9 Posture Exercises to Try If You Sit at a Desk All Day

Do you spend your days working at a desk? Stretch and strengthen particular muscles with this posture workout to beat the slump.

Woman Doing Side Plank
Photo: Shutterstock

Stop right there — without moving, do a posture check. Back rounded? Chin sticking out? Dowager's hump? While these slumped positions may feel more comfortable in the moment, poor posture doesn't just look "blah." Over time, slouching can cause major stress and injury to your body, too.

"Poor posture can cause certain muscles to weaken while causing others to become overused leading to muscle imbalances," explains Franco Calabrese, P.T., D.P.T., clinical director at React Physical Therapy. "This will create force inequities between larger and smaller muscles. This can cause functional movement to be limited and often strenuous, which can increase the probability of an injury."

These risks are especially prevalent if you're prone to poor posture while working at a desk for the majority of the day. Other common causes of poor posture include sitting or standing for too long, a lack of physical activity, previous muscle or joint injury, and muscle imbalances or weaknesses, adds Calabrese.

"How you move outside of your workout affects how you feel just as much — if not more so — as the time spent in the workout," explains Maggie Umberger, certified FRC mobility specialist and NASM-certified personal trainer. "If you're spending the majority of your day in positions that compromise your posture, we're going to start feeling the effects of that."

But strength training and posture exercises can help combat the cumulative effects of poor posture, adds Umberger. Posture workouts can also improve your body awareness to improve posture outside of your workouts.

"Upper body posture exercises will engage the rotator cuff, middle and lower traps, rear deltoids, and lats, which allow for depression of the shoulder blade and avoid rounding of the shoulder joint," says Calabrese.

This posture workout, designed by Doug Holt, trainer and owner of Conditioning Specialists in Santa Barbara, CA and Natalie Miller, D.P.T., physical therapist at Vaida Wellness Center in Minnesota, combats chest tightness (which exacerbates bad posture) and strengthens the muscles that pull back the shoulder blades to build better posture. (It's one of most people's major muscle imbalances.)

Remember, as with any new workout, start slowly and aim for consistency when adding posture exercises to your routine. "Often, people chase the fancy and new exercises when simple exercises, if done properly, over a longer period will increase positive results," says Calabrese. "It is important that you perform upper and lower body exercises to keep a well-rounded influence on muscles and joints."

This posture workout, demonstrated by Umberger, can be done anywhere, thanks to portable resistance bands. Find some wall and floor space so you have room to maneuver into these posture exercises as well. (No equipment handy? Try this weight-free posture workout instead.)

Try This Strength Training Posture Workout

How it works: Two or three times a week, do 1 set of each posture exercise, resting for up to 60 seconds between sets. Repeat twice for a total of 3 sets.

What you'll need: 1 light and 1 medium resistance band (handles optional).

1. "Y" Raise

A. Begin in tabletop or quadruped position: knees on floor, directly under hips, and hands on floor, directly under shoulders. Pin a light resistance band down with right palm in table top and hold the other end in left hand.

B. Pull shoulders down and back. Lift left arm up to shoulder height at a 45-degree angle in a "Y" shape with left thumb pointed up, squeezing left shoulder blade onto back.

C. Return to starting position and relax shoulders. That's one rep.

Do 12 to 15 reps. Switch sides.

2. High Row

A. Anchor the center of a medium resistance band at chest height while sitting on the floor. Hold both handles shoulder-width apart at chest height in front of torso, palms facing the ground (band should be taut).

B. Bend elbows, drawing hands toward shoulders. Avoid raising shoulders toward ears; focus on keeping tops of shoulders relaxed, moving through back muscles, and avoid flaring rib cage.

C. Slowly return to starting position. That's one rep.

Do 15 to 20 reps.

3. Upright Band Pull-Apart

A. Hold light or medium resistance band with one hand on either end. Start with arms stretched out in front of torso at chest height.

B. Keeping arms straight (but not locked) extend arms out to sides to stretch the band, squeezing shoulder blades together at the end of the movement.

C. Return to start, keeping the movement slow and controlled. That's one rep.

Do 15 reps.

4. Quadruped Hip Extension

A. Begin in a tabletop or quadruped position: knees on floor, directly under hips, and hands on floor, directly under shoulders.

B. Lift left leg with knee bent at 90 degrees, bottom of left foot facing up toward the ceiling.

B. Pulse left leg up toward the ceiling while squeezing glutes, being mindful not to arch lower back.

Do 15 reps.

5. Seated Low Row

A. Anchor the center of a medium resistance band at chest height while sitting on the floor. Hold both ends of the band with hands facing inward.

B. Pull the ends of the band toward torso, focusing on keeping elbows close to sides and shoulders relaxed, while squeezing shoulder blades down and back.

C. With control, extend arms back toward front and return to start. That's one rep.

Do 15 reps.

6. Side Plank

A. Lie on right side, right elbow directly under right shoulder.

B. Engage lower abdominal muscles before lifting hips into the air with legs fully extended to create a straight line from head to toes. To keep this movement all about core and shoulder stability, keep left hip stacked directly on top of right hip or even slightly forward.

Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

7. Neck Flexion

A. Lie face up on a flat surface, feet flat on floor and both knees bent.

B. Gently tuck chin and lift head 2 inches off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds.

C. Lower head back to the floor, keeping chin tucked. That's one rep.

Do 10 reps.

8. Wall Breathing with Chest Expansion

A. From a tall kneeling position, face away from the wall. Check posture first and notice if rib cage is flaring forward. Exhale and feel ribs come back in space and weight shift just slightly back. Avoid pressing head and chin forward.

B. Gently reach arms behind and toward wall. Maintaining core engagement, breathe into sides of rib cage fully.

C. At the top of an inhale, feel chest expand. During an exhale, keep arms reaching back, keep core engaged, and avoid letting shoulders slump forward. Avoid letting shoulders round forward just to get hands to the wall. Instead, keep collarbones wide, shoulder blades gently retracted, and rib cage stacked over your pelvis to promote an optimal breathing pattern.

Repeat for 10 breaths.

9. Floor Angels

A. Lie on back with knees bent and arms in the shape of a goal post, palms facing up.

B. Take a breath in, exhale, and feel ribs come back toward the floor.

C. Without letting ribs lift up and away from the floor, slide backs of arms up and down any amount. Keep the movement small in order to keep from lifting rib cage up and away from the floor. Aim to keep as much of backs of arms as possible on the ground the entire time.

Repeat for 10 breaths.

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