Improve Posture & Reduce Lower Back Pain in Group Fitness Classes

6 Tips to improve posture among group exercise participants that focus on building posterior chain strength, stability & mobility, and kinestetic awareness.

“Stand up tall.”

“Shoulders up, back, and down.”

“Sit that butt down and back onto a chair”

How often do you find yourself saying these cues over and over in classes in order to “fix” your participants poor posture? Do you find yourself getting annoyed when you have said it for the 100th time and no one seems to be listening? Or do you find ways to dynamically correct their posture in ways that they are not aware of?

Have you ever considered that participants may completely understand and hear you, but that due to limitations in mobility or strength they physically just are not able to do what you are asking?

Over the years I have become more and more known for being a bit of a “posture junkie”. I like finding ways to help people stand taller and move easier in order to ultimately help them perform better. In that, I’ve found ways to not only encourage proper posture by the things I say, but more so in the ways that I design my classes and train my clients.

Instead of cueing over and over about proper form, I get people there through drills that open the chest and strengthen the upper back (the most common cause of kyphosis – aka. “corporate America posture”). I “sneak” these drills and exercises into every class I teach, from barre to bootcamp, no one will leave my class without something that has allowed their chest to expand and their erector spinae, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi to activate and engage.

Do you do more than just cue proper posture, do you actually work on it with your athletes?

Lower Back Pain

Did you know that two-thirds (or 75-85%) of American’s will have lower back problems at some points in their lives. Some of this is due to physical injuries sustained in car accidents, sports injuries, or other freak accidents, but many of this pain is due simply to weak supporting muscles and tight adjacent muscles pulling the body into improper posture.

With this many people complaining of back pain, isn’t it our duty as fitness professionals to do something to help them. Shouldn’t we be looking at ways to reduce pain and build people up versus always breaking them down? Understanding how the vertebrae function and what you can do to improve each section is a MUST for any fitness professional who is in the industry for more than the opportunity to “get paid to workout” or because they “have a passion for exercise”.

Before I give you more, let’s check out a quick science review.

Science Review…

Spine Anatomy

Our backs are a complex unit of bones, muscles, ligaments, and fascia lines that all work together to create an effective and well moving body. If we pull back all the layers, we first will find the vertebrae – the bony structures that help us maintain an upright posture while protecting our spinal cord.

The vertebrae are crucial for movement, as they transmit body weight in walking and standing. Thus, it is important to understand the functions of each of the segments of the spine, and keep them healthy.

Verterbral Column

I won’t bore you with all the fine details of what makes up each vertebrae (the centrum, spinous process, and two transverse processes), but instead simply remind you that the spine is made up of 4 distinct sections:

  1. Cervical Spine: 7 bones that protect the spinal column and allow for flexion, extension, and rotation of the neck. The muscles of the trapezius are in this region and often tight due to stress and poor neck posture.
  2. Thoracic Spine: 12 bones that make up the middle portion of our back and are critical for arm movement, spinal flexion/rotation and extension, and allow us to hinge from the hips. Reduced function in the thoracic spine, due to tightness and overall stiffness, can significantly limit individuals abilities to function and perform many activities of daily living.
  3. Lumbar Spine: 5 bones that make up the lower back that support the body and provide stability for movements. If this area is too weak and not stable, then excessive rotation and movement can occur, ultimately putting people at risk for injury.
  4. Saccrum & Coccyx: The 2 final areas of the spine that make up the pelvis and tail bone are fused vertebrae that support the weight of the upper body and attaches muscles that move the trunk, hips, and legs.

Putting this to action in your classes

So as you can see, any deficit in mobility, stability, and strength along the spinal column and the opposing muscles can wreak havoc on the body. Now is your time to help your participants with this.
Here are a few tips and tricks for helping combat corporate America posture among your participants:

  1. Back vs. Front: Focus on strengthening the muscles on the back side of the body (the posterior chain) while opening the muscles on the front. Spend minimal time working the chest and anterior deltoids as these areas are super tight on most people and need to be opened versus constantly worked.
  2. Stability in Small Muscles: Aim to create stability in the smaller muscles with small movements opposed to only focusing on the large muscle groups. Think about ways to improve the rhomboids, glutes, and hips. This means strengthening those tiny muscle groups of the back and hips. These are often neglected and are often the reason for poor posture and/or knee problems.
  3. Mobilize those Shoulders: Think about mobility in the shoulders and hips by including active dynamic warm-ups and full body movements in your classes. Remember that mobility is around a joint, while flexibility is within a muscle. A person may be flexible but lack mobility, so work on this!
  4. Squeeze!!: Use cues such as: “Squeeze your butt” to create engagement in the abs, help fire the glutes, and improves lordosis.
  5. Never Tuck: A common cue in barre classes is to “tuck the pelvis” in order to “engage the deeper abdominal muscles”, while a few muscles may become engaged, the benefits are so low in comparison to the risk of training participants body to be in an improper and poorly aligned position. Maintain neutral spine at all times.
  6. Create Kintestetic Awareness: Get out on the floor and be a coach instead of simply moving at the front of the room. Physically provide corrections to people versus constantly just saying a cue. Sometimes someone just needs a kinesthetic awareness brought to their misalignment’s and next thing you know you’ve created great posture!

While you may want to focus on strength and high heart rates, sometimes completing mobility and stability drills for posture can be the most challenging aspect of a class for individuals who sit all day. Step outside your comfort zone and get people standing better!!


  • American Association of Neurological Surgeons: Low Back Pain
  • American Physical Therapy Association: Most Americans Live with Low Back Pain – and Don’t Seek Treatment
  • UNC School of Medicine: Chronic low back pain on the rise: UNC study finds ‘alarming increase’ in prevalence

Improve Posture & Reduce Lower Back Pain

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