Safety and Injuries

Your Guide to Corrective Exercises for Bad Posture

Reading Time: 6 minutes 26 seconds


Date: 2020-05-04T00:00:00-04:00

It is estimated that upwards of 80% of Americans have various types of posture problems. The sedentary, seated, and on-the-go lifestyle most people have contributes greatly to poor posture and chronic pain. A certified personal trainer, a certified exercise therapist, or a physical therapist is armed with the tools to identify physical dysfunctions within the muscles that lead to pain in the back, shoulders, and hips and help to promote good posture.

Types of Posture Problems

Poor posture is a result of muscular dysfunction where some muscles are tightened or overactive while others are weakened or underactive. The most common types of poor posture include kyphosis and lordosis of the spine.

  • Kyphosis: rounding of the cervical and thoracic spine causing rounded shoulders and a forward head posture

  • Lordosis: excessive curvature of the lumbar spine caused primarily by overactive hip flexors

Both conditions can lead to shoulder pain, lower and upper back pain, and neck pain. Fortunately, both conditions along with other posture deviations can be addressed and corrected with the help of a certified professional.

Common Causes of Bad Posture

A large percentage of Americans spend all or most of the workday seated at a desk. Hunched over a keyboard with a phone held between their shoulder and ear, pain typically develops in the shoulders and neck very quickly. Remaining in a seated posture for an extended amount of time naturally shortens or tightens muscles on the front of the body like the hip flexors and the quadriceps. The musculature on the back side of the body is typically lengthened and weakened like the glutes and the hamstrings. This imbalance leads to the development of lordosis and pain in the lumbar spine. While the pain manifests in the lumbar region, it is well documented that the muscular weakness comes from the glutes.

For those who are on their feet all day like mechanics and servers, upper back dysfunctions and tightness through the chest and shoulders are also common. Many trainers working with these types of clients report glute weakness and poor gait mechanics as a major cause of their pain. Regardless of the type of work people do, it is typically repetitive.

Some clients may circumvent the physical work to correct their muscular imbalances and opt for a posture corrector. Items like compression wear, corsets, and back braces are readily available to the general population. However, for consistent and long-lasting relief, more must be done. With the guidance of a professional, they can overcome their deviations and live a pain-free life.

Corrective Exercises for Bad Posture

Before one begins a fitness program aimed at correcting their poor posture, mindfulness is the initial step to success. For example, being aware of how you are seated at your desk can make a big difference.

  • Physically adjusting to sit up straight and pull the shoulders back will make a big impact.

  • Adjusting the height of your chair, the armrests, and the backrest to ensure you are in an upright and comfortable position will help to sit up straighter.

  • Often the height of the desk and placement of the keyboard can be adjusted as well.

Some larger companies have ergonomic specialists on staff who are tasked with making sure each employee is comfortable at their workstation. If you or your client do not know if this service is available—ASK!

Flexibility and Stretching

Flexibility training is an asset to any fitness program whether for a beginner or more advanced individual. It can be implemented before and after training sessions or as a stand-alone program and focuses on keeping the biomechanical efficiency of the body. Working with a professional, take the time to undergo static and dynamic postural assessments to identify the overactive and underactive muscles in your body. With that information, the correct body regions to stretch are easily identifiable.

Check out this informative blog post on how to relieve tightness in the neck and shoulders: How to Relieve Tight Muscles in the Neck and Shoulders

Chest Stretch

Stretching the chest and hip flexors specifically are of benefit to nearly everyone. A simple pec stretch using a wall or stable anchor is a good place to begin. Standing next to a wall, place one hand flat on the wall at shoulder height. Keeping the shoulder down in the socket and the arm extended, physically turn the body until the arm is extended behind. The closer to the wall one can be, the deeper the stretch will be through the chest. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides.

Cobra Stretch

The cobra stretch is a great way to address tight hip flexors for those who sit for long periods. Lying face down on the floor with legs extended and the feet relaxed, bend the elbows and place the palms flat on the floor next to the chest. Keeping the shoulders down in the socket, press through the hands to raise the chest off the floor until the arms fully extend (or as far as range of motion will allow). Squeeze the glutes to drive the hip flexors into the floor and maintain a steady, deep breath. Hold the end range for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat the stretch 3 to 5 times.

Shoulder Retraction

Strengthening the shoulder girdle is an important step before adding load-bearing movement. For those suffering from upper back pain or the symptoms of kyphosis, shoulder pinches can begin to strengthen the rhomboids and middle trap muscles and counteract the rounding of the spine. From a neutral standing position, retract the shoulder blades pulling them back and together. The chest will rise and the shoulders will move back. Hold the shoulder pinch for 10 to 20 seconds and release. Repeat this movement for a set of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Here is another way to perform shoulder retractions. From a standing position with hands at shoulder height on a wall or from a high plank position, slowly retract the shoulder blades and bring the chest closer towards the wall or the floor. The arms should remain extended and the cervical spine as neutral as possible. Hold for two counts and then reverse with a shoulder protraction, pressing the wall or floor away as far as possible without dropping the head.

Cervical Retraction

The same can be performed with the neck as a cervical spine retraction to address a forward head posture. From a neutral standing position, slightly tuck the chin towards the chest moving the head back as far as range of motion will allow while keeping the eyes parallel to the floor (if you are looking up at an angle you have gone too far). Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds before releasing. Repeat a set of 10 to 20 repetitions.

Core Strengthening

Slouching posture in a seated or standing position can be addressed with core strengthening. A plank is a basic core strengthener that addresses not only the abdominal muscles but also the muscles of the lower back. You can use variations of the plank, like planks with knee taps, a plank with lateral hip dips, and hand planks.

Weight Bearing Movement

To progress and begin to strengthen the muscles of the upper back, assisted pull-ups, banded or cable rows, dumbbell or barbell weighted rows, and dumbbell flys can be added. These exercises are ideal to include in a training program on a regular basis.

As mentioned, glute weakness is a concern for most people. Glute strengthening exercises include hip bridges, squats, and step-ups. Beginners can complete each of these movements without additional load. As the muscles of the glutes and core get stronger, add resistance to progress the movements.

How to Design A Corrective Exercise Program to Improve Bad Posture

Corrective exercise is a systematic approach to identifying and addressing movement dysfunctions. Once the appropriate static and dynamic postural assessments are completed, the first step in corrective exercise is a flexibility protocol. This includes foam rolling, stretching, and techniques of myofascial release for overactive tissues. Depending on the number of areas addressed in a single session, this can take 15 to 30 minutes before beginning movement.

Once the flexibility protocol is complete, conduct a warm-up. Five to ten minutes of functional warm-up for the whole body or desired training region increases the heart rate and blood flow and primes the body for movement. Warm-ups also prevent injury and should never be overlooked!

The strengthening protocol can be built into a training session or the session can focus solely on the desired muscle groups. The muscles targeted for strength training are typically the physiological opposites of those addressed during the flexibility protocol. For example, if a client foam rolls and stretches their quadriceps and hip flexors first, they will most likely be working to strength train the glutes and hamstrings. If they stretch and open the chest, the trained muscles will be the rhomboids, traps, and lats in the back.

Seeing Results

The severity of the postural deviations will determine how intense the corrective exercise protocol must be and how long it will take to begin to see relief. Consistency and mindfulness are key when it comes to identifying and correcting common postural issues and working towards good posture.

Get Certified!

Knowledge is power! If you are already an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, the next step is to increase your knowledge and better assist your clients. The ISSA Exercise Therapist certification gives you the tools you need to use in the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of various ailments including postural dysfunction.

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