Women in a yoga class are shown doing deep stretches, to illustrate the idea of exercises that improve posture.

The better your posture, the more fluid your massage is, and every aspect is easier to perform. With better posture comes solid, grounded massage work. Solid work feels more connected, which clients prefer. Luckily, there are exercises to improve posture, which we will look at here. (Every exercise and stretch mentioned here is linked to a short video on YouTube so you can see each one in action.)

Straight vs. Slouchy

Did your mom ever say, “Stand up straight” as you were growing up? Good posture is one of those things we know we should have but rarely put the work in to get.

For some reason, slouching posture is what many young people adopt and often take into adulthood. Here we will look at what it takes to improve your posture and why it’s essential at the massage table.

What does good posture look like?

Good posture looks like a tall spine with chest forward and shoulders back. To explain this further, let’s break it down:

A tall spine means stacking each vertebra straight all the way through the cervical vertebrae. Envision a string attached to the crown of your head, pulling you skyward. 

The sternum should be lifted, and the shoulders rolled back and down. The last piece, arguably the most difficult, is tucking the chin, not down, but back so your ears align with the shoulders.

Why Massage-Table Posture is Important

The act of giving a massage doesn’t help our posture goals. Massage therapists work with arms out in front, which adds to rounded shoulders. Looking at our work adds to a forward head posture. Fatigue on overbooked days adds to our slouch. All of this means attention should be taken to counteract the work massage therapists do.

Setting the body up to use it most efficiently makes sense. A tall spine and strong core allow our extremities to function optimally. Whether you are taking a client’s leg through a range of motion or transitioning from a bow stance to a horse stance, your posture makes this either simple or taxing to the body.  

Evaluate Your Current Posture

There are several ways to determine how your current posture stacks up with where you’d like your posture to be. 

A quick-and-easy way to observe your current posture is to stand with your back against a wall. Place your heels and head to touch the wall. Roll your shoulders back and down until they touch the wall. Now step away from the wall and take a few steps around the room, holding that posture in place. It may feel strange, but this alignment is fairly close to where you want to be. 

You could also visit a massage therapist or other professional who offers posture analysis. This analysis may include taking pictures of you standing against a posture grid. Front, side, and posterior views will show how far off specific boney landmarks are. Sometimes, using a simple plum line shows a lot of deviation and gives you areas to work.   

3 Exercises for Better Posture

1. The Row

• It’s crucial to build the strength of the posterior body, and the row does this.

• The seated row and bent-over row with a dumbbell are my two favorites for massage therapists.

2. The I-Y-T Exercise

This exercise is an effective posterior kinetic chain movement and turns on those muscles for better posture.

• You will create the letters I, Y, and T with your arms.

• Begin by lying prone on the floor or over a physioball.

• Reach your hands overhead into an “I” while lifting them off the floor.

• Pause at the top of the lift and then lower.

• Next, reach your hands into a wide “Y” lift. Pause and lower.

• Continue to the next lift with a “T.”

• Pause at the top of the lift and then lower.

• You will repeat 10 of each lift.

3. The Plank

• Holding a plank for 60 seconds multiple times will improve your core and shoulder girdle strength quickly.

• Keeping good form during the plank exercise translates to good posture at the massage table.

• Focus on holding your body in a straight line from the toes to the crown of the head. A neutral head is as important during the plank as it is while giving a massage with good posture. 

3 Stretches for Better Posture

1. Doorway Stretch.

This stretch will open the chest with a focus on stretching the pectoralis major.

• Any doorway or side of a wall will work for this.

• Place one hand on the doorway and step forward until your arm is straight behind you.

• Turn your body away from the arm that is holding the doorway until you feel a stretch in your pectoralis. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and then stretch the other arm.  

2. Lifting, Hands Clasped

Clasp your hands behind your back.

•  Raise, or lift, your arms.

• Tight shoulders may not let you lift very far, but go until you feel a stretch and hold.

• Some people like to add a forward bend while raising their arms.

• This is a lovely stretch for the chest and will counteract the rounded-shoulder posture many massage therapists have.

3. Camel Pose.

• The third stretch for good posture is borrowed from yoga. It is the Camel pose, or kneeling back-bend.

•  This pose is a wonderful anterior body stretch and chest-opener all in one.

• You will get a hip flexor stretch along with the quadriceps.

• Begin by kneeling and then reaching one hand back to touch the heel of your foot.

• Arch your back to touch your other hand to your other heel.

• Gently push your hips forward as you back-bend, lifting your sternum and letting your head fall back.

• This neck hyperextension may be difficult, so only go as far as is comfortable.

• Hold the stretch for no more than is tolerable until your body is accustomed to this pose.

Prevent and Strengthen

If your posture isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, now you have some steps to improve it. Use stretches as prevention and strengthening exercises to give your body the muscular endurance necessary to hold good posture.

As always, get a massage yourself to address shortened musculature and reset your body.  

Angela Lehman

About the Author

Angela Lehman is a massage therapist of 25 years turned online educator, promoting fitness and nutrition for massage therapists. She runs The Fit MT. With her kinesiology degree specialized in nutrition, she trains therapists in healthy eating, exercise and body mechanics to prolong their careers. Visit massagemag.com to read her The Fit MT column on topics including body mechanics, gut health, nutrition, exercise and more.