This 30-Day Challenge Will Transform Your Posture

This article was originally published on March 24, 2016.

Ever hear your grandmother's sweet voice in your head, reminding you to stand up straight, dear? She was just trying to help, bless her heart. But in this day and age, achieving better posture can be easier said than done. “We have a major, major issue with people so obsessed with cell phones,” says Charleene O’Connor, a postural alignment and muscle biomechanics specialist and founder of Charleene’s Above and Beyond Fitness in New York City. “This, along with sitting all day, is making everyone’s posture worse.”

And it’s not just the problem of rounded shoulders and chins jutting forward that you’d expect from staring at screens in every waking moment — posture affects your whole body. “When the whole top of the body is forward, the butt has to stick out, then the calves get tight, and you’re out of whack,” she says.

So, how can you whip yourself back into shape?

First, set up your workstation as ergonomically as possible. “My clients who have stand-up desks are happiest,” says O’Connor. If the boss won’t spring for new furniture, adjust your chair so you can sit up straight with your shoulders back and chest open, and center your computer screen (or screens) in front of your eyes. When reading your cell phone, hold it up rather than craning your neck down, and use an earpiece so you’re not crooking your head toward the handset (or if you’re trying to go hands-free, jamming the phone between your ear and your shoulder).

Then, try this 30-day challenge, which will lengthen tight muscles and strengthen weak ones to have you standing taller, with less neck and low back pain. For best results, don’t rush and be a stickler for form — doing posture-correction exercises with bad posture kinda defeats the purpose.

BTW, good posture doesn't mean forcefully squeezing your shoulder blades together and sitting like you have a metal rod attached to your spine. When the right muscles are working in the right way, good posture should feel upright, yes, but mostly just aligned and natural.

Let's get started.

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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
When you come to a day that ends with x2 or x3 (in red at the bottom of the day's box), do the whole sequence that many times through. “P/u” refers to the number of scapular push-ups you should perform after each walkout. Click ahead to learn how to do each exercise.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Standing Windmill Series
This exercise opens up tight chest muscles while strengthening the upper back.

Start by standing with feet one fist-width apart, with shoulders, hips, and heels touching a wall. Extend your arms straight out to the sides, palms facing out. Slowly bend your torso to one side, keeping arms at 90 degrees relative to the body, shoulders and hips on the wall, and the feet flat on ground. Return to center, then bend to other side. Do five reps.

Move your feet slightly wider apart for five more side-to-side reps. Move them even wider into a straddle for five more, and come back to the starting foot position for one last set of five. Total: 20 reps.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Scales
A challenging balancing position, the aim is to hold this posture on each side.

Stand with your feet pointed straight ahead. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Slowly raise one leg out behind you, keeping your arms straight out, and hinge forward while you balance on one leg. Engage and hold for a number of seconds (listed in the parentheses). Switch legs and repeat. That’s one rep.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Alternating Forward Lunges
This one opens tight hip flexors and strengthens glutes.

Stand with feet together, toes pointed straight ahead. Interlace your hands behind your head, with your elbows straight to the sides, pulling them a little back so you’re really open. Take a large stride forward, so that your lunging knee is directly over your foot and the other knee lowers to just barely touch the floor. Press your front foot back to meet the back one. Repeat the lunge step with the other side for one rep.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Walkouts with Scapular Pushups
Here, you’ll be focusing on core and upper-back strength.

For the walkout, start standing, feet together and hip-width apart. Bend forward from your hips to reach the floor with your hands. Walk your hands straight out, engaging your core so your hips don’t sway side-to-side.

Once in the straight-arm plank position, do scapular push-ups: Keeping your arms totally straight, pull your shoulder blades together so they’re pinched in the center, taking care not to let your belly drop. Then, push up and out through your shoulders so the blades are as far apart as you can make them without overly rounding your back. Do the number of push-up reps (in parentheses), and then walk hands back to feet and stand up. When you see numbers that descend, you’ll do fewer pushups on each successive walkout.

Adidas StellaSport sneakers.
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