Hunched Over and Dealing With Back Pain? Try These 12 Exercises for Better Posture

By Kaitlin Vogel for Parade.

The age-old advice “stand up straight” is something we’ve heard for most of our lives, starting from our parents at the dinner table to our teachers in class all the way through adulthood.

As kids, we may have rolled our eyes at this advice, but as it turns out, posture affects our overall health and wellbeing—and now that we’re a year into the pandemic, many of us are feeling the effects of too many months of poor posture and are in desperate need of a few exercises to help us stand up straight again.

Why It’s Important to Fix Your Bad Posture

Chronic poor posture can lead to repetitive stress on our bodies. It negatively impacts the alignment of your skeletal system, joint movement, balance and more.

“This kind of stress can contribute to neck and shoulder tension, headaches, jaw pain, stiffness, low back pain, alter how you engage your core, and can even make breathing more difficult,” says Melissa Oleson, DPT, RYT, CDNT, INHC, physical therapist and Yoga Medicine instructor. “Making sure you focus on good posture will help keep those aches and pains at bay, reduce stress to your body, and make sure your body is performing optimally.”

If your posture is a problem, the physical signs are hard to ignore.

Dr. Gregory Funk, chiropractor and founder of Ideal Health Chiropractic, explains, “When you have bad posture, your muscles surrounding your spine will always be tense and unbalanced, which can negatively impact the rest of your body.”

By focusing on improving your posture, you can relieve bodily pains, improve your circulation, increase your self-confidence, experience better core and scapular strength, have more energy throughout the day, Funk adds. It can even make you appear taller!

Do You Have Poor Posture? Here Are a Few Signs that You Might

If you experience pain or tension after sitting or standing, it’s a strong indicator that your posture needs to be adjusted.

“To detect if you struggle with bad posture, look for forwarding head positioning, thoracic kyphosis (an enhanced forward curve of your mid-back), rounded shoulders, overarching low back or a flat back,” Oleson states.

Dr. Ashok Gupta, DPT, COO of Theranow lists the common warning signs and symptoms of poor posture that you should not ignore:

  • Chronic pain, most common in neck, back and shoulders
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Limited range of motion and/or pain with movements
  • Deviation from normal body posture like hunched back, rounded shoulders, misalignment of the body, head that either lean forward or backward, bent or side facing knees while standing or walking
  • Potbelly
  • Frequent headaches
  • Numbness and tingling in arms/legs

Simple Exercises to Improve Your Posture

Correcting poor posture can take time, especially if you’ve been experiencing chronic pain.

“Most of us who have bad posture find corrections for good posture to be kind of uncomfortable, tiring, and painful because those muscles have been out of commission,”Dr. Chris Airey, MD,a physician and Medical Director at Optimale, a telehealth clinic for men’s health, says. “Exercises that strengthen your core, back, shoulders and buttocks will help you maintain good posture in a way that is comfortable and second nature, but it takes some time and effort.”

Dr. Amir Vokshoor MD, Spinal Neurosurgeon and Chief of Spine at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California recommends these two exercises:

Posture Exercises

Wall Angels

Why it’s great for posture: 

  • This exercise trains you to pull your shoulders back while maintaining a strong core and neutral spine.
  • It improves thoracic spine (T-spine) mobility which is essential for maintaining good posture and staying pain-free in a healthy active
  • May reduce neck pain by creating space between the vertebrae that extend through your neck

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your back against the wall and walk your feet out just far enough that you can keep your entire back and head against the wall. It’s important to maintain this positioning throughout the exercise.
  2. With slightly bent arms, bring the backs of your hands up to touch the wall overhead. Keep your hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders in contact with the wall while you drag your elbows out and down until you have a 90-degree bend at the elbow like a “field goal”.
  3. Continue this motion and repeat 3-5 times.
Foam Rolling

Why it’s great for posture:

  • Reverses “rounded” shoulders and “tech” neck
  • Increases joint mobility
  • Relieves tension and strain by massaging the shoulder blades and aligning your back and neck
  • Aids in muscle recovery and may prevent injury
  • Increases circulation

How to do it:

1. Keep your needs hip-distance apart
2. Lie on your back with the foam roller on your thoracic spine
3. Cradle your head in your hands
4. Engage your glutes to lift up your hips into a bridge position
5. Relax your upper back into the roller and start rolling
6. Repeat 6-8 times

Dr. Mike Evangel, sports and family chiropractic physician, suggests these simple exercises to improve posture:

Neck Exercise

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Prevents a forward motion of the head

How to do it:

  1. While sitting upright, slide your chin straight back without tilting your head.
  2. Extend your head backward from the base of the neck without picking up the chin and then hold for 7 seconds.
Upper Back Exercise

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Prevents the shoulders from slouching

How to do it:

  1. While sitting upright, move the shoulders back to bring the shoulder blades towards each other.
  2. Hold for 7 seconds.
Low Back Exercise

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Helps maintain a lumbar curve

How to do it:

  1. While sitting upright, move your navel forward to increase your lumbar curve
  2. Hold for 7 seconds.

These exercises should initially be performed with about a 50% effort. They are to be done with a 7-second hold and a 5-second rest between repetitions.

You can start off with 2 repetitions of each and build up to a 75% effort and 10 repetitions of each. When doing the exercises, you should not feel any increased pain or discomfort.

If you do, use less effort and if you still feel increased pain or discomfort, you should stop doing the exercise completely and consult your doctor.

Dr. Gupta recommends the following yoga poses:

Child’s Pose

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Good for stretching of the back muscles

How to do it:

  1. Kneel with your legs together, stretch out your arms and aim to put your forehead on the ground, or if you need a bolster or block (some books work too) to bring the ground to your head, put your forehead on the surface.
  2. Stay for at least a few breaths to a few minutes.
Cat and Cow

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Stabilizes the core
  • Helps in maintaining pelvic tilt
  • Stretches and strengthens the entire length of the paraspinal muscles

How to do it:

Start with knees under hips and hands under shoulders (tabletop pose). For cow move your chest forward and your head up, dropping your stomach, then go into cat by dropping your head down and rounding your back. Repeat several times.

Chest Opener

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Stretches the pectorals
  • Helps in maintaining the natural curvature of the thoracic spine preventing kyphosis

How to do it:

  1. Clasp your hands behind your buttocks.
  2. Lift your hands/arms as high as possible.
  3. Hold for a few breaths, then lower them.
  4. Do this 4 to 5 times.
Downward Facing Dog

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Aligns the entire spine
  • Strengthens the arm and leg muscles
  • Stabilizes the core

How to do it:

  1. Start in a top of a pushup position, lift your buttocks into the air and make a downward facing V-shape with your body.
  2. Bend your knees if needed to keep your back straight
  3. Hold for several breaths.
High Plank

Why it’s good for posture:

  • One of the best exercises for strengthening your core – the strength of your core is directly connected to your posture

How to do it:

Hold the top of a pushup position for several breaths. If you have wrist issues stay up on your forearms instead of your hands.

Side Plank

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Strengthens the core muscles and the muscles at the sides of the trunk

How to do it:

Support yourself on your side with your arm (hand or forearm) and lift your hips up. Try to stay for a few breaths.

Shoulder Shrugs

Why it’s good for posture:

  • Strengthens shoulder, neck and upper back muscles
  • Aligns the upper spine

How to do it:

  1. Stand up straight, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Lift your shoulders up to your ears as you inhale and put them down as you exhale.
  3. Do this 10 times.


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