How to Improve Your Posture With Pilates

Pilates instructor assisting woman
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If developing core strength and improving your posture are on your list of workout goals, Pilates may be for you. Pilates can help your body to move more efficiently as it primes you to maintain optimal alignment or better posture.

This helps to activate your powerhouse, the muscles that support your trunk region, including the abdominals, pelvic floor, lower back, and glutes. The powerhouse also helps to stabilize your entire body.

At its crux, Pilates encompasses the six principles of centering, control, precision, concentration, breath, and flow, all of which encourage a connection and awareness between your mind and body. As awareness of how you move improves, you should find that your posture benefits too. Read on to learn about the benefits of good posture and exercises that can help you stand a little taller.

Benefits of Good Posture

Aside from the improved self-esteem that can occur from standing that bit taller, good posture can also improve the way your clothes fit, how you perform during workouts, and your breathing. Here are some additional benefits of good posture.

Reduces Strain and Pain

Improved posture can reduce the pressure and compression of organs, important for living a pain-free life. One study found that improvements in postural awareness were connected with lesser pain in patients who suffered from strains in the spine and shoulder. In short, when your body maintains proper form and the joints align, you are less likely to experience pain caused by unnecessary strain.

Promotes Efficient Movement

Your balance and stability can improve from Pilates as you recruit the muscles that support optimal posture, especially the core. By promoting proper spinal and joint alignment, you not only improve how you move but also have the potential to increase your mobility. This, in turn, can help with flexibility—all essential factors in moving efficiently.

Wards Off Injury During Exercise

Efficient movement is essential for avoiding injury during exercise, and it largely relates to posture. For example, when you are running, too much forward flexion can alter your stride and place excessive stress on your joints.

Of course, the degree of forward lean is different for everyone, and you need to find what works for you. But all in all, good posture is imperative for keeping your joints and muscles safe during exercise, and, importantly, warding off injuries.

Pilates Exercises That Benefit Posture

There are various exercises that promote good posture with practice, and, they can form part of your workout routine or be tagged onto a stretch session. Laura Wilson, celebrity trainer and founder/CEO of Natural Pilates outlines how pilates improves posture with four exercises below.

Scapular Protraction and Retraction

Your scapula, a sturdy triangular-shaped bone on your upper back, joins with the humerus at the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint. As this bone moves in six ranges of motion, it plays a major role in promoting good postural alignment.

"Scapular protraction and retraction can help strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades and helps you find neutral scapular and thoracic alignment," outlines Wilson.

Here's how to do the scapular protraction and retraction.

  1. Stand tall and with your shoulders rolled back.
  2. Reach your arms forward with palms facing one another.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a count of three before releasing.
  4. Keep your shoulders dropped to maintain optimal posture.

Repeat for 1 to 2 minutes for two to three rounds. As you are getting used to the motion, first try it while standing in front of a mirror to keep an eye on your form and shoulder alignment.

Chest Expansion With Free Weights

Tight chest muscles can cause you to unconsciously slouch, which can impact mobility in your mid back, as well as affect your breathing efficiency. Exercises that open up your chest can counteract an imbalance.

"Chest expansion exercises work by strengthening the scapular retractors to improves posture and spinal alignment," says Wilson.

If you want to increase the challenge, you can add light, free weights. Here is how to add the chest expansion to your workout routine.

  1. Get in a standing or kneeling position.
  2. Pull both arms back keeping them straight as you exhale. This will allow your chest to fully open up.
  3. Draw your shoulder blades down and together, holding for three seconds, before returning to the starting position.

Aim for 10 sets and two to three rounds. You should also be mindful of activating your core at the same time (pulling your belly in towards your spine) to enhance your stability and protect your lower back.

Prone Back Extension

This exercise uses muscles along your spine, as well as shoulder stabilizers to encourage proper posture. Research has actually found that exercise intervention involving the reinforcement of back muscles has been successful in postural improvement.

"We spend hours rounded over desks and steering wheels, and exercises that promote spinal extension are best to counterbalance so much flexion in your day-to-day," Wilson says.

Here is how to do the back extension.

  1. Lie flat on your stomach with legs shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Bend your arms to rest your hands flat by your shoulders (think of Cobra in yoga) or reach them long and forward (think Superman).
  3. Exhale first then on the inhale lengthen your spine and lift your chest off the mat (within your comfort range), holding for a count of three.
  4. Keep your abs and glutes activated to protect your lower back, before slowly returning to the starting position,

Aim to build up to 10 reps for three rounds. As back extensor muscles are quite often neglected, you may find tightness or restriction of movement in this area. Focus on your breathing and take the time to perform steady and smooth movements that will keep your lower back safe from injury.

Quadruped Single Arm With Rotation

The quadruped rotation is excellent for opening up your chest that acts as a corrective movement that encourages mobility to your mid-back, as well as the spinal muscles that help with postural alignment.

"This exercise provides double duty in strengthening the upper back and shoulder muscles, while also stretching the front of the chest, all of which are the key ingredients to good posture."

For an added challenge, hold a free weight. Here is how to do a quadruped single arm with rotation.

  1. Start on all fours, knees stacked under hips and hands under shoulders.
  2. Inhale a breath to prepare.
  3. Reach one arm back straight toward your hip, as you exhale.
  4. Rotate at your spine to open your chest.
  5. Look toward your hand.

Perform 10 reps on each side for two to three sets. Activate your core throughout and keep checking that your knees and hands are properly stacked under your hips and shoulders.

How Breathing Impacts Posture

Good posture reduces compression on your diaphragm and allows you to breathe more efficiently. Meanwhile, less than optimal posture can impact your rib cage expansion and your diaphragm's range of motion, haltering your breathing function.

"Proper posture enables you to take full, deep breaths and fill your lungs," says Wilson.

You want to think about using the belly and deep abdominal core muscles, the transverse abdominis (TA), in particular, to assist in respiration, says Wilson. To do this, you can try Pilates breathing. Start by inhaling through your nose and exhale through pursed lips (imagine blowing out a candle), to activate your TA.

"This wraps like a corset around the waist from the ribs to the hips," Wilson explains. "Every breath in Pilates is like a mini abdominal exercise, which translates to a stronger and better posture."

Other Ways to Improve Posture

One of the best ways to improve posture is practicing mindfulness. This is especially important if you are frequently in a sedentary position.

"Check in at your desk, in your car, or in line at the grocery store and take a moment to scan your posture in the mirror while you’re getting ready in the morning," Wilson suggests.

It's this awareness and habit-forming behavior that can help you make the necessary adjustments to retrain your body's alignment. You can also use a stability ball as your office chair and this requires the use of your abs to avoid slouching.

"Many companies now offer standing desks which can improve mindfulness in posture, or even splitting your day between standing and sitting, and incorporating short breaks to move around can improve posture," Wilson says.

A Word From Verywell

Posture not only affects your form but also your breathing, which is why it's important to pay attention to it. Sitting at a desk, glancing down at your phone, or just general slouching can all impact your posture, and this can cause unwanted stress and strain on your back and other areas.

Incorporating regular movement and postural stretching into your daily activity can reduce stress and promote mindfulness in how you carry yourself. If neck or back pain persists, however, speak to a healthcare provider for a plan of action moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to improve posture with pilates?

    Generally speaking, you can see improvements in posture within 10 to 12 weeks when following a Pilates program. This will vary between individuals depending on how often you exercise, the degree of postural deviation, and keeping on top of your stretches.

  • Which is better for posture, yoga or pilates?

    While yoga and Pilates both encompass a mind-body connection, Pilates focuses more on body alignment and therefore may have an edge over yoga in terms of improving posture. Pilates also is a core-focussed workout that stresses precision and control over every movement, therefore emphasizing both form and posture.

  • Why is good posture important?

    Good posture minimizes strain on the body, enhances your balance, and helps in pain avoidance. Unwanted strain, that can lead to achy muscles and joints, can be avoided with an elevated focus on posture. What's more, good posture—and how you carry yourself—can also do wonders in boosting your self-esteem.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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