This simple, floor-bound back strengthener is the one move you need for better posture.

By Mary Anderson
March 24, 2020

This move is the antidote to your all-day desk slouch.

“By opening the chest, elongating the spine, and strengthening the upper-back muscles, we combat all the forward flexion many of us do all day,” says Elaine Hayes, founder of MNT Studio in San Fransisco and a maestro at exercises that help balance the spine. “Our shoulders settle farther back, our head sits on top of our spine—as opposed to tilting forward—and we’re less likely to have neck, shoulder, and back pain.”

You’ll go facedown on a mat to do this cactus-swimming-starfish trio of back strengtheners, named after each arm position you assume for your reps. Do these daily to firm up those key muscles—extensors, rhomboids, lats, and serratus—that help improve your posture. (Also try these posture exercises from Kayla Istines.)

During all three parts of the move, keep these form tips in mind:

  • Keep the pubic bone anchored on the mat so you don’t overstress your lower back.
  • Throughout each exercise, make sure you’re breathing smoothly— never holding your breath and always letting air flow.
  • Slide your shoulders down your back, and drop your chin to keep the back of your neck long. Think of lifting from your chest and not your head. (Related: Posture Myths That'll Change the Way You Think About Your Body)

How it works: Do one set of each of the moves below every single day.

Ashley Batz

Cactus

A. Lie face-down on a mat on the floor, legs outstretched and hip-width apart. Point toes so tops of feet are on the floor, and pubic bone is pressing into the mat. Widen elbows so arms are in cactus position out to the sides. hovering just off the floor, to start.

B. Inhale to lift chest about 6 inches off the floor, head and neck long.

C. Exhale to lower to return to start.

Do 5 to 10 reps.

Swimming

A. Lie face-down on a mat on the floor, legs outstretched and hip-width apart. Point toes so tops of feet are on the floor, and pubic bone is pressing into the mat. Extend arms long in front of face, forming a Y shape with palms facing in.

B. Lift arms, chest, and legs, then alternating lifting opposite hand and foot as if swimming.

Repeat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Starfish

A. Lie face-down on a mat on the floor, legs outstretched and hip-width apart. Point toes so tops of feet are on the floor, and pubic bone is pressing into the mat. Extend arms long in front of face, forming a Y shape with palms facing in.

B. Lift arms, chest, and legs, then inhale to extend arms out to the sides in a T shape, and extend legs wide.

C. Exhale to bring arms and legs in to return to start without lowering hands, feet, or chest to the floor.

Do 5 to 10 reps.

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