Before and after photo showing Jared strengthening his postural muscles.

How to Transform Your Posture by Building Muscle

Posture is a tricky thing. There’s not much research to show that transforming our posture will improve your health or athletic performance. After all, what often happens is that our posture adapts to our lifestyle. If you play a sport that benefits from a certain posture, your posture will adapt to help you. For example, sprinters will often have hips that are tilted forward. Is that stereotypically good posture? No, but it makes them better sprinters.

The problem is, a lot of us spend most of our time sitting at desks, and so our bodies adapt to become even better at sitting at desks. Our bellies pop out (lordosis), our upper backs hunch over (kyphosis), our shoulders tilt inwards, and our neck juts forward. That may not cause us any problems, at least not right away, but it makes us look weak and unathletic, because we are.

If you took a look at the famous Hollywood sex icons, you’ll find some commonalities. They tend to have well-developed shoulders, chests, and upper backs. They often have abs. And they all stand tall and straight, projecting confidence and strength. They have great posture.

And it’s true. If you can transform your posture, you can improve your appearance. There’s no doubt about that. Having strong posture looks great.

But how do we do it? How can we transform our posture?

Illustration showing a skinny guy with poor posture becoming bigger and standing straighter.

Why Do People Have Bad Posture?

Most people try to transform their posture from the outside in, but it often works better to improve it from the inside out. They do postural exercises in an attempt to look stronger. But it’s usually better to build muscle, become stronger, and let your posture adapt to match. As you build muscle, your postural muscles will grow stronger, and your posture will transform.

For example, let’s take a common postural issue: lordosis, also called anterior pelvic tilt. What’s happening is that our pelvis is tilting forwards, making our stomach jut out, like so:

Illustration showing a belly sticking out because of poor posture.

The most common advice you’ll get is to improve your breathing, stop spending so much time sitting, and to learn how to tuck your pelvis back down. And that’s all great. That can help. But it’s just the first step.

The other approach is to ignore all of the common postural advice and to just start building muscle. However, packing muscle on top of bad posture won’t necessarily fix the problem. Remember the example of the sprinter? Having hips that are tilted forward isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the situation. For instance, you’ll see a lot of strong weightlifters and powerlifters arching their lower backs like that while squatting. It pulls their hamstrings and glutes tighter, which can give them more power at the bottom of the lift.

Illustration of a geared powerlifter doing a barbell back squat in a squat suit and knee wraps.

So how does this make sense? Will building muscle help or not?

Improving Posture by Building Muscle

Building muscle can improve our posture, but only if you lift in a way that strengthens your posture muscles in the way that you want. Instead of doing low-bar squats with an arched lower back, consider doing goblet squats or front squats with a neutral spine, like so:

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing a deep dumbbell goblet squat.

Before doing your goblet squats, you can do some breathing drills to help you improve your bracing, and you can warm up with some dead bugs to help activate your abs. From there, you can do the goblet squats, and now you’re strengthening the muscles that will help you transform your posture.

Here’s a before and after photo of a friend transforming his posture:

Before and after photo of willing improving his posture.
Willem’s 4-month posture transformation.

As you can see, in the before photo, he’s already pretty strong. He’s already lean. He’s active and in great shape. But his hips are tilted forward, he’s leaning to the side, and his belly is sticking out. He’s got a turtle-shell pot belly. A gut made of abs.

This is when we came into contact with our business partner, Marco, who was working as the strength coach for his university football team, then went on to coach professional football players and our Canadian Olympic rugby team. He saw this kind of thing all the time. Lots of world-class athletes have “bad” posture. Not “bad” in the sense that it’s hurting them, just bad in the sense that they don’t like how it makes them look.

Marco’s job, though, was to make sure that they were strong and tough, able to tackle 200–300 pounds linebackers, and able to withstand being tackled themselves. To do that, he had them lifting weights, building muscle, and gaining strength. He had them doing a variety of big compound lifts:

To do these lifts properly, and to transfer strength from our lower bodies to our upper bodies, it can really help to have what’s called a “neutral spine,” like so:

Illustration showing the deadlift done with a neutral spine or a rounded lower back.

On the left we have a guy deadlifting with a “neutral” spine, which limits the stress on our spinal disks. This is good deadlifting posture. It helps to keep the lift safe. And then on the right we have a guy deadlifting with a rounded lower back. This is generally considered bad deadlifting posture, given that it increases the shear stress in our spines, increasing our risk of getting a lower back injury.

So when teaching guys how to deadlift, you need to teach them how to lift with good posture. That posture might be a little bit different from good sprinting posture, or good sitting posture, but it just so happens to be the posture that makes us stand taller, straighter, and look more attractive.

The deadlift, then, can be a great tool for strengthening the postural muscles that will transform our posture. As you gradually get stronger at the deadlift, your spinal erectors will grow bigger, and you’ll find it easier to maintain good posture in your day-to-day life. You’ll have adapted to the lift.

The Best Exercises for Improving Posture

There are a few lifts that are especially good for improving our posture:

  • The conventional deadlift, which strengthens the spinal erectors in our lower backs.
  • The front squat, which strengthens the spinal erectors in our upper backs.
  • The plank, which strengthens our abs and obliques, teaching us how to maintain a rigid torso.
  • The push-up, which strengthens our abs and obliques, as well as our serratus anterior muscles (underneath the armpits).
  • The overhead press, which strengthens our abs, obliques, and transverse abdominis muscles as we struggle to press weight overhead.
  • The chin-up, which strengthens our abs as our hips try to tilt backwards.
Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing an underhand chin-up.

But there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario here. If we can do these lifts properly, we can strengthen our posture. But if our posture is bad, how can we do these lifts properly? What comes first?

The approach we use is to train our posture with our warm-ups. This doesn’t cause permanent improvements. It’s not very good for bulking up our postural muscles. These are just postural drills. But it helps us learn how to lift. These warm-ups include:

  • Breathing drills, such as the 90/90 hip lift.
  • Deadbugs, which teach us how to keep our torso rigid while moving at the legs and shoulders, and actually do a pretty good job of strengthening the abs and obliques.
  • Birddogs, which are like backwards deadbugs.
  • Planks, which strengthen the abs.
  • Side planks, which strengthen the obliques.

And then it’s time to lift, which is when the real magic begins. These drills help us to lift with better posture, and the lifts help to strengthen that posture. Over time, we grow bigger and stronger, and we stand straighter. We can transform our posture:

Sample Before & After Posture Transformation

So we’ve shown you how we helped our roommate, Willem, improve his posture over the course of a few months. But that’s just one example. To prove that this can produce consistent results, here’s what happened to my other roommate during that exact same time period:

Before and after photo of Jared transforming his posture.
Jared’s 3-month posture transformation.

In the first photo, you can see Jared trying his very best to stand with good posture, and it isn’t working very well. It doesn’t look very natural, and as soon as he relaxed his muscles, his posture crumbled.

In the second photo, he decided to stand with his “natural” posture to see if he could improve it over time. The next month, he was already beginning to straighten out. And in the final photo, he’s standing with comfortably good posture, without needing to focus on it.

Over the course of 90 days, simply by following a good muscle-building workout routine, and doing his best to lift with good technique, Jared was able to gain 27 pounds while radically transforming his posture.

For more, we’ve got a few articles that you might find interesting:

And, of course, if you want us to guide you through the entire process of building muscle and transforming your posture, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. Conor on July 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    My posture is appalling…. Do you address posture specifically in the program as well??? Or does good posture come as a result of lifting with correct form? I am definitely interested in signing up for this program once I can get some money together.

    • Shane Duquette on July 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Marco’s big into posture and alignment (as you can see from this article). The Bony to Beastly program shoots to muscle you up as quickly as possible while also fixing up your posture and making you as strong as an ox.
      Lifting with good form is really important too, and proper alignment is a big part of being ABLE to lift with good form. If you don’t have a strong core you’re going to have a lot of trouble deadlifting a lot of weight safely, and if your shoulder alignment is off it’s going to be a big limiting factor when it comes to bench pressing.
      And haha don’t worry—we’ve all had pretty appalling posture in the past. We’re waaay better off now, but all three of us still work to further improve upon our posture.

  2. THE TRAIN on July 25, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Great article. Makes sense!
    Funny, my wife has been telling me to work on my posture for the longest time. This was one of the selling points for me. A program that focused on posture as well as building muscles.

    • Shane Duquette on July 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      Haha right on. Judging by your already pretty decent before pics, I think we’ll be able to fix ya up in no time. We’ve got one beastly husband/dad in the making 🙂

  3. […] We place a lot of emphasis on lifting heavy and adding mass, but we also dig building wickedly functional, strong and aesthetic bodies, so we always round out our workouts with some quick postural exercises. (More on posture here) […]

  4. hamed on July 22, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    thanx for every thing
    i was need this program
    goooooooooo for strong body

    • Shane Duquette on November 1, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      No problem Hamed, glad you’re liking it 😀

  5. Darryl on November 1, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I’ve had some pretty bad posture for as long as i can remember but recently after reading this and doing some of my own research I’ve been trying my best to sit straight when I catch myself slouching but I run into problems after about 10-15 minutes of sitting straight my back and neck start to hurt pretty bad what should i do?

    • Shane Duquette on November 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Be a little more patient!

      Our bodies have spent a long time gradually adapting to our (degraded) posture. We develop compensation patterns and learn to support ourselves in our poor posture rather well.

      When we all of a sudden force our bodies into optimal posture (or what we think optimal posture is) all of a sudden we’re maladapted to maintain it. Ironically, though our posture is better than ever, we’re actually LESS stable – initially.

      Building up beastly posture is gradual, so don’t be discouraged if your body resists it a little bit at first. Perhaps just take a slightly slower pace, lower your standard of perfection (for now) and give yourself plenty of breaks.

      When it comes to re-adapting to functional posture, you may find that strengthening yourself helps.

      Things like loaded carries (farmer carries, one-armed farmer carries, waiter walks, etc.), planks, deadlifts, rows, etc. – they all help strengthen your muscles in a way that will help develop the stability that you’ll need to have rock solid posture.

      Lifting in a “natural” way through healthy ranges of motion can help too.

      Good luck man! You’ll get there 🙂

      • Darryl on November 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        I can tell slightly after trying your suggestions man they are helping thanks alot!!! “Stay Beast!”

    • Marco Walker-Ng on November 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      If you are just sitting, I like to change one thing at a time, starting with the center and most powerful portion of your body, which is your pelvis.

      We think we need to stand super straight with shoulders back … but doing so can be painful and lead to an unnatural posture. Slouching a bit is ok.

      If you are sitting, relax your body and try to pull your two pelvic bones lightly up to your ribs, do so very lightly until you feel a very easy contraction of your abs. This should make sitting feel a little more comfortable and start the ripple effect that leads to better posture over time! Give it a try and let us know how it works 🙂

      • Darryl on November 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        Thanks Marco!

  6. Saurabh Sharma on November 27, 2013 at 9:40 am

    A big cheers for you guys. The articles that are presnt on this site are really a great help for all the ectomorphs out there and the guidance that you provide is worth of all praise and applaud. Thanks for guidance guys and Gud luck..Keep going. !!!

    • Shane Duquette on November 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you Saurabh. Really glad we could help 🙂

  7. hlsui on February 3, 2015 at 7:35 pm


    • Shane Duquette on February 3, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      That is a very very very complicated answer. One that there may not even be a definitive answer to.

      Marco’s been taking postural courses these past couple years though, and we’re planning on writing more about it soon 🙂

  8. […] Fonte: […]

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