Improving Your Posture, Pt. 2

A second blog entry on the topic of posture—this time we’ll be addressing shoulder rotation and hunching.

You probably know what shoulder rotation and hunching looks like. The arms are rotated inwards so that the tops of the hands face forward instead of the thumbs (as in a neutral stance). The top of the spine rounds forward and the head often extends—known in the biz as an excessive curvature of the thoracic spine. This a very common postural issue because, well, most of us spend most of our days sitting at computers, our heads toward the monitor, our shoulders rotated and forward, and our middle backs relaxed. Here’s a couple pictures to help you recognize the postural issues:

It’s pretty likely you and/or someone you know has this some degree of thoracic kyphosis or forward head posture. Even I have a somewhat minor version of it! That’s how common it is! It doesn’t help that I spend a lot of time writing and reading, as well.

These postural issues arise when the chest and shoulder muscles are tight and/or the muscles of the middle and upper back are weak. So the solution is to stretch and relax the muscles of the chest/shoulder and to build strength in the middle and upper back. Imagine that! So let’s dive in.

There are some very easy chest and shoulder stretches to start with. The doorframe stretch is called so because it’s very easy to do with just a doorframe. With elbow and hand on the wall, lean forward through the door threshold to stretch the muscles in the anterior shoulder and chest. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds and then repeat with the other arm. Check out this stock photo for a quick example:

Another very easy way to stretch those muscles is to use a foam roller. Lie down on the foam roller with your pelvis anchored at one end and your head on the other. Let your arms drop the side. Then, squeeze your shoulder blades back and try to squeeze the foam roller between your scapula. Squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades and let gravity stretch your anterior delts and pectoral muscles. Stay in this position for as long as is comfortable. Here’s a stock photo!:

But loosening the muscles of the shoulders and chest is only part of the challenge. You’ll need to build and engage the muscles in the lower and upper back. So let’s talk about some exercises that will help with that.

First: the row.

Yes, the mighty Row! One of the key movements of the body. One of the best exercises you can do! The Row not only builds muscle and burns fat, but can also help build up those postural muscles to fight off shoulder rounding and hunching.

So how do we do it?!

First, you’ll need a dumbbell, barbell, t-bar, or rowing station. I recommend beginning with a rowing station, as it is simple and relatively easy to use, regardless of postural issues. I will describe the exercise as if you are at a rowing station, though the basic form is the same if you’re using a barbell or a t-bar.

Seated at a rowing station, you should see a place to put your feet. I recommend grabbing the handle/grips before resting your feet there—to avoid unnecessary strain on the back later. Once you’re seated, feet on the platform, and ready to exercise, check your posture in a nearby mirror. Hopefully your butt is flat on the seat and you have a natural curve through your lumbar spine. With your back slightly arched and your abdominal wall engaged, you’re ready to row. Begin the movement by purposefully squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades and purposefully drawing the bottom tips of your shoulder blades closer together. Cue your body to know which muscles you’re trying to hit. Then, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the handle/grips toward your midsection. At the end of the movement, your elbows should be just slightly behind you. Pause there, making sure to really squeeze those shoulder blades together, and then control the weight as you return to the starting position. Here’s a stock photo for reference:

A second exercise: posterior fly.

Though most gyms have a machine for the posterior fly, I highly recommend using light weights at a cable station instead. The constant resistance provided by the cables, combined with the less limited range of motion, should give you a better workout for the posterior delts and the muscles of the middle and upper back.

So, stand at the cable station facing toward the cables and select a quite low weight to start. These muscles, when isolated, may not have a lot of strength, especially if you have postural issues, so I really want you to take it quite light at the beginning. No, lighter than that. Even lighter, maybe. Just suggesting.

Now, facing the weights, take the left cable grip in your right hand and the right cable grip in the left. The cables should from an ‘X’ shape in front of you. Now, just as with the row, you’ll want to engage the muscles before the movement. Begin by squeezing your shoulders back and your shoulder blades together. Then, with your arms straight and elbows soft, pull the cable grips out and back. Your arms should end up even with your shoulders. Squeeze your muscles for a beat and then release.

Here’s a stock photo!:

Armed with those stretches and exercises, you should be able to begin working on correcting your posture, enhancing your joint flexibility, and strengthening your postural muscles. These are pretty basic stretches and exercises, so you’ll eventually want to do more. I’d say after 6-8 weeks of these basic steps, you should continue researching other exercises and stretches that you can incorporate into your exercise regimen.

Because nobody wants to end up like this guy....