Improve Your Posture and Help Reduce Back Pain with This Simple Side Bend Exercise

I have a fun posture correcting and energy enhancing exercise to share with you today.  

Aside from the fact that they just make you feel great, side bend exercises are in general, simple to learn, easy to do, and have many benefits for your posture and function.  

Recently I posted a question to my Facebook followers.

Have you ever thought what your ‪spine‬ says about you?

  • Is it hunched or collapsed, wilting in your environment?
  • Is it forced into extension, thrusting out or on angles into the world?
  • Or is it somewhere in between, able to dip into all ranges as needed for the demand/activity?

The spine also has the ability to move laterally (side to side).  Asking yours to work in this range of motion can do wonders for your posture and muscle balance.  It's important to remember that mobility‬ goes far beyond range of motion, and ‪good posture‬ goes far beyond "standing up straight". 

When you incorporate side bend exercises, you'll look like Gumby, but because it makes you feel so great, you won't care!  As a Corrective Exercise SpecialistI pretty much love all variations of side bend exercises, and when they are set up and applied appropriately (without strain or forcing the bend), the movement results in a great feeling of overall wellness!

Standing Side Stretches fall into a classification of what I call FUNCTIONAL FLEXIBILITY, meaning that the movement produces a demand at your four basic load joints (ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders) and asks your pelvis and spine to respond appropriately to that demand.  

The result?  The pelvis and spine go through the full range of motion the joint is designed to do.

As a result, when done on a regular basis, a functional flexibility exercise like Side Bend Stretches allow you to perform activities of daily living and fitness requirements with ease (think reaching for the top shelf of a cabinet, sprinting in case of  emergency, or having the ability to go outside and throw a baseball or shoot hoops with your kids/grandkids without suffering the next day).  

When you performa a side exercise set up and executed in good posture alignment, you stretch out muscles in the body that often do not get as much attention or release with traditional flexion/extension (forward and backward movement) stretches.  Side bend stretches are in general, very safe, efficient and effective at improving one's overall range of motion and movement potential.


Variations of Side Stretches exercises exist in many forms of mind-body movement systems which include Pilates, Yoga, and basic stretching programs.  In the photos to your left, you're looking at a yoga variation.  (Photo courtesy Christopher Ward Photography)  

If you have a history of chronic muscle and joint pain, then in my professional opinion, the BEST WAY to reintroduce side bend movements to your body  before attempting the yoga and pilates variations is to do one of my favorite corrective exercises called The Standing Windmill.  


The Standing Windmill is an awesome posture improving, pain relieving and athletic performance enhancing exercise that can be done as part of a regular corrective exercise menu, or simply as a mini "posture break" throughout your day.  

I've been caught doing this exercise just about everywhere!  Just ask my kid's all-star cheer, track, hockey and lacrosse teams.  I'm always on the look out for an open wall to stretch out and straighten up in between performances/games.  I've taught it to my Mobility and Corrective Exercise Class and Posture Fitness classes as well. 


10 Benefits of Side Stretch Exercises

There are many benefits of adding Side Stretch Exercises into your mobility routine.  Some of which include:

  1. Improve ankle, knee and hip stability 
  2. Strengthen and balance the muscles of the back (which can assist in realigning the spinal column over time)
  3. Opens the side of the body, especially the ribs and intercostal muscles (Aids in helping the lungs to take in more oxygen)
  4. Strengthens and stretches the spinal stabilizer muscles including the psoas, erectors, lats and obliques
  5. Helps improve posture by requiring thoracic extension and scapular stabilization
  6. Helps neutralize the pelvis and torso.  By doing the exercise against a wall you creating the proper demand for lumbar extension, lateral rotation and proper femur rotation through the kinetic chain
  7. Increase flexibility of your spine, arms, and rib cage
  8. Stimulates the liver, kidney, and spleen functions
  9. Promotes better balance and overall posture awareness
  10. Helps release tension and stress 


In particular, The Standing Windmill variation has multiple positive effects on different people because it is performed against a wall or door.  When you add this demand to the exercise by eliminating asymmetry in the body from the front to back it removes the ability of your body to go through compensations like un-necessary rotation.  And this what I believe is the key in making it a profoundly simply yet challenging exercise to perform.


When you create an opportunity to eliminate torso rotation, The Standing Windmill is able to address and help correct a variety of muscular compensations and load joint dysfunctions.  Most notably in my opinion is the reduction/elimination of both pelvis and torso rotation.


The Standing Windmill can be done as a mini-posture break throughout the day or as part of a pain relief and posture alignment therapy corrective exercise menu progression.  Because this variation is done against a wall, it has the extra benefit of removing pelvic and torso rotation which can assist in eliminating upper, mid, or low back pain.   When it is set up and performed correctly without strain or forcing the bend, it does indeed give you a great feeling.


However, if you are doing this exercise without coaching and it feels "sketchy", STOP!  Not every exercise is as easy to do as it looks, and you may be in need of some assistance. LISTEN to your body, and seek the help of a corrective exercise specialist who can help coach, modify or change the position to suit the specific needs/demand requirements of your body!  


Here's a quick video tutorial.


Directions for The Standing Windmill 

This exercise is done 4 times in total (4 sets) with a total of 10 repetitions per set (5 each side).  

Breathing:  exhale with lateral flexion and inhale upon return.  To challenge yourself, you can switch the breath pattern around as your strength and endurance improve.  

Set #1

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and shoulders, hips and heels touching the wall
  • Place arms out to sides with elbows locked straight and palms facing out; maintain 90-degree angle relative to body
  • Bend your torso to one side then the other for 5 reps each direction
  • Be sure to keep shoulders and hips on the wall and feet flat on the floor as you bend

Set #2

  • Stand with feet about shoulder width or slightly wider apart and do 5 reps each direction

Set #3

  • Stand with feet 3 feet or more apart and do 5 reps each direction

Set #4

  • Return feet to Position 1 (hip-width) and do 5 reps each direction

If you've never done a side bend stretch before, give The Standing Windmill a try and let us know how it goes for you.  What you noticed, changes that occurred, what feels better/different, etc.  And as always if you have questions, please reach out! Remember, we're in this together, and I am here to help!

Stock Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Head Photo Credit:  Melissa Thome Photography

Author:  Deb Preachuk is a Certified Foundation Training & STOTT Pilates Instructor, Corrective Exercise & Posture Alignment Specialist, and the founder/owner of Pain Free Posture MN.   

You can follow Deb on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or subscribe to her YouTubePinterest or Instagram pages.


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