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Opinion

3 Exercises to Help Strengthen and Improve Posture

Good lifting form comes from good posture, which is why these movements can really pay off.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Nobody one tells you that your posture is bad — not your coworkers, your local general practitioner, or even your chiropractor. It’s like having a booger up your nose that no one tells you about. People stop, stare, and snicker instead. Only a true friend will tell you, “Hey, you’ve got a booger up your nose!”

You’ve probably heard that as a society we sit too much and hunch over our computers and smart phones too much, and this can lead to rounded shoulders and forward head posture. In fact, for every inch our ears are forward from our shoulders, it has been suggested that you increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds (1). This leads to the muscles of the upper back getting weak and inhibited. Then to make it worse, some lifters feed into this dysfunction by spending an inordinate amount of time working on their mirror muscles of the chest biceps and triceps.

This might not be you, but not training body parts for the sake of vanity is a recipe for injury and dysfunction and nobody wants that. If you’re in need of a postural tune-up and want to get strong, then try implementing some the following exercises into your routine. They’re simple to perform, but they’re not easy.

3 Exercises for a Strong Posture

1. Overhead Barbell Carry

Overhead Carry Guide

There are many forms of overhead carries, but this one (in my opinion) is by far the most difficult. One false step and the barbell, you, and the floor become one. A little fear in your training can be motivating experience.

Why it can be good for posture…

Overhead carries work on strengthening the upper back muscles such as the upper trapezius and rhomboids, which are essential for healthy shoulder function and the avoidance of the rounded shoulder look. Also, with this movement your mid-section will be stabilizing the torso like crazy to avoid you biting the floor.

Note: You must have good shoulder mobility for this exercise.

Programming Considerations

This is a taxing movement, so program these near the beginning of your training. For example, these can work well after your big strength movement for the day. Pairing the overhead walk in a superset with an upper body pressing movement works best because your grip strength will be fresh.

1A. Bench press variations.
1B. Overhead barbell carry- 20 steps forward, then 20 steps back.

Form considerations

Setting up in the squat rack is ideal, but cleaning and pressing a barbell overhead works, too. Get a wider than shoulder width grip on the bar, get your biceps by your ears, keep your lower ribcage down and avoid hyperextending your lower back. Take small, slow deliberate steps.

2. Suitcase Carries

Suitcase Carry Guide

In my opinion, suitcase carries (holding weight on one side of your body) have been popularized by strength coach Dan John.

Why it’s good for posture…

A lot us favor one side over the other when we carry bags over our shoulders or stuff in our hands. This can result in tilting our body over to one side to overcompensate. Over time this may cause problems.

Carrying a heavy dumbbell/kettlebell unilaterally can help iron those strength imbalances between your oblique muscles and grip strength.

Programming Considerations

You’re only limited by your imagination on inserting suitcase carries into your programming. However, when you’re doing carries as part of your main training, pair them with a movement that doesn’t demand a lot of grip strength.

Form Considerations

The age old cues “shoulders down and back” or “chest up” work well here. Checking your form in a mirror will help if you’re having trouble knowing if you’re overcompensating or not.

For example:

1A. Overhead press variation
1B. Suitcase carry- heavy 20 steps one hand then 20 steps in the opposite hand.

Or:

1A. Squat or hip thrust
1B. Suitcase carry- heavy 20 steps one hand then 20 steps in the opposite hand.

Or use carries as a finisher after your main training. Try this short but brutal circuit:

1A. One-handed kettle bell swings – 10 reps
1B. Suit case carry (in the same hand 20 steps)

Swap hands and repeat on the other side. Do one round every minute on the minute. If one round takes you 40 seconds, then rest 20 seconds before you start your next round. Do five to ten rounds or until your grip gives out.

3. Pullover With Deadbug

Strange name, but very effective exercise. Flexing your arms behind you while extending your legs in front of you puts a high demand on your entire core area. And because you’re on the floor, you’ll receive feedback on whether you’re doing this correctly.

Why it’s good for posture…

The pullover with deadbug will counter lumbar extension (when reaching overhead) plus help stretch the lats. Because of the attachment points of the lats on the humerus, thoracic spine and the pelvis, when this muscle gets tight or dominant, it will pull you into an over extended posture.

When the pullover is performed correctly, it will counteract this extension.

Programming Considerations

Pairing this exercise in a superset when neutral spine and core stability is essential. For example:

1A. Overhead, back, front or goblet squat.
1B. Pullover with deadbug – 12 reps (six on each leg)

Or if it’s upper body day, pairing this exercise with any bench or any over press variation works as well.  For example:

1A. Dumbbell bench press or Push press
1B. Pullover with deadbug – 12 reps (six on each leg)

Form considerations

Keeping your lower ribs down and avoiding lumbar hyperextension is the point of this exercise, so do both. Perform at a slow, controlled tempo. Keep your chin tucked (or form a double chin) to help support a neutral spine. Breathe out as you lower weight and leg towards the floor and breathe in to your belly as you reverse the movement.

Wrapping up

These moves can improve posture and lifting numbers. Rather than only doing a bunch of corrective exercises to correct and improve your posture, grab hold of a barbell to get strong. And don’t forget to sit up straight.

References

1. The Physiology of the Joints. Volume 3. The Trunk and the Vertebral Column. (1975). Postgraduate Medical Journal, 51(599), 682.