Three exercises for core and posture that don’t SUCK!

Today, I present to you a guest post by no other than Shane McLean himself. It’s like you can hear the Australian accent in the article. Shane is a trainer in Texas, the home of Chuck Norris. He is passionate about anything that includes weights and corrective exercises. Not the corrective exercises that suck though. The real ones that actually work. Today, his article on posture reveals three ways to do something about hunched upper-back and Donal Duck lower-back so you can actually look like you lift. Enjoy!

Nobody tells you that your posture sucks — not your coworkers, your local GP or even your chiropractor. It’s like having a booger up your nose that no one tells you about. People stop, stare and snicker instead. Only a true friend will tell you, “Hey, you’ve got a booger up your nose!” Around two years ago at a fitness conference, Eric Cressey told me I had “anteriorly tilted shoulders” aka “Shane, you look like an ape.” Immediately, I went to check my nose. Here I am, a personal trainer, teaching proper exercise technique and getting my clients in great shape, but I was missing a key ingredient, good posture. Good posture being……..

Are you good or evil? This led to many physical therapy visits which entailed doing unmentionable things to stability balls, lifting pink dumbbells, breathing into balloons and getting wrapped up with resistance bands. Oh, good times. Don’t get me wrong; this was all beneficial, even though at times I wanted to do this:

But what I longed for was to hold heavy weight in my hands and to get after it. Now, we’ve all heard that as a society we sit too much and hunch over our computers and smart phones a ton. In addition to that, some gym goers (not me of course) spend an inordinate amount of time working on their mirror muscles like biceps curls in the squat rack. Don’t you love those guys? Also, if you’re working in the strength and conditioning field or you’re a workout fiend, you’ve heard that you must pull two to three more times than you push. This is advice almost all of us should still follow because every gym has a guy that skips leg or back day, and it’s not a pretty sight.


Thought I’d start off with the hardest exercise first. There are many forms of overhead carries, but this one scared the bejesus out of me the most. One false step and the barbell, you and the floor become one. Just a little fear in your training can be motivating experience. Maybe this explains barbell squats on a stability ball?

Why it’s good for posture

Overhead carries work on strengthening the upper back muscles such as the Upper Trapezius and Rhomboids, essential for healthy shoulder function and to avoid looking like an ape. Your mid-section is also stabilizing like crazy to avoid you biting the floor. A person can never have enough upper back and core strength, in my humble opinion.

Form considerations

Setting up in the squat rack is ideal but clean, and pressing a barbell overhead works, too. Get a wider than shoulder width grip on the bar, get your biceps by your ears, keep your lower ribcage down and avoid hyperextending your lower back. Take small, slow deliberate steps. Trust me on that one ☺


Suitcase carries (holding weight on one side of your body) have been popularized by strength genius Dan John, so if they’re good enough for Dan, they’re good enough for you and me. Enough said.

Why it’s good for posture

Programming considerations

You’re only limited by your imagination on inserting suitcase carries into your programming. However, when you’re doing carries as part of your main training, pair them with a movement that doesn’t demand a lot of grip strength. For example: 1A. Bench press variation 1B. Suitcase carry- heavy 20 steps one hand then 20 steps in the opposite hand. Or: 1A. Squat or hip thrust 1B. Suitcase carry- heavy 20 steps one hand then 20 steps in the opposite hand. They can also be used as a finisher after your main training. Try this short but brutal circuit: 1A. One-handed kettlebell swings — 10 reps 1B. Suitcase carry (in the same hand 20 steps) Swap hands and repeat on the other side. Do one round every minute on the minute. If one round takes you 40 seconds, rest 20 seconds before you start your next round. Do five to ten rounds or until your grip gives out. Good times.

Form considerations The age old cues “shoulders down and back” or “chest up” work well here. Checking your form in a mirror will help if you having trouble knowing if you’re overcompensating or not.


Strange name, but a very effective exercise. This was first introduced to me by French strength coach extraordinaire Anthony Dexmier, who paired this exercise with overhead squats. Let’s just say we weren’t best buddies afterwards.

Why it’s good for posture

We’ve all seen those guys doing dumbbell pullovers, hoisting those huge dumbbells while excessively arching their low back combined with their lower ribs protruding. That’s basically like asking for trouble to happen. The pullover with deadbug will counter lumbar hyperextension (when reaching overhead) plus help stretch the lats while preventing the dreaded rounded-shoulder look. This also doubles as a killer core stability drill, essential for moving big weights safely.

Pairing this exercise in a superset when neutral spine and core stability is essential. For example: 1A. Overhead, back, front or goblet squat. 1B. Pullover with deadbug — 12 reps (six on each leg) Or if it’s chest and arms day, pairing this exercise with any bench or any over press variation works as well. For example: 1A. Dumbbell bench press or Push press 1B. Pullover with deadbug — 12 reps (six on each leg) These are just a couple of examples. I’ll leave it up to you to get creative with your pairings.

Form considerations

Keeping your lower ribs down and avoiding lumbar hyperextension is the point of this exercise, so do both. Performing at a slow, controlled tempo will help. Keep your chin tucked (or form a double chin) to help maintain a neutral spine. Breathe out as you lower weight and leg towards the floor and breathe in to your belly as you reverse the movement.

Wrapping up

Unlike so many “postural exercises you see out there,” these moves will actually help improve your posture and provide assistance to you in getting bigger, stronger and more awesome, without the use of pink rubber-coated dumbbells. Together, we can make posture sexy again (I’m bringing posture back, the other boys don’t know how to act.)

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