One of the more common complaints that people have about their own bodies is poor posture. How many times have you told yourself, "I'm going to concentrate on good posture now!" AND IT DOESN'T WORK!?! That's because good posture isn't part of your conscious thought; it's controlled by your autonomic (or automatic) motor control, aka it's how your body holds itself.
While many people think of good posture as a nice aesthetic (which it is) it's also a huge deal for you being able to stay flexible, with good control and balance, while avoiding common physical injuries such as:
- low back pain
- herniated discs
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
So without further ado, let's discuss my 6 favorite gym exercises for long-term good posture. They're great for adding muscle mass and improving body composition as well. Remember, these exercises are for people not currently in back pain.
1. Romanian Dead-lifts
What a great exercise. This one helps you increase the flexibility of your ever-tight hamstring while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. It's commonly performed dreadfully (i.e. with improper technique) though, so make sure your hinge at your hips keeping your spine and pelvis neutral. You should feel quite the stretch in your upper hamstrings. If you feel it in your lower back, YOU'RE GOING TOO FAR! For many people the barbell just barely travels below the kneecap, so don't feel the need to go all the way to the floor.
Another classic right here. It will strengthen all of your back and arm muscles that keep your posture upright and not curling forward like so many people you notice with poor posture. The two main problems most people run into with pull-ups is:
- You're Not Strong Enough - I've been in this category for the majority of my life. Don't feel bad about adding assistance though! My three favorite ways are:
- A spotter
- The pull-up assistance machine
- Assistance band
2. You Don't Fully Lock Out At the Bottom of the Exercise - This is another mistake people make when they aren't strong through the full range of the movement. If that's the case with you, you've probably neglected those super important shoulder girdle and shoulder blade stabilizing muscles. So STOP CHEATING and use assistance if you need it. Don't try to be a hero.
3. Single Arm Rows
Some of the main imbalances that we tend to have that lead to poor posture involve the mid-back and shoulder blade musculature. Single Arm Rows address that weakness while also adding a great deal of "anti-rotational" stability to the core and spine.
**TIP** Don't be afraid to allow your shoulder to fully protract at the bottom of the movement. It's a mistake to keep the shoulder blade pinched and retracted throughout the whole movement as you will neglect the necessary shoulder blade stabilizing forces.
4. Bulgarian Split Squats
In my articles and with my patients I'm constantly addressing the need for an adequate hip extension. If you don't have it, then you're probably that person that doesn't stand up straight after being seated for an extended period of time. You know who I'm talking about. Exercises like Bulgarian Split Squats force your hip to extend under a neutral spine and go a long way in training your spine and hip to operate with good posture.
**TIP** Make sure to keep the back glute engaged throughout the movement and don't allow your torso to lean forward as it should be upright throughout.
5. Chops and Lifts
I'd recommend you use Chop and Lift as a warm-up exercise. There are not too many exercises as effective at reminding your body how to move throughout the hips while keeping a neutral and protected spine. This exercise helps keep the low-back pain away and improves your balance. You don't have to spend too much time doing it though--feel free to perform only 4 or 5 repetitions per side then switch.
**ADVANCED TIP** Try to make your stance as narrow as possible as you progress but don't let your technique decline. The more narrow you are, the more taxing this will be on your spine and core musculature.
This is a very common exercise that I prescribe for my sports medicine and chiropractic patients as well, so for a more thorough explanation of this exercise, check out my write-up here.
6. Barbell or Pendlay Rows
This is another great exercise that concentrates on the strength and stability of the back and shoulder blade musculature. Although the Barbell and Pendlay Exercises are two distinct exercises, I'm considering them the same for the context of this article. What these exercises both have that many other back exercises don't, is the spinal and "posterior chain" (e.g. butt, hamstrings, etc) activation. So you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. To perform this exercises correctly (without swing for momentum) you need a great deal of activation of the postural musculature of your back, spine, hips, etc.
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