Hey, you! Yeah, you right there. Are you sitting on the couch or at your desk, or maybe even laying in bed, right now, digital device in front of you, shoulders slouching? I bet you are. Because of how sedentary our lives are now, with driving and sitting for work, our posture doesn’t need to work nearly as hard. Whether you try to prevent it or not, a mainly sedentary lifestyle (I’m guilty of slouching on the couch too, don’t worry) causes our muscles to develop some strange imbalances. The main muscular imbalance I see (besides those pesky glutes, read more about that one here) is an overactive upper back and chest, with no other muscle helping to oppose it. This causes that round in your shoulders, and that slouching that I’m sure you’re trying to break yourself of.
Of course, you can try and maintain a “shoulders back, chest up” posture 24/7, but that’s actually harder than you think. Especially when it is from muscles pulling your body into this position, just practicing good posture isn’t enough. We need to get to the root of the problem, which is the overactive and tight muscles. So what do we do for tight muscles? We try to lengthen the tissue that is tight, while also strengthening those muscles that aren’t doing so hot at holding your body in the right place. Lengthening tissue, such as with stretching and foam rolling, is only a temporary fix, not lending itself to any long term results unless the stretches are done daily. This, as well as many other aspects of fitness, benefits greatly from consistency over anything else. To help with upper back tightness, and those dreaded rounded shoulders, we need to stretch both the trapezius muscle (your upper back) and your chest and front of shoulder muscles. This will allow for your shoulders to have enough leeway to gravitate back down, instead of being elevated, and also allows for the shoulders to be able to roll back into their place.
The next step in correcting your upper back tightness is to strengthen some muscles. We are definitely staying away from any exercise that activates the trapezius or chest muscles. The first muscle we need to activate is your serratus. This is the muscle that holds your shoulder blades down flush against the rib cage. With the serratus strengthened sufficiently, you don’t need to worry about your shoulders rounding forward, as you have a strong muscle holding them back and against your body. The serratus is also essential to efficient overhead pressing (and healthy shoulders). Serratus exercises involve gaining control over the motion of your scapula, and they are very different from the normal exercises I show you (and awkward and hard at first, but please just do your best and stick with it. They get easier!) The one thing to remember is to perform these exercises with your shoulder blades as down and back as you possibly can!
(Each exercise is a progression on the first)
Exercise 1: locked shoulder blade rocking (20 reps)
Exercise 2: Scap Pushup (8-10 Reps) Squeeze shoulder blades together for a second and then spread shoulder blades apart as far as possible.
Exercise 3: Scap Pushup to Downward Dog (8 Reps) Don’t let Shoulder blades rise in the downward dog!
As well, the mid back muscles, such as the rhomboids, are muscles that will actively oppose the shoulders migrating upwards and forwards. The rear delts are the last muscle we want to strengthen to oppose the sedentary lifestyle. Rear delts directly oppose the forces of the front of your shoulder, helping to keep them upright, rather than rounding. Keeping these exercises between hypertrophy ranges and endurance ranges for workouts will help to build the muscle strength and size, as well as allow them to get used to working and holding for long periods of time.
Exercise 1: Face Pulls (12-15 Reps)
Exercise 2: Reverse Pec Dec (12-15 reps)
Exercise 3: Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly (10-15 Reps)
All rear delt exercises should be performed with shoulders down, and the motion lead by the elbows.
Exercise 4: Barbell Bent Over Row (6-10 Reps)
Exercise 5: Chest Supported Row (6-10 Reps)
Keep Shoulders down and back, and squeeze shoulder blades together to get rhomboids activated!