How are you reading this right now? Hunched over your screen? Eyes two inches away from the glow-y blue light of your smartphone or laptop? Yep, we all do it. It’s safe to say that the last year and a half of working from home has led us to not being in the most ergonomic positions.
No matter if you use a standing desk with all the bells and whistles or you’re still curled up on your couch taking Zoom meetings with your feet up, our posture is heavily impacted by how strong our posterior chain (aka shoulders, back, butt, and legs) is. Fortunately, there are plenty of great ways to strengthen your entire posterior chain; including at-home pilates workouts.
As a Pilates instructor and personal trainer, creating a strong posterior chain is always a top priority for all my clients. Not only will it improve posture, but it’ll give you the confidence to stand tall and confident in any situation. When we slouch and sit for extended periods of time, our posterior chains can suffer. Our back muscles become stretched, while our muscles in the front, like our pectoral muscles, get tight. When sitting, our hamstrings, the muscles in the back of the thigh, contract for extended periods of time, which can lead to tightness that tugs on all of the other muscles in our back. Not to mention, slouching and poor posture usually lead to some icky aches and pains.
Does this mean we should always stand up? Of course not! Fortunately, there are plenty of great ways to strengthen your entire posterior chain. Here are a few to try at home for great posture:
Lay face down with your hands by your shoulders as if you’re about to press up into a push-up, pull your hips into the mat and gently engage the legs. Keeping your core engaged, hover your upper body and hands off the mat. Stretch your arms forward overhead and then pull your elbows wide, pinching your shoulder blades behind you. Keep your gaze toward the mat to avoid aches through your neck. This engages your lats, rhomboids, and spinal extensors. Gently rest back down to the mat. For advanced movers, repeat multiple pulls without resting your hands back to the mat.
Aim for 30 seconds of continuous work, prioritizing your breath pattern as you work.
Start on all fours with knees stacked underneath hips and shoulders directly over wrists. Tuck your toes and engage your deep core (think about giving yourself a hug with your abs!) to hover the knees off the ground. Without bending your elbows, think about pulling your shoulder blades together. Drive your palms into the mat and press your shoulder blades wide against your back.
Aim for 8-10 reps.
Start in a prone position with your tailbone tucked under and pelvis pulling into the mat, send arms overhead with palms facing in. Shrug shoulders done back as you scoop the core to gently lift all four limbs off the ground to hover. Start by slowly lifting the opposite arm and leg higher and then switch sides. Focus on keeping the front of your hips evenly pressed against the ground. You’re aiming for length through the shoulder and hip joints, not height! Work your way up to a comfortable, “swimming” like speed. If you feel yourself rocking back and forth, limit your range of motion and focus on control.
Aim for 30 seconds of continuous swimming.
Start facedown and press your pelvis into the mat. Gently lift your upper body up by pressing your forearms down into the mat like you were holding a forearm plank. Remember to keep shoulders strong and broad across your back. Core is lifted to support the upper body and help keep length through the front of the hips. Lift thighs to a hover. Flex one knee at a time, pulling your heel up towards the ceiling to feel your hamstring and glute contract while the front of your hip lengthens. Pulse twice. Extend your leg back to a hover and switch to the opposite leg. Continuously drive your forearms into the mat and use your breath to help guide your movement.
If your hip flexors are super tight, you may want to stretch them before going into single leg kick to give yourself a bigger range of motion. Before going into the exercise, lie facedown and use you hand, reach behind and gently pull your heel up towards the ceiling
Aim for 10-12 reps per side.
Swan is one of my favorite Pilates exercises hand downs, and when you learn the proper technique, it’s a favorite for most Pilates junkies! Start facedown with your hands underneath your shoulders, pull your hips into the mat and tuck your tailbone. Engage your glutes and hamstrings first, start to slowly pull your upper back toward the ceiling. Think about squeezing right in between your shoulder blades. When you can’t go any higher, firmly press through the palms to extend through the chest and lift into swan. If your shoulders have trouble sliding down your back and it feels like your collarbones are rolling forward, turn your hands out to 45 degrees to help your shoulders find better range of motion. Exhaling, slowly let yourself relax back down to the mat.
Aim for 10-12 reps.
The most important thing to remember when working on your stomach is to pull your pelvis into your mat and tuck your tailbone into your glutes. This pulls your spine into a neutral position, even though you’re lying face down. You shouldn’t feel any discomfort in your lower back. If you do, chances are your lower back is hyperextending, or moving past a functional range of motion. Try thinking about engaging your hamstrings by pulling your legs 1” or 2” inches toward the ceiling. By activating your legs, you’re also engaging the entire posterior chain, not just your upper back.
About the author
Emi Gutgold is a PMA NCPT and NASM CPT based in New York City. Just like Elle Woods, she is also a gemini and vegan. When she's not teaching Pilates or lifting heavy weights, she's eating pita and hummus with her dog, Chickpea, and binging trash reality TV.