Though posture work may well be the only type of exercise you can tackle at the office — or in the car for that matter — it shouldn't be confined solely to those spaces. But to bolster the areas involved in propping up your spine, you'll need to isolate them. The key muscles are in the shoulders, lower back, abdomen, hips, and, believe it or not, the hamstrings, which can affect the position of the hips and the arch of the back. Thankfully, says professional triathlon coach Roch Frey, these muscles are easily exhausted, meaning that adding a posture regimen won't require so much time that you'll need to overhaul your normal routine. The following list of strength and flexibility moves, which should always be performed in tandem for each muscle group, will help you whether you're looking to pinpoint postural breaches or simply undertake a maintenance program. Either way, says Frey, twice a week should do the trick.
Reverse Raises (Shoulders)
Sit on the edge of a bench, holding a light dumbbell in each hand, down at your sides. With your palms facing each other, fold at the waist to bring your chest within several inches of your thighs, and slowly raise the weights straight out to the sides until your arms are parallel to the floor. Pause for one second and lower your arms. Repeat 15 times; do three sets.
Dry-Land Swimming (Lower Back)
Lie on your stomach on a padded surface with your arms extended forward. Then, keeping your limbs straight, raise your arms and legs off the floor about six inches. Next, slowly scissor your legs from the hips while simultaneously drawing your arms out to the sides, as if you're parting a curtain, and then returning your arms to the original position. Continue for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then repeat the sequence twice more.
From a typical crunch pose, cross your left ankle over your right knee and place your right hand behind your head, pointing your elbow forward. Now, slowly curl your torso off the floor and twist to the left, touching your right elbow to your left knee. Hold for one second and lower yourself. Do just one set of 15 repetitions for each side.
High-Stepping (Hip Flexors)
Run in place, drawing your knees up in front of your chest, which requires the hip flexors to work harder than they do during a normal stride. Start with two sets of 20 steps and build up to six sets of 60 steps.
Leg Curl (Hamstrings)
Lie facedown on a leg-curl machine, making sure that your knees extend just past the edge of the bench. With your feet relaxed, slowly pull your legs toward your butt, pause, and lower the weight just as slowly. Repeat 12 times; do three sets.
Arm pulls (Shoulders)
Stand with your arms extended overhead. Cross your wrists and rotate your hands so that your palms touch. Hold for 15 seconds. Next, repeat the move behind your back, straightening your arms to activate the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat each stretch twice.
Up the Wall (Lower Back)
Lie on your back and extend your legs up a wall, toes pointing to the ceiling. Then bend your knees until you can set your feet flat against the wall, keeping your rear as close to the baseboard as possible. Now, lift your back off the floor one vertebra at a time until you end up on your shoulder blades. Hold for a count of 15 and slowly roll back down; repeat twice more.
Variable Cobra (Abdominals)
Lie on your stomach, toes pointed out and hands on the floor just forward of your shoulders. Press yourself up, keeping your legs and hips glued to the floor, until your arms are straight. Hold for 25 seconds. Lower yourself and repeat. In time, gradually reposition your hands at your shoulders and then closer toward your hips.
Hip Rotation (Hip Flexors)
Stand with your left foot forward and about two feet ahead of your right. Keeping your legs straight, gently move your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch along the front of your hips; hold the pose for about 25 seconds. Don't overdo it — you need very little effort to loosen these muscles. Reverse your feet and repeat once.
Sit with your right leg extended and your left bent so that the bottom of that foot nestles against the inside of your right thigh. Maintaining a straight back, reach your right hand to your right foot and hold it — literally — for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat once.