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The secret to effortless, improved posture

Discover the dynamic duo of strength and mobility in Pilates exercises for achieving optimal posture and banishing discomfort.

In a world where slouched shoulders and endless hours hunched over your computer often take center stage in your life, finding your way to comfortable, proud posture (and a strain-free back, neck and shoulders) can seem like a distant dream. 

Enter Pilates – the superhero of exercise regimes, especially when it comes to turning slouches into stances that scream confidence. Pilates is known for its transformative effects on the body and, notably, its prowess in correcting and enhancing posture. 

This blog post delves into the relationship between Pilates exercises and posture improvement. Discover how the fusion of mobility and strength, inherent in Pilates principles, is the key to unlocking your body's potential for standing taller, feeling longer, looking more confident, and easing strain. Learn why it works and how to find your optimal posture.

Get ready to say goodbye to discomfort and hello to the poised, pain-free version of you.

Strong Muscles for your Best Posture

When someone finds their shoulders slouching forward or they feel tight across their chest and pecs, oftentimes, the first (and only) reaction is to stretch.

And while we’ll talk about how stretching and mobilizing is certainly a key ingredient to improving posture and relieving those aches in your neck and back, I want to lead off with the lesser-known but equally-as-important concept when it comes to posture: strength.

Without the appropriate strength in your back, spine and core muscles, your body will not stand or sit in proper alignment. Your muscles need the strength to hold your shoulders in their proper space and to keep the spine stacking upright.

For your quick and basic anatomy lesson, here are a few major muscles in your back that assist with posture:

  • Rhomboids: located between the shoulder blades, stabilize the scapulae, helping to prevent rounded shoulders and supporting an open chest.

  • Trapezius: large muscle covering the upper back and neck that helps control shoulder movement, supports the head, and contributes to overall upper back strength.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: large muscles on the sides of the back that aid in shoulder movement, extends the spine, and contributes to overall back stability.

  • Serratus Posterior: deep muscles between the ribs and spine that support ribcage movement and assists in maintaining proper ribcage positioning

When these muscles are not strong enough and do not function properly, that can lead to what we call “poor” posture, such as rounding your shoulders forward or shrugging your shoulders to your ears. Not only does poor posture signal a not-so-great first impression, but it can cause a lot of strain or pain in the body when you spend prolonged time in this position.

In addition to your back muscles, the muscles around your spine and in your deep core also assist your body in finding optimal posture and sitting/standing pain free. Muscles such as:

  • Erector Spinae: muscles that run along the length of the spine that help extend and straighten the spine, playing a crucial role in maintaining an upright posture.

  • Multifidus: deep muscles running along the spine that are responsible for stabilizing the vertebrae and supporting the spine's natural curvature.

  • Quadratus Lumborum: deep muscles on each side of the lumbar spine that stabilize the lower back and assists in lateral flexion (side bending) of the spine.

  • Transversus Abdominis: deep abdominal muscles that provide core stability, supporting the spine and contributing to overall postural control.

  • Obliques (Internal and External): muscles on the sides of the torso that assist in rotational movements and contribute to core stability

You need strength in both these deeper core muscles and your back muscles to help maintain your proper body alignment, especially to prevent lower back pain that can arrive from extended bouts in “poor” posture. 

Exercises that target and strengthen these muscles should be a main focus when it comes to improving posture – so keep reading to learn which ones!

(And if we really wanted to get into it, we could talk about how your hamstring, glutes and lower body muscles also play a role in posture, but we’ll stick to upper body and core muscles today.)

Stretching, Mobility and Flexibility for Posture

But before we talk specific exercises, we need to chat about the importance of stretching and mobility. Mobility also plays a crucial role in finding and maintaining optimal posture. Posture is not just about static alignment, but instead, it requires the dynamic ability of the body to move through its full range of motion. Without that ability to move, your body can get tight, stiff and lock into uncomfortable positions and movement patterns.

Your key players to optimizing mobility for improved posture:

  • Joint Health: Mobility involves the range of motion around your joints. Adequate joint mobility ensures that each joint can move freely and without restrictions. Stiff or immobile joints can contribute to poor posture by limiting your ability to move and adjust.

  • Muscle Flexibility: In addition to strengthening your muscles, you need to focus on stretching and lengthening muscles. Flexible muscles allow for proper alignment and positioning of the body. Tight muscles, on the other hand, can pull the body out of alignment, leading to poor posture.

  • Spinal Health: The spine is designed to be mobile, with natural curves that allow for shock absorption and a wide range of movements. Maintaining the flexibility of the spine and preventing stiffness is a non-negotiable when it comes to finding your best posture.

Essentially, your body is meant to move. You have to keep it moving every day to keep your joints, muscles and spine all healthy and happy, to avoid the unwanted strains and pains that come from a not-so-ideal body alignment.

Exercises to Improve Postural Alignment

The magical combination of strength and mobility will help you find your best posture and ease in your body.

Here are 8 of my favorite Pilates and functional movement exercises that promote both strength building and improving mobility for better posture:

  1. Pilates Rowing Series: targets building strength in the upper and middle back, including the rhomboids and trapezius.

  2. Functional Lat Pulldowns: engages the latissimus dorsi and promotes overall upper back strength.

  3. Cat-Cow: encourages spinal flexion and extension, also stretches the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and upper back.

  4. Pilates Swimming: engages and strengthens the entire back, especially the erector spinae and all spinal extensors

  5. Mermaid: stretches the side body and improves rotation and lateral flexibility.

  6. Chest Expansion: stretches pectorals, mobilizes shoulder joint, creates space in front of body across chest and collarbone

  7. Thread the Needle: promotes thoracic spine mobility and shoulder flexibility.

  8. Single/Double Leg Toe-Taps: strengthens and stabilizes deep core muscles 

For a breakdown of how to execute each exercise properly to maximize your results, try this FREE 20-minute, feel-good class in Kristen Giddings Studio.

Your Road to Your Ideal Posture

As you work on mobility and increase functional strength in your body, you become more attuned to your body's natural alignment. This awareness allows you to make real-time adjustments to your posture, especially in response to different activities or positions.

I can’t tell you how often I hear a client tell me, “For the first time, I was thinking about the positioning of my shoulders and actually noticed when I started to slouch and corrected it!” or “While I was pushing the stroller this morning, I kept my chest proud and engaged my core, and it felt so much easier.”

The intentional combination of strength mobility exercises in Pilates emphasizes the mind-body connection. Being mindful of your movements and how they affect your body encourages better posture and alignment.

Once you incorporate these exercises to build strength and increase mobility, you’ll find a more natural, strain-free posture with ease.  


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