In today’s day and age, many people frequently sit at a desk for long periods. In addition, sitting posture tends to vary, often resulting in a slumped or flexed posture. Plus, there’s the dreaded “cell phone posture,” which involves a flexed posture whether you’re sitting or standing.
When sitting for long periods, your back muscles keep your body in alignment. Eventually, these muscles fatigue, causing your body to slump and your head to shift forward in response. Also, your trunk will flex and your pelvis will roll back.
In fact, prolonged static postures like sitting at a computer or watching TV for a long time can affect your muscle strength and length.
The muscles in the back of your neck and trunk lengthen and weaken, while the muscles in the front of your neck, chest, shoulders, and abdomen stiffen and shorten. The result is a snowball effect, which perpetuates this posture even when you’re not sitting.
The good news? Performing intentional exercises that strengthen your posture muscles can help combat this pattern.
Wall angels are an excellent choice. In just this one exercise, you’ll both strengthen your back muscles and lengthen the muscles in the front of your neck, shoulders, and core.
Wall angels have also been called a “V” to “W” stretch, named so for the beginning and ending arm positions. They’re typically performed with your back against a wall. The wall provides feedback, keeping your spine neutral and your arms in position.
This exercise will benefit you if you sit most of the day, as well as if you do a lot of upper-body resistance training.
Exercises like the bench press can cause the involved muscles to shorten, but wall angels counteract that effect, primarily by stretching the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and working the large back muscle (latissimus dorsi).
- Stand with your feet approximately 6–8 inches (about 15–20 cm) away from the wall. Rest your butt, back, shoulders, and head against the wall.
- Attempt to begin with a neutral spine by drawing your belly button toward your spine. Draw your ribs in and down, feeling the back of your ribcage connect to the wall, while your lower back remains slightly away from the wall.
- Tuck your chin slightly, attempting to get the back of your head to touch the wall. If it’s difficult to get your head on the wall, try placing a small pillow behind your head.
- Next, reach your arms straight up and put them on the wall overhead, aiming to get the back of your hands to touch the wall in a “V” position. If you have difficulty with any part of this alignment, step your feet further away from the wall and see if that corrects the issue.
- Then, begin to bend your elbows as you slide your hands down the wall until your hands are just above your shoulders. Meanwhile, keep your head, trunk, and butt against the wall.
- Lower only as much as you can while maintaining good posture without pain (it’s OK to feel a stretch). At the lowest point, hold for a count of 5 before returning to the “V” starting position while maintaining alignment.
- Repeat 5–10 reps, stopping if your muscles can no longer hold the postural alignment without pain.
How to modify:
If it’s challenging to hold your spine against a wall without strain, another option is to perform this exercise while standing in a doorway instead of having your back against a wall.
To perform the modification, place your hands on the edges of a doorway above your head in the “V” position. Slowly step through with one foot until you feel a stretch at your chest.
As when performing the standard wall angel, draw your belly button in to bring your spine to a neutral position, and slightly tuck your chin to keep your head as aligned with your torso as possible. Then slide your hands down into the “W” position.
Return to the starting position and repeat. After 5–10 repetitions, step back and switch your lead foot.
This modification will allow you to improve your posture gradually so that it’s more comfortable to do angels against the wall, eventually.
Posture exercises have been shown to help you improve your posture. An improved posture has been shown to offer various benefits, including reducing pain and modifying joint angles to decrease stress on tissues (
Some postural patterns are less amenable to change as you age, and they may not respond to postural exercises. In addition, those who have preexisting issues, such as congenital forms of scoliosis, may not experience any changes from performing postural correction exercises.
Nevertheless, most people can benefit from performing daily postural exercises. At a minimum, you’ll gain strength in the muscles that support you daily.
Wall angels are performed by placing your butt, back, and head against the wall, then slowly gliding your arms up and down the wall in a “V” to “W” pattern. Research has shown postural exercise intervention can help improve posture and reduce pain.
Wall angels activate postural muscles in your upper back that help keep your shoulders pulled back. They also work to lengthen and strengthen your chest, spinal, and trunk muscles. Also, your core muscles must work to stabilize your trunk, keeping you in a neutral position.
As such, they’re a beneficial exercise to help undo the effects of a more flexed posture. This helps decrease stress at the shoulders, allowing you to raise your arms overhead easier, and it helps keep your head more in line with your body, decreasing stress in your neck muscles.
Wall angels help lengthen your chest and back muscles while strengthening the postural muscles of your upper back.
There are multiple ways your body may compensate to be able to reach overhead and lower your arms during this exercise, leading to mistakes in form.
The most common is bringing your buttocks off of the wall when sliding your arms overhead.
This is typically due to stiffness in the back, chest, and shoulder muscles. It can also be due to stiffness in the hip flexors. Decreasing the range of motion and not reaching as high until your flexibility improves can combat this.
Another mistake is arching your back — usually during the lowering phase. This can be due to an issue with weak core stabilization muscles or stiffness in the shoulders. Again, decreasing the range of motion and not lowering your arms as much will counteract this.
Assuming a forward-head posture during the movement is also a common compensation. This may occur when raising or lowering your arms, or throughout the entire movement. It’s usually due to stiffness in the cervical and chest muscles.
The final common mistake is not maintaining hand and elbow contact with the wall. This is most commonly due to stiffness in the shoulders, chest, back, or trunk. This compensation can also occur when you’re raising or lowering your arms, or throughout the entire movement.
When performing wall angels, keep your buttocks against the wall, your lower back flat, and your head against the wall.
Wall angels are an excellent exercise for posture because they lengthen the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and abdomen, all while strengthening your back muscles.