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5 Quick and Easy Stretches to Improve Your Posture and Health

A woman stretches at her desk

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Warning: what you’re about to learn will change everything you know about posture.

Ready? Here’s the shocking reveal: There’s no such thing as “good” posture. 

So, all the advice you’ve heard about sitting upright, pulling your shoulders back, and aligning your neck to your torso? Forget it; you now have permission to slouch away—with a catch (of course, there’s always a catch). But before we get to that, let's confirm something.

Slouching isn’t bad for you 

Yes, really.

Contrary to popular belief, there is zero scientific evidence that slouching is bad for us.

In fact, we now have two separate meta-analyses (a 2014 one published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders and a 2020 one published in the Journal of Biomechanics) showing no consistent differences in sitting or standing posture between adult populations with and without back pain. 

And more mind-blowingly, there’s even research showing that slouching could help:

But don’t take this as permission to live in a perma-slouched position just yet. Remember the catch mentioned earlier?

While slouching isn’t inherently bad for your spine and health, a lack of movement is. 

Locking your body in a single posture for hours—whether it’s slouching or sitting up straight—could cause health issues (e.g., constipation and urinary incontinence) and muscular dysfunctions—from overly tight chest muscles to gluteal amnesia, a condition where you lose your ability to contract your gluteal muscles.

Meaning?

You need to consciously try to move more instead of "parking" yourself at your desk for entire mornings and afternoons. You're not a car! 

So, here are five quick and easy stretches you could use to get some movement in and break up the time spent sitting.

#1: Cat-cow pose

This exercise is excellent for opening your chest. To perform it:

  1. Get on the floor, on your hands and knees. Align your hands under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
  2. On an inhale, arch your back and hold for 15 to 20 seconds.
  3. Exhale and slowly round your back, bringing your chin to your chest, and hold for 15 to 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat as many times as needed. 

#2: Over and back  

If you work from the office and can't find a clean or private space to perform the cat-cow pose, over and backs do an equally great job opening your chest. To perform it: 

  1. Grip a bath towel (bring one from home!) or even a jacket with a wide overhand grip.
  2. Keep your arms straight and move them in a circle up and behind your body. Let your shoulders shrug slightly on the way up, then let them come down naturally as your arms get behind your body.
  3. Perform as many times as needed. To increase the difficulty of the stretch, move your hands closer together on the towel (i.e., take a narrower grip). 


#3: The world’s greatest stretch

It’s called the world’s greatest stretch for a reason. Beyond opening your chest, it also stretches your hip flexors and (typically) weakened posterior muscles. To perform it:

  1. Step forward with your right leg and lower your body into a lunge.
  2. As you go down, place your left hand on the floor so it’s even with your right foot. Your left knee should remain above the floor, not touching.
  3. Now move your right elbow inside your right foot and rest it on the floor. Square your hips so you feel stretched on both sides and keep your back as flat as possible.
  4. Move your right hand outside your right foot and twist to reach for the sky; try to pull the toes on your right foot up toward your shin.
  5. Repeat with your left leg.
  6. Perform as many times as needed.  

Note: if you find this stretch too challenging, you could try the quadruped thoracic rotations instead:

  1. Get on all fours on the ground. Place one hand on the back of your neck and the other on the floor.
  2. Lift your elbow above shoulder height, opening your chest to the sky. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat on the other side, and perform as many times as necessary.

#4: Prone arm circles

Once again, this stretch can help open your tight upper body muscles. To perform it: 

  1. Lay on your stomach with your forehead on the floor and arms extended in front of you (like you're doing a Superman).
  2. Keep your arms straight and held as high off the floor as possible.
  3. Then, slowly move your arms in a big circle around your body.
  4. As your hands get to the middle of your torso, internally rotate your hands so your palms face up; continue moving your arms in a circle.
  5. Once your hands are close to your legs, reverse the circle.
  6. Repeat as many times as needed. 

#5: Flat back 

Can't leave your desk for long or only have a few seconds to spare? Good news: you can do the flat back stretch right from your desk. Here’s how:

  1. Stand facing your desk with your hands on its surface.
  2. Keep your hands on the surface while slowly walking away until you can hinge forward at the hips and form an “L” with your body; there should be a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat as many times as your schedule allows.

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