Poor posture is the root of many problems. It is a sign of skeletal or muscular imbalances that can be the cause of everything from headaches to backaches to joint pain.

For athletes, poor posture constrains performance, increases the potential for injury, and inevitably shortens their career. As an athlete gets older their body’s ability to compensate for these imbalances is too much of a strain.

There are numerous core exercises for improving posture — and none involve walking around the house with a book balanced on your head.

Abdominal Exercises

Begin by focusing on the transverse abdominal muscles — the innermost muscles of the abdomen that are sometimes referred to as the “corset” muscles.” These muscles provide spinal and pelvic stability. In fact, these are the muscles that give people a “flat” stomach (as opposed to the rectus abdominal muscles). More importantly, these muscles effectively brace the spine when lifting weights, and help pregnant women deliver their child.

Yoga and Pilates offer slow, controlled movements that target the transverse abdominal muscles. Or one simple exercise is to “pull” your belly button in towards your spine while breathing normally. Hold and repeat.

Lower Back Exercises

The abdominal muscles work in tandem with the lower back muscles (the erector spinae) to support the torso. To ignore these set of muscles and only focus on the abdomen will increase the risk of injury.

Again, yoga and Pilates offer exercises that concentrate on these smaller muscles. Other exercises include pull-ups, rowing, and back extensions. The key is to use slow, controlled movement. Do not just focus on the large muscle groups alone.

Hip-Flexor Stretches

Always balance strength exercises with stretches. The hip flexors are important for standing, walking, and running. If these muscles are too tight they put stress on the lumbar vertebrae and cause low back pain. More specifically, tight hips can cause pelvic tilt, lumbar lordosis, or tendinitis (aka “snapping hip” or “dancer’s hip”).

Squats are a great choice. They also demonstrate the state of the hip muscles. If your hip muscles are tight, depth is affected; if they are weak, maintaining the pose will be an issue. A butterfly stretch or kneeling on one knee at a time are also beneficial.

It is easy for athletes to take good posture for granted as they are in such good shape. However, like everyone else, it is important to devote time specifically to improving and maintaining the core’s strength and flexibility.

Good posture is essential for everyone’s long term well-being regardless of age, gender, or athletic ability.