The best way to improve your posture is to focus on exercises that strengthen your core -- the abdominal and low back muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis.
Some of these muscles move your torso by flexing, extending, or rotating your spine. Others stabilize your pelvis and spine in a natural, neutral position. Old-style sit-ups used only a few of these muscles, often with jerky momentum. Today's yoga, Pilates, and core fitness programs target your entire core with slow, controlled movements to get the most out of your workout.
Your Workout Plan
Make these posture-boosting exercises a regular part of your routine. Remember to exhale strongly and pull in your core muscles as you work -- a key principle in both Pilates and yoga.
1. Core Stabilizer: Single Leg Extension
- Why Its Good for You: This move trains your core muscles to work together to stabilize your pelvis.
- Starting Position: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and hands behind your head. Press your low back into the floor, and curl your head up off the floor.
- The Move: Exhale strongly and pull your navel in and up toward your spine. Slowly pull one knee into your chest, keeping your low back pressed to the floor, while extending your other leg straight at about a 45-degree angle off the floor. Keep your abdominals pulled in and your low back on the floor. If your low back arches off the floor, extend your leg higher toward the ceiling. Switch legs. Start with five to 10 extensions on each side.
- Increase the Intensity: Pull both knees into your chest, then extend both legs straight at about a 45-degree angle, using your core to keep your low back on the floor. Or, as you extend your legs, extend both arms overhead, reaching in the opposite direction from your legs.
2. The New Crunch
- Why Its Good for You: Also called a curl-up, this exercise works the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) and obliques (which run diagonally around your waist and rotate your torso).
- Starting Position: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Press your low back into the floor. Place your hands behind your head, or reach your arms toward your knees if it doesn't create too much tension in your neck.
- The Move: Exhale strongly and pull your navel in and up toward your spine. Curl your head and shoulders slowly off the floor. Hold, then slowly lower back down. Repeat three times
- Increase the Intensity: Extend one leg straight at a 45-degree angle toward the ceiling. Or hold both legs off the floor, knees bent, with your shins parallel to the floor
3. Pilates Roll-Up / Yoga Sit-Up
- Why Its Good for You: This move works the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscles that wrap around your waist like a corset and pull your abdomen inward and upward toward your spine.)
- Starting Position: Lie on your back with your legs straight, your feet flexed, and your arms reaching overhead on the floor. Press your low back into the floor.
- The Move: Exhale strongly and pull your navel in and up toward your spine. Roll up in slow motion, reaching your arms off the floor, then your shoulders and head, rolling up one vertebra at a time until you're sitting up with your abdominals still pulled in. Slowly roll back down. Repeat three to five times, adding more as your core gets stronger.
- Increase the Intensity: Cross your arms over your chest as you roll up.
- Why Its Good for You: This exercise works all the core muscles, focusing on the obliques.
- Starting Position: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, your chest lifted off the floor, knees pulled into your chest. Keep your low back pressed into the floor.
- The Move: Exhale strongly and pull your navel in and up toward your spine. Pull one knee into your chest while extending your other leg straight and rotating your torso toward the bent knee. Slowly switch legs, pulling the other knee into your chest and rotating your torso toward it while extending the opposite leg off the floor. Repeat five to 10 times, adding more as your core gets stronger
- Increase the Intensity: The closer your straight leg is to the floor, the harder the work for your core. Try extending your leg just inches off the floor, making sure your lower back stays on the floor.
5. Cobra Pose: Back Extension
- Why Its Good for You: This move strengthens the erector spinae (the back muscles that extend your spine and prevent slouching) and other low back muscles.
- Starting Position: Lie on your stomach with palms flat on the floor near your ribs. Extend your legs straight behind you, and press the tops of your feet into the floor.
- The Move: Exhale strongly and pull your abdominal muscles in and up toward your spine. Lengthen out through your spine and slowly raise your head and chest off the floor, using only your back muscles. Do not push down into your arms to press up. Keep your hip bones on the floor, and gaze down at the floor to relax your neck muscles. Slowly lower back down. Repeat three to five times, adding more as your lower back gets stronger
- Increase the Intensity: Reach your arms long beside your head. Keep your elbows straight.
6. Plank Pose
- Why Its Good for You: This exercise strengthens the obliques and transverse abdominis, as well as your shoulder and back muscles.
- Starting Position: Begin on your hands and knees with your palms under your shoulders. Extend both legs straight behind you, toes tucked under, into a position like the top of a pushup. Pull your abdominal muscles in to prevent a "sway back," and gaze down at the floor.
- The Move: Hold the plank until you start feeling fatigued. Rest and then repeat. Keep your abdominals pulled in and up so your low back doesn't sag as you exhale.
- Increase the Intensity: Balance on your forearms instead of your hands.
Tips and Precautions
- Pull your abdominal muscles in and up toward your spine as you exercise.
- Work with slow, controlled movements, breathing evenly, without holding your breath.
- Tailor your number of repetitions and sets to your current level of core fitness.
- If you have mild back pain, core-strengthening exercises may improve posture, ease symptoms, and prevent future pain. If you have severe back pain or injury, are out of shape, or have any medical problems, talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program. Some exercises may not be recommended.
- Stop doing any activity that causes pain or makes pain worse.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 08, 2019
Lamond, P. Pilates: Harmonious Body Control, The Lyons Press, 2002.
Siler, B. Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge, Broadway Books, 2006.
Manocchia, P. Anatomy of Exercise, Firefly Books, 2008.
Haskell, W. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, August 2007.
North American Spine Society: "Exercise: The Backbone of Spine Treatment."
American College of Sports Medicine: "When To See a Doctor Before Exercising."
Coulter, H. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Body and Breath, 2002.
American Chiropractic Association: "Back Pain Facts and Statistics."
University of South Carolina: "Strength Training Basics."
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.