Can't stop slouching over your laptop? Try these four moves to relieve tension and improve posture

All you need is a foam roller to mobilize the muscles in your back and sit up straighter

Woman using a foam roller to stretch her back
(Image credit: FreshSplash / Getty Images)

If you spend any time at all using a computer, especially if you prefer to sit somewhere comfy like a sofa or bed, you may well find that your back ends up slumping into a curve.

"It's very common to slouch while working on a laptop," says Roxy Morgan, Pilates instructor at Complete Pilates. "This changes your posture, and your chest can become tighter while the muscles in your neck can stiffen up too. This lengthens and potentially weakens the muscles in the back. Because you are not moving your shoulders regularly they tend to drift into that forward posture which then will naturally round your mid back and send your head forwards."

Grab a foam roller (or buy a cheap-and-cheerful one from Amazon Basics or Walmart) and get ready to relieve any stiffness, bringing some mobility back into your spine with the help of this short routine from Morgan.

The exercises

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1. Thoracic extension with a foam roller

Sets: 1 Reps: 5-8

  • Place your mid back on a foam roller, placed horizontally, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Clasp your hands behind your head for support and lower your shoulders to feel a stretch in your chest and back.
  • Return to the start.

Benefits

"Thoracic extension is a great exercise to relieve tension in your mid back, which in turn can release tension through your neck and shoulders as well," says Morgan. "The foam roller assists the movement, making it easier for you to come up. It creates space in your upper back which can release tension in your neck and shoulders. It’s also a strengthening exercise as you are working against gravity."

2. Chest stretch and shoulder rolls with a foam roller

Sets: 1 Reps: 5-8

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position a foam roller underneath your spine, placed vertically, so it supports your head and back.
  • Extend your arms up to the ceiling and roll your shoulders in circles, first one way, then the other.
  • Extend one arm overhead and one towards your feet, then switch positions.
  • Move your whole arms in circles to relieve any tension in your shoulder joints.

Benefits

"It's very easy for our shoulders to become tight and stiff as we often don’t use their full range of movement," says Morgan. "Keeping the shoulder joints moving in all planes of movement, as freely as possible, will encourage healthy joints. Your shoulders’ range of movement can also be compromised by your mid-back movement."

3. Swan stretch with foam roller

Sets: 1 Reps: 5-8

  • Lie on your front on the floor with your arms extended and wrists resting on the foam roller, placed horizontally in front of you.
  • Press down on the foam roller and roll it towards you as you extend your spine and lift your chest.
  • Return to the start under control.

Benefits

"You are extending your entire spine here, which offers a stretch through the front line of your body, including your chest and abdominals," says Morgan. "Often people feel this in the front of their hips and lower stomach as well as their chest. You are strengthening your mid back and shoulder muscles to lift you up, as well as the muscles in the front of your torso."

4. Scarecrow

Sets: 1 Reps: 5-8

  • Lie on your front with your elbows bent at 90° so your body forms a cactus shape.
  • Using your core, lift your head, chest and arms off the floor a few inches.
  • Extend your arms forward then return to the cactus shape, keeping your chest off the floor throughout.

Benefits

"Scarecrow is a great exercise to help stabilize the muscles around your shoulder blades," says Morgan. "This in turn can help improve your posture. it will also work your upper-back muscles which help with posture and the rotation in your shoulder which will help with mobility."

Benefits of this routine

"In the thoracic extension movements, you are stretching the front of your body as well as the back," says Morgan. "These will particularly target the muscles in and around the torso and around the back of your shoulders."

It’s not just about stretching out your muscles though. "As you are working against gravity in these exercises they will also help to strengthen your back muscles which are the ones that hold you up against gravity," says Morgan.

As a result, the combination of stretch and strength will help relieve tension in your mid back. They will also help you to activate the muscles which might mean you sit up straighter. Combining these exercises together will help improve posture, therefore helping you sit up straight.

How often to do this routine

You can do this routine whenever you feel stiffness or tension in your back or shoulders. "These exercises feel great whenever you do them!" says Morgan. "Aim for two to three times a week. Little and often is great. You may want to do them more often if you have a desk job. Aim for around eight reps of each, although this can depend on how you feel on the day. Prioritize quality over quantity of reps."

Camilla Artault
Contributing editor and writer

Camilla Artault is the chief tester of women’s running gear over on our sister site Coach. She also interviews experts and writes about a wide range of topics encompassing health, fitness, food, lifestyle and parenting.