Raised Rib Exercises for Improving Posture and Relieving Back Pain

It's common to associate a collapsed upper back posture with getting older, but other factors may be involved as well. Plus, if you do the right exercises regularly, you may find that age is not the barrier to good posture you may have thought.

A woman sitting on the ground breathing
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Poor posture, especially in the upper back, may be caused by a rib cage that compresses down onto the pelvic bone. Both the rib cage and the pelvis are important units of body structure; together, they make up much of what we call the "core."

As the upper back slumps or compresses, you may find you're missing some inches from your height.

When these big bony structures become in some way misaligned, as they do in most cases of poor posture, the muscles that attach to them can get tight, weak or both.

Here is an easy posture awareness exercise that will help you lift your rib cage right off the pelvic bone. Doing it daily may help your posture, as well as relieve many types of back pain.

This exercise can be done sitting or standing. Sitting may help keep your focus on doing the exercise right. Standing may challenge your body awareness, and enable you to feel how the rib cage and upper back movements affect pelvic and low back posturing.

Both versions offer benefits, but you may want to start in a sitting position. Once you've mastered the basics of this exercise, you can certainly progress yourself to standing.

Position your pelvis so it is in a slight forward tilt. As you learned in the pelvis and low back curve posture awareness exercise, this forward tilt will exaggerate your low back curve slightly while correspondingly tightening your low back muscles.

Unless you have too much curve in your low back or you have a flat low back posture, the establishing and maintaining this curve in the sitting position should feel pretty natural.

Inhale, and exaggerate the upward lift of your rib cage as you do. Inhaling causes the spine and ribs to extend very slightly.

For this exercise, use the breath as a tool to incrementally develop the lift and carriage of your rib cage.

In other words, don't max out on spinal extension. Instead, see how the inhale supports the movement of your ribs and upper back, and develop the muscles from there. Do your best to lift the rib cage equally on both sides.

Exhale and allow your rib cage and upper back come back to their natural position. You may find that with practice, this natural, familiar, habitual position changes, and you acquire more distance between your ribs and pelvis.

Repeat up to 10 times once or twice per day.

Raised Rib Cage Exercise Pointers

If you need a little guidance for your upper back, do the exercise with your back against a wall.

Another variation of the pelvis and rib cage posture training exercise is to raise your arms partway. This will give you a different experience for training your awareness.

Ask yourself: How is my rib cage moving when my arms are lifted? Do lifted arms make this exercise easier, harder or just different? This is for you to notice.

To enhance your posture improvement efforts, consider stretching your pec muscles.

Yoga For Better Posture

If you are looking for more ways to strengthen good posture, consider yoga.

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Yoga suggests that a great way to activate your core may be to include a variety of yoga postures in your routine.

Because the ab muscles attach to various places on the rib cage, it stands to reason they play a role in posture, alignment, and balance.

The researchers identified two of the ab muscles, the external obliques and the transverse abdominal, as particularly key when it comes to well-aligned posture.

They recommend chaturanga dandasana, aka four-limbed staff pose, or low plank, for activating both external oblique, as well as transverse abdominal muscles, especially in light of their contributions to healthy posture.

They also recommend adho mukha svansa, which is downward facing dog pose, for the external oblique muscle.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Drzał-Grabiec J, Snela S, Rykała J, Podgórska J, Banaś A. Changes in the body posture of women occurring with age. BMC Geriatr. 2013;13:108. doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-108

  2. Rathore M, Trivedi S, Abraham J, Sinha MB. Anatomical correlation of core muscle activation in different yogic postures. Int J Yoga. 2017;10(2):59-66. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.205515

Additional Reading

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.