10 tips to improve your posture

We all know that bad posture doesn’t look good, but did you know it can lead to neck strain, low back pain, muscle and joint stiffness, injury and poor abdominal tone? When we talk about “bad posture” we really mean that the spine is out of alignment. The spine is naturally curved, but these curves can become exaggerated, as in rounded shoulders or arched lower back. Various factors contribute to bad posture habits forming, including:

  • Inactive lifestyles
  • Hours spent sitting (especially at desks or driving)
  • Pregnancy
  • Wearing high heels
  • Injury (either due to scar tissue, or due to altered movement patterns while the injury heals)
  • Muscle tension
  • Carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder
  • Being overweight

Any of the above can cause muscle imbalances to develop, which in turn causes the natural curves in the spine become distorted.  If steps aren’t taken to correct posture problems, they just become worse over time. The muscle imbalances become more pronounced, meaning that muscles and joints are more prone to pain and injury. If you have bad posture, the sooner you start to correct it, the easier it will be. All the tips listed below are easy to follow and will make a difference.

#1 Cut down on wearing high heels

high heels

It’s hard to have correct posture in high heels. They affect spine alignment, as the body tries to compensate for being thrown off-balance by the heels. Heel wearers often bend forward slightly and arch their lower backs, leading to posture problems which don’t go away when the shoes are taken off.

#2 Stretch your hip flexors

Hip flexor stretch

The hip flexors are the muscles which join the front of the thigh bone to the pelvis. Tight hip flexors are very common and pull the pelvis into a forward tilt and the low back into an exaggerated arch. They’re easy to stretch out though – try to stretch them at least once a day. See the download for instructions – link below.

#3 Be more active


Becoming more active will really help you to achieve correct posture. Activity strengthens the muscles, improves flexibility and challenges balance. All of these things help to improve posture. When you have posture problems, it’s best not to do very strenuous or vigorous exercise, because doing this with bad posture will put excessive strain on joints, ligaments and tendons. Low impact, low to medium intensity exercises are best to start with. Examples of suitable exercises are:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Low impact aerobics
  • Bodyweight strength exercises – like squats, lunges, leg lifts for example
  • Dancing or dance-based exercise
  • Pilates is especially suitable for posture correction – see below

#4 Have regular massage


Tension in the upper back and shoulder muscles can cause bad posture to develop and make it difficult to correct. Having regular massage to release tension in this area will help to prevent posture problems developing, or help in correcting problems.

Massage can also help to prevent posture problems caused by scar tissue. Scar tissue forms when a muscle has been injured or is used repetitively on a regular basis. It is less flexible than normal muscle tissue and so may cause restricted movement, leading to adjustments being made to posture.

Read more about massage

#5 Do chest stretches

Chest stretch

Often, when posture is poor, the back muscles are weak and stretched and the chest muscles are short and tight. Chest stretches will help to open up the chest and bring the shoulder blades back and down. Try to stretch your chest muscles several times a day – see the instructions on the download.

#6 Do hamstring stretches

Hamstring stretch

The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of the thigh. Tightness is a common problem in these muscles, especially in people who sit all day. It can lead to back pain, poor posture and injury to the hamstrings. Unfortunately, bad posture, back pain and muscle tightness often ends up being a vicious circle, which will continue to get worse unless you take action. See the download for hamstring stretch instructions.

#7 Adjust your workspace


Although sitting at a desk all day may seem like a low risk activity not likely to cause injury, in fact desk workers have a high rate of back, shoulder and neck pain. This is a result of a mixture of inactivity and development of poor posture. If you can’t avoid sitting all day, take these steps to help you maintain correct posture:

  • Take frequent breaks from your desk, just to walk around and stretch your muscles.
  • Every time you sit back down, focus on your posture, make sure your back is straight, your shoulders are held down and back and your abdominal muscles are engaged to support your lower back
  • Resist the temptation to cross on leg over the other.
  • Every 20 minutes or so, take a moment to hold your hands behind your back and allow your chest muscles to stretch.
  • Make sure your computer screen is adjusted to the correct position, so that you don’t have to look up or down.

Read more about desk posture here

#8 Do Pilates


The Pilates method is very focused on body alignment and core strength  Joseph Pilates believed that all movement should be supported by a strong “centre” –  that is, the body’s core stabilising muscles.  The method mainly trains these muscles and the muscles in the back which stabilise the shoulder blades and hold them in place.

See this post for a beginner Pilates routine

#9 Use a stability ball

Stability ball

The stability ball (also known as a Swiss ball) is an excellent piece of equipment for improving posture and strengthening the core muscles. There is a wide range of exercises it can be used for – some of these are quite advanced and require good core strength and balance. However, even just sitting on the ball will help to improve posture. Because the ball is inherently unstable, your postural muscles have to work all the time to stop you from falling off. For best results, though, do some core training with the ball. When you buy a ball, it should come with a user guide with instructions for exercises.

#10 Do ab hollowing

Ab hollowing

Abdominal hollowing is just sucking the abdominal muscles in – pulling the belly button towards the spine. This strengthens the deep abdominal muscles, which stabilise the pelvis and spine  You can do it in any position – standing, sitting, lying, kneeling. Doing it in the all-4s kneeling position is good because this makes the ab muscles work directly against gravity. See the instructions for ab hollowing on the download.

Help with improving your posture

Download the stretch chart

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