You can always tell when you’ve been sitting too many hours and neglecting your workout. Your back is the first thing to alert you that you have spent too long in your chair. Then your shoulders will chime in that you need to get back to exercising and stretching. Your body is gently nudging you to get back to a regular exercise schedule. It’s asking specifically for exercises to strengthen the core and improve posture.

The problem is you don’t have a lot of gym time. You don’t want to add a separate workout. You don’t need bonus “ab day”. You need an efficient way to train your whole body.

Yes, you can level up your normal dumbbell workout routine to strengthen the core and improve posture by making sure you stand vs sit for certain exercises and by training the body unilaterally.

Let’s look at your normal workout.  If you’re short on time and want extra core work you need to step away from exercise machines. Machines like a leg press or a seated rows station only allow your body to move in one plane of motion. To be fully functional we need to exercise like we move in the world – in all three planes of motion. A machine actually limits your motion AND takes work away from the core which is stabilizing you when you use free weights.

That means if you’re unsure how to do a proper squat or dumbbell row, ask for help. Of course, you can YouTube it, but a qualified exercise professional is the best choice to learn proper form. Plus, you can ask questions and get a fresh workout too.

If you’re already using dumbbells, make sure you stand for the exercises instead of sitting down. A seated shoulder press can help you keep good posture and lift heavier but if you want to work your core while you work your shoulders you need to stand up. When you stand to perform exercises like shoulder presses or lateral raises you get more core engagement. To stand up straight you must engage key core muscles like the transverse abdominis and the erector spinae group.

This is particularly true when you train unilaterally.  For example, doing a single arm shoulder press forces the body to remain tall and straight against the gravity force of an offload weight. Translation: bonus ab work by standing up straight and tall.

This unilateral principle can be applied to almost any exercise. For example, if walking lunges are a part of your routine hold a weight in only one hand, switching hands when you change directions. Or you can do a front squat with only one dumbbell or kettlebell and switch sides at the halfway point in your reps. You can even do a chest press with one weight and knees up for a core strengthening boost.

By adding these exercises to strengthen the core and improve posture into your workout you will start to feel better. However, I would also suggest adding a couple of additional posture hacks.

If you sit a lot during the day, you need to make sure your exercise routine isn’t “push” heavy. Your chest muscles, which get pulled tight from desk work, are push muscles. Your back muscles, which gets weak from being hunched over your desk or device, are pull muscles. The tendency during our workout is focus on those push muscles. For better posture try to do two pull/back exercises for every push exercise in a full body workout. In other words, if you have chest presses on your workout plan do both rows and reverse flyes to offset them.

You can also add posture work into your everyday activities. The first thing you can do is simply stand up from your desk when you get a chance. Make a game of standing up to take phone calls or challenge yourself to stand at least 5-10 minutes out of every hour.

The second thing you can do is check the position of your device. At your desk, make sure your computer is at eye level. When you scroll Facebook hold it at eye level and not your lap. Your back and neck will thank you for these simple adjustments.

Finally, stretch just a little at the end of the day. While you’re winding down with a little television or before you get into bed, stretch your chest and shoulders. It can be as simple as a door frame chest stretch or as complex as a yoga routine for your upper body. You can find a middle ground with a couple of simple body weight core exercises that also stretch your back, like a birddog.

If you try these exercises to strengthen the core and improve posture you also be super efficient with your gym time. You’ll stand a little taller and get an energy boost to help you get more checked off the to-do list!

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