Here’s a shocking fact for you – the leading cause of disability is back pain, which affects roughly one in 10 people. That’s over 770 million people worldwide.
The leading cause is not linked to any disease or pre-existing condition, however. It’s actually caused by the damage we do to our spine, hips and pelvis. This is due to everyday oversights like lifting incorrectly, bending awkwardly and, of course, having– bad posture.
Think about how much time people spend hunched over their work desk, craning their neck over their phone, or slouched on the sofa at home. For most of us, sleep is the only time our spine can relax, meaning it’s under stress for up to two thirds of the day.
With the Covid-19 outbreak meaning more people are now working from home and cooped up indoors, we’re less likely to get up and stretch, exercise or walk around. This doesn’t excuse falling into bad habits, though, so here are the best exercises to improve posture from the comfort of your own home.
Slouching in a chair might feel comfortable, but only if your back muscles aren’t strong enough to support you correctly when you’re sitting upright. Over time, slouching places tension on sensitive muscles and soft tissues. To address this, the first exercise on our list is the plank
If you’re not already familiar with this exercise, it’s perfect for improving your core strength and lower back muscles.
To perform the plank
- Lie on your front, resting on your forearms and toes.
- Keep your legs straight and hips raised so your body forms a straight, flat line from your head to your toes.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and repeat this 8-10 times.
While performing the plank, make sure you’re facing the floor so you’re not straining your neck to look ahead. Similarly, don’t let your back slump as you hold yourself in position.
The main benefit of this exercise is that it uses your abdominal and lower back muscles to support your weight, thus strengthening them and loosening spinal compression.
Bottom to heels stretch
As with the plank, the bottom to heels stretch is designed to release tension in the lower back muscles. The difference is, the bottom to heels stretch is a pulling/opening motion, while the plank is a contracting/pushing one.
This is a great exercise to improve posture, as it isn’t too strenuous and stretches your back to ease you into strengthening exercises.
To perform the bottom to heels stretch
- Kneel on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keeping your back and neck straight, slowly move your bottom back towards your heels, leaving your arms outstretched in front.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Repeat this 8-10 times.
Bear in mind, though, no stretch is any good if it hurts when you perform it. So, when moving from each phase of this stretch, only reach as far back as is comfortable. Over time your range of motion will improve, but it’s a gradual process.
To find out more about the link between flexibility, joint mobility and posture, check out our article on The Best Stretches To Improve Flexibility. Many of these can be performed at home, too.
Side-lying leg lift
So far, we’ve addressed poor posture and pressure in the lower back, but what about from the side?
The side-lying leg lift will work your glutes and the ancillary muscles around the lower back, to ensure your upper body weight is evenly supported whilst you’re sitting down.
To perform the side-lying leg lift
- Lie on either your left or right side.
- Place your hand on your hip and rest your head on the other.
- Make sure your body is straight and your legs are kept together.
- Lift your leg upwards away from your body and slowly lower it back down.
- Perform this 8-10 times and then switch sides.
If you find this difficult, try bending your inactive leg at the knee at a 90-degree angle across the floor. This should give your hips more stability. Make sure you keep your active leg in line with your back as well. You’ll know you’re doing it correctly if you feel your buttock muscles contract as you lift your leg.
The chest stretch addresses our tendency to round our shoulders and hunch our back, which occurs if our seat is positioned too low at our work desks and we need to lift our arms slightly to type.
The chest stretch is designed to keep the shoulder’s joints and muscles limber and maintain their range of motion to encourage better posture.
To perform the chest stretch
- Stand up with your feet a comfortable width apart.
- Reach behind your lower back and lock your fingers with each hand.
- Pull your shoulders back and down, keeping your arms straight.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 8-10 times.
This is one of the easiest exercises you can do to improve your posture, as it feels quite natural as a stretch when getting up from your desk. If you make a routine out of it, you’ll not only keep your back healthy, you’ll have the presence of mind to remember to sit upright when you do return to work.
Over time, poor posture can restrict movement in our vertebrae, meaning certain areas will stiffen and seize up. The bridge exercise reconditions these vertebrae to open up and restores flexibility in your back. Flexibility might not seem like the aim of the game here, but it’s often indicative of healthy joints and muscles.
To perform bridges
- Lie flat on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the ground.
- Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and your arms lie flat on the ground.
- Keeping your shoulders flat on the ground, raise your hips to form a straight line from your knees to your head.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
- Repeat this 8-10 times.
One of the reasons so many people suffer with back pain is because there’s no real cure for it. In fact, there often isn’t a direct, traceable cause. It tends to be a chronic, life-time issue exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle, which can only be properly managed with pain medications.
We know that bad posture leads to poor spinal health and back pain, so the best solution is prevention. While you can perform these posture exercises at the beginning or start of the day, taking a break from your desk every hour or so and briefly cycling through this routine will keep your body fresh and your posture healthy.
If you’re interested in taking the art of stretching and improving your posture further, especially if you experience lower back pain, read our blog on The Best 10 Yoga Poses For Lower Back Pain.