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The Best Exercise to Improve Posture

Updated on June 20, 2011

Posture matters. Not just for aesthetics, and not just for class. Posture can actually affect social dynamics, moods, pain, and even your ability to think.

Why? Because posture is the key to so many important bodily functions such as breath, circulation, and alignment. And because posture is one of the key things people look to when subconsciously analyzing body language.

It is therefore seriously important that you have good posture. Below I will show you the best exercise to improve posture, as well as its posture-fixing sisters.


If you were to approach a Pilates instructor (myself included) and ask which exercise is best for improving posture, chances are the answer will be swan.

In this exercise, you lie prone and slowly extend your spine into a raised arc. The key to getting the most from this exercise is to maximize the use of your core and back muscles to lift and pull yourself into the position while minimizing the use of your arms to push you.

Here are the steps of the exercise:

  1. Lie on your stomach with a small towel rolled under your forehead to keep your nose from grinding into the floor
  2. Place your palms on the floor at the edges of your mat with your fingertips fairly level with the tops of your shoulders
  3. Inhale through your nose, then exhale and co-contract, drawing your belly button away from the floor
  4. As you exhale, draw your shoulder blades down your back
  5. Continuing to exhale, imagine your shoulder blades melting down your back like pats of butter (Mmm!) and lift your head and chest off the mat ( important: do NOT crane your neck or lift your head- keep your nose pointed toward the floor- arching your neck makes you THINK you are extending your spine when you're really just lifting your head) but do not push with your arms
  6. Lift your chest as far off the mat as you can until you actually need to use your arms to support you
  7. At this point, you may begin using your hands to lightly help you the rest of the way up (imagine you are doing this on a cracked pane of glass and every extra ounce of pressure from your hands could break it- like in that Jurassic Park scene!!)
  8. Continue to extend your spine until your sacrum is just touching or just lifted off the floor
  9. Inhale, opening your chest toward the opposite wall, drawing your shoulder blades down your back
  10. Exhale, co-contract, and slowly roll back down, starting with your lower vertebrae and returning to just a chest float and moving through to your starting position from there

It's that simple!

Foam Roller Variation

A nice alternate version of swan, pictured above right, can be done with a foam roller:

  1. The alternate starting position for this version involves lying prone with your arms above your head and resting on a foam roller with your palms facing each other. From there...
  2. Stretch your shoulder blades upward, inhaling and rolling the foam roller away from you
  3. Exhale, co-contract, and draw your shoulder blades down your back, rolling the foam roller back toward you
  4. Continue the movement by continuing into a chest float (your arms should stay straight, however your foam roller should still be rolling toward you)

Additional Exercises for Posture

Below are some additional posture-improving exercises for you to consider.

Snow Angel

  1. Lie on a mat or foam roller with your knees bent and feet lined up with your knees (which should be lined up with your hips)
  2. With palms facing the ceiling, move your arms in a snow angel motion
  3. Inhale and exhale smoothly

Passive Stretch

  1. Lie on a foam roller, with the base of your scull anchored to one end, and your sacrum anchored to the other end
  2. Let your arms rest at your sides, palm down
  3. Inhale and exhale deeply

For an extra stretch, bring your arms into a cactus or goal post-like position.

Rolling Out Your Back

  1. Place a foam roller under your upper back
  2. Cradle the base of your scull in your fingertips
  3. Lift your bottom off the floor, and use your legs to rock yourself back and forth over the foam roller
  4. Roll no higher than the base of your neck and no lower than your kidneys

Coronal Arm Circles

  1. Put your arms into a goal post-like position, but let your elbows be a bit forward - you should be able to see your arms in your peripheral vision
  2. Bring your shoulder blades low
  3. Bring them together
  4. Still squeezing them together, bring them up
  5. Still keeping them up, move your shoulder blades apart
  6. Keeping your shoulder blades wide, bring them back down
  7. Repeat, and finish with your shoulder blades in that wide and down position - this is what you want to maintain all day!


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Simone,

      These exercises look like they would be very helpful and after reading some of the comments...that just added to the credence of trying these. Thanks for the clear instructions. Up and useful votes.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks GmaGoldie! I really do love 'em! Thanks for stopping by :D

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Simone Smith,

      The foam roller is a great tool and this hub is excellent at helping stretch those hard to reach muscles. Great article.

    • Sottway profile image


      6 years ago from Worldwide

      Brilliant, nive hub

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      If you have back problems, FloraBreenRobison, definitely be careful, but I think some of these exercises might really be able to help you! Snow Angel can definitely be done on a mat- it's a great way to relax, but it feels even better when done from a foam roller :D

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Posture is always a big issue for me, because my right leg is shorter than my left leg. I'll have to try these exercises. I had heard of some of them before, but I have never seen anyone do the Snow Angel on a mat. I have lots of back problems.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Yay! I'm so glad, RedElf! And it really does feel fabulous, topquark. Foam rollers are the best. And thanks for working on this, Mark!

    • Mark Painter profile image

      Mark Painter 

      7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Test comment.

    • profile image

      A Lurker 

      7 years ago

      Posture perfect.

    • topquark profile image


      7 years ago from UK

      This is useful. I haven't done any pilates in a while and would like to start again. Rolling out the bank on the roller looks very soothing.

    • RedElf profile image


      7 years ago from Canada

      I used to do yoga many years ago. This article has inspired me to start again. Thanks :D:D:D

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Do so, baygirl33! Foam rollers typically sell for around $30, and they're well worth the moderate cost :D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Informative and interesting .Soon as I can find the foam rubber ,I'll try it.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Prasetio! That's very nice of you to say :D

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I love this information. We have ti keep our body in good stamina. Doing exercise is good alternative for us. And this hub contain valuable information. Well done, my friend. Rated up!


    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Heya Winsome! I hope you got a chance to try out those other exercises- they all feel great! And the sacrum is the fused vertebrae at the base of your spine right above your tailbone :D

      And thanks for QudsaiP1 and Akbok! Yeah, long online writing sessions really do a number on one's posture - these exercises are a great antidote!

    • Akbok profile image


      7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

      I too only did the last one, as it required the least effort : / . Thanks for the Hub though (despite my laziness), it'll definitely help me be more posture conscious. Nothing like a rejuvenating set of exercises to do after an all-nighter on Hubpages.

    • QudsiaP1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • Winsome profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey Simone, thanks for the easy-looking and helpful hints. I tried the last one while I was sitting here at the computer and it felt goooood. I can't wait to try the others. I know a scull is the oar that you use in the stern of the boat in a side to side motion, that sounds like great exercise, now if I can just find out what a sacrum is.... =:)

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much everyone! I hope Swan does as much for y'all as it has done for me!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Simone Excellent! Wondering what to do this morning to reduce stress when I read your Hub. Pilates is specific enough with movement that even my hyper self is delighted with the exercise. Always enjoy your videos

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Just in time for the pinched nerve in my back, definitely helps, Thanks Simone, Peter

    • tlpoague profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      Awesome information! I bookmarked this so I could use it again. Most of my stretches I do on a ball, but some of these look easier on the foam. Thanks for sharing!

    • anglnwu profile image


      7 years ago

      Got to bookmark this. I think I can actually do this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Great information Simone. I'm bookmarking this so it motivates me to get back to my exercises.

    • StarCreate profile image


      7 years ago from Spain

      Excellent hub, lots of great info, thank you!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      These are great exercises not only for posture but for other back problems as well. I had spinal decompression therapy and the swan exercise was one of the exercises that I had to do three times a day in between treatments.

      Great hub!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, RTalloni! I totally agree, and consistency is definitely key with exercises like this. And by all means, do feel free to link to this Hub. That is very kind of you.

    • RTalloni profile image


      7 years ago from the short journey

      This is so important, and I need to be consistent with the exercises.

      I would like to link this hub to mine on posture and stretching, if you have no objection. Thanks! Voted up and useful.


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