A great way to attack poor posture and improve it is by strengthening the back. This is a much more natural solution than an outside solution like a posture brace or a form of surgery like spinal decompression.
These exercises are extremely similar, and so I put them in the same article. I personally prefer pull ups (because I like isometric exercises, and they workout more of your body because of the balance they require), but for the beginner, lat pull downs are fine. Also, a lot of beginners can’t do many pull ups when they first get started, so the lat pull downs are better for them. This exercise is arguably the most effective of all upper back exercises (technically, the latissimus dorsi). Of all the posture exercises out there, this is one of the best ones. You will either need to find a lat pull down machine, or a bar to do pull ups from. Be sure to read our article on bodybuilding tips to ensure you are using proper form.
For the lat pull down:
1. Grab the bar in an overhand grip at slightly wider than shoulder length.
2. Grab the lat pull down bar (the long one that curves down at the ends) while maintaining your back straight, and bring it down to your chin. During this motion you should be breathing out.
3. Go back to your original position (although don’t fully extend your arms, just go until they are slightly bent). During this motion you should be breathing in.
• Side note for the lat pull down: Some people believe it is more effective to put the bar behind your head. I don’t like it because it forces you to bend your head and affects your posture during the exercise. I also find it straining on the neck and uncomfortable.
• Other side note for the lat pull down: A good mental trick is to push your chest out to touch the bar. This reminds you to focus on trying to pull your shoulder blades together in the back.
For the pull up workout:
1. Grab the bar in an overhead grip at slightly wider than shoulder length.
2. Pull yourself up until your chin goes slightly over the bar. During this motion you should be breathing out.
3. Go back to your original position (although don’t fully extend your arms, just go until they are slightly bent). During this position you should be breathing in.
• Side note for the pull up: Once you are doing three sets of 15 comfortably, you can add extra weight by either holding a dumbbell between your feet or wearing a dip belt.
• Side note for the pull up: You can also do pull ups at the assisted pull up machine. Assisted pulls ups are just like regular pull ups, but you can put your feet (or knees sometimes) on the bottom of the machine on a counterweight, so you are still performing a pull up, only you weigh less and so its easier. If you start with these, you eventually want to transition to regular pull ups, and even pull ups with the weight belt. Remember: slow and steady wins the race!
• Side note for both exercises: There are a variety of grips that can be used for both exercises (i.e. – overhand/underhand, wider/closer together). If you want to do some pull up variations, they all have slightly different muscles they work. Its always a good idea to switch up your workouts a little bit; don't fall into a mindless routine.
• Side note for both exercises: Both of these exercises are primarily back exercises, but they use the biceps as a secondary muscle. When using the underhand grip, your biceps are worked harder.
If you are having joint pains, I found a great site about joint pain relief. Another great exercise for the upper back is shoulder shrugs. Great lower back exercises include the seated row and back extension.