  2. Slowly draw your right ear toward your right shoulder, stopping when you feel a stretch. To increase the stretch, bring your right hand to the top of your head and gently apply pressure with your fingertips. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Slowly return to the starting position, then repeat on the left side. Do two to four reps. 

  3. Slowly drop your chin toward your chest without rounding your upper back. Hold for 15-30 seconds and return to the starting position. Then, slowly relax your head backward, bringing your chip up toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Hold for 5-10 seconds and return to the starting position. Do two to four reps.

Muscles worked: neck, upper back

10. Leg Crossover Stretch

Like the figure 4 stretch with a twist, this stretch recommended by Gagliardi targets tight hips and glutes and helps release the lower back. 

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Stretch your arms out to the sides at shoulder level, palms facing upwards. Cross your right leg over the left, resting your right ankle on the left knee.

  2. Slowly press the right knee away from your body to feel a stretch in your right hip, using your right hand if needed. Hold this position for a moment, then slowly rotate your hips to the left, bringing the bottom of the right foot to rest on the floor. Avoid turning your upper body or arching your back.

  3. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds. Do two to four reps, then repeat on the other side.

Muscles worked: glutes, hips, quads, lower back

11. Supine Hamstrings Stretch

This exercise from Gagliardi stretches the hamstrings, the muscle along the back of the thigh.

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms stretched out to the sides with your palms facing up.

  2. Extend the right leg toward the ceiling. Contract your quads (the muscles on the front of your thigh) while flexing your toes towards your body so you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and calves.

  3. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then relax. Do two to four reps, then repeat on the other side.

Muscles worked: hamstrings

Woman does kneeling hip-flexor stretch

12. Kneeling Hip-flexor Stretch

Gagliardi recommends this hip-flexor stretch, which can help counteract the muscle-shortening that happens with long periods of sitting.

  1. Start in a half-kneeling position with your right leg bent at 90 degrees, right foot flat on the floor, and your left knee on the floor, directly under the left hip. Place your hands on the right thigh, and find a tall spine with your core engaged.

  2. Gently lean forward into your right hip to feel a stretch in the left side hip flexor. Don’t allow your back to arch or pelvis to tilt forward. To increase the stretch, squeeze and contract the glute muscles on your left side.

  3. Hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds. Do 2-5 reps, then repeat on the other side.

Muscles worked: hip flexors, quads

Other Ways to Improve Posture 

Aside from exercise, there are a few things you can do to help improve your posture. 


“Pay attention to your posture throughout the day and gently correct yourself when you slouch,” says Cagley. Education about proper posture and reminders (such as those on your smartwatch or phone) can help, too, says Gagliardi. 

Ergonomic adjustments

“Set up your workstation for optimal posture with proper chair height, screen position, and keyboard/mouse placement,” says Cagley. Using props for support isn’t only helpful but also necessary if you have to sustain postures for an extended periods, Dorian adds. For example, a lumbar pillow can help support the pelvis and lower back during sitting, and propping your foot on a low step can help during standing.


“Every 40 minutes of a static posture, muscles can tighten due to decreased blood flow,” Dorian says. “In these scenarios, your best posture is just your next posture.” In other words: Move in any way you can. Try breaking up sedentary time by using a standing desk, getting up to take a few steps, or exercise snacking, Gagliardi says.


Whether you foam roll, use a lacrosse ball, or book a massage treatment, it can help to release tension in tight muscles that contribute to poor posture via massage, Cagley says. 

How to Keep Posture in Mind When Working Out

Maintaining proper posture throughout your life can help you move more safely and efficiently when working out. “If your posture is poor, you increase the likelihood of injury,” Cagley says. Having a solid postural foundation will help you move well.

Why? When your postural muscles sit in a lengthened or shortened position for a while, your nervous system increases muscle tension to create stability, Dorian explains. This can create sensations of tightness and stiffness even when you’re relaxed. This tension can also cause your body to compensate—activating the wrong muscles—when you do ask it to move, such as during a workout. 

Worth noting: good posture is not the same thing as good form. To correctly execute a specific exercise—and to engage the correct muscles and maximize efficiency of the move—you may need to move out of “ideal” posture, Cagley explains.

In general, though, during your workouts, you can keep these posture tips in mind: Think about relaxing your shoulders (“keep them down and back, avoiding hunching or tensing,” Cagley says) and a neutral spine (“maintain a slight ‘S’ curve, avoiding slumping or arching your back,” he adds). Finally, learn how to engage your core for stability and support: “Pretend you are about to sneeze and your abs tighten,” he says.

Work Out Where You Want, When You Want


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