Simple Steps to Improve Your Sitting Posture

Ergonomics and good sitting posture.
Ergonomics and good sitting posture. Getty Images

Regardless of what your mother may have said, sitting up straight requires a stable, balanced position of the pelvis. Along with this, you need to develop awareness of ideal body alignment and to strengthen core muscles. (Core muscles help hold you upright.)

Your mother may also have told you that good things are worth working for. On this point, she is standing on solid ground.

Good posture is a habit, and it requires consistent practice. Here's what to do:

7 Steps to Good Sitting Posture:

  1. Position your hip and knee joints. Begin your quest for good sitting posture by establishing the position of your lower body. Your knee and hip joints should make a 90-degree angle, if possible. If not, come as close to 90 degrees as you can. If your chair allows, and if you need to, adjust the height of the seat until these joints are at right angles.

    Your feet should be flat on the floor. If your feet don't reach the floor, try using a footrest or place a book under them.

  2. Get on top of your sitting bones. During sitting, body weight is transferred from the pelvis onto the chair. On the bottom of the pelvis are two knobby bones called sitting bones. Notice if your weight is transferring onto your chair in front of the sitting bones, in back of them, or if you are right on top.

    If your weight is forward, your low back may be arched, which can tighten up muscles. If it's back, you are probably slumping. Slumping can cause pain, strain or disc injury. To get on top of the sitting bones, gently rock back and forth on them. Then pause in the center, between the two end positions.

  1. Preserve your curves. Most of us have a slight curve in the low back.

    Spinal curves (in several areas) help maintain upright posture. You should be able to slip your hand in the space between your low back and the back of the chair.

    Problems arise when we overarch the low back, which can cause muscle strain or spasm. If you over arch, try to let the pelvis drop into a neutral position so that you are right on top of the sitting bones.

    If you slump, you may benefit from a lumbar cushion. A lumbar roll placed between your low back and the back of the chair can support your natural curve if your muscles are weak or tired. I'm sure you know that many chairs come with built-in lumbar support. If yours does, that's great! Use it!

  1. Take a deep breath. The primary breathing muscle is the diaphragm. When you inhale, it moves downward to expand the lungs with air.

    Because the diaphragm moves vertically and helps increase intra-abdominal pressure, it also plays a role in upright posture. A breathing technique known as diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing can help you use this muscle to your best advantage. 

  2. Check your shoulders. Okay, time for a quick shoulder check. Are they up by your ears? Is your trapezius muscle sore?

    Learning posture techniques such as this one can get technical, and cause a little stress. Most people respond by automatically tightening up their shoulders. Instead, allow your shoulders to relax and drop.

    Positioning the shoulder blades (flat bones on your upper back) lower can help support your head and neck, and maybe even prevent a crick. If your shoulder girdle is forward of your hips, move your trunk backwards. Shoulders and hips should have an imaginary vertical line between them.

  3. Bring your head back. Many of us forget that our head is connected to the spine. You can see this in someone with a kyphosis, where their upper body and head are far forward of the rest of their trunk.

    Now that you have a supportive sitting position, and the tension is out of your shoulders, try bringing your head back. Ideally, your ears should be in alignment with your shoulders. Based on your condition, this may not be fully possible. That's okay. Don't force it. The idea here is to do what you can within the limits of your pain or condition and to make incremental changes toward an aligned sitting posture.

  1. Practice good sitting posture often. Congratulations! You are aligned and sitting with good posture. Remember, good posture is a habit. Habits take time to develop, so be sure to practice this technique for good sitting posture often.

Sitting Posture Tips

  1. The type of surface you sit on makes a difference. If your chair has cushioning, you may not be able to feel those sitting bones quite as well as if you sat on something hard.
  2. Work on a chair that does not have a dip or slant in the seat. A dip will encourage you to slump at your low back, and will make it harder for you to accomplish good sitting posture. A slant introduces an angle into your position, which may skew the instructions.
  1. If your chair seat is not level, then try to sit close to the edge. (But keep all 4 legs of the chair on the floor, to avoid an injury.) The area around the edge of a desk chair is usually flat. Most likely, it will have enough room for your sitting bones, too. Sitting close to the edge provides you with a balanced, stable platform on which to do most of your posture work.

Tools for Good Sitting Posture

  • Something to sit on, preferably with a hard, level seat and a back.
  • Optional: Lumbar roll or towel rolled up lengthwise.
  • Optional: Foot rest or book.