Exercise, Other, Progress

Say Goodbye to Slouching

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!

Exercise

Chest Day Best Day

If you have been following me, or know me, at all, you would know I do not believe “chest day best day.” Historically, chest day has always been my least favorite. My chest, like most women’s, has always been weak. My upper body in general has always been weaker than my lower body, so it’s really not as much fun to train. Even as I started to train upper body more, I avoided chest movements. I avoided bench press, chest flys, pushups, anything chest. In my mind, I didn’t want a “manly chest,” and thought lifting chest more than once every two months would give me pecs that could dance, ala Terry Crews. However, who would’ve guessed that I was wrong and went through a dumb, painful experience that could’ve been prevented if I just worked chest? (Everyone raise your hands)

My years of avoiding chest, and only working arms, shoulders, and back, had caught up to me, leaving me incredibly imbalanced. My upper back was so tight, with no chest to counterbalance that tightness, that it ended up causing my ribs to dislocate. Months of chiropractic care and recovery techniques later, I was back in action. But now, I was more aware as to what encompasses “health,” and it was more than just things that I like doing. I know, just like myself, many people avoid movements and exercises that they don’t like. Along with myself, many women tend to avoid chest, for the same reasons I did. Well Ladies, we need to train chest.

ANATOMY

Your chest muscle group is composed of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the big muscle in your chest, with the pectoralis minor lying underneath of the major.

The pec major originates from your humerus (upper arm) bone, fans across your chest, attaching to both your clavicle and your sternum. The pec major is in charge of keeping your humerus close to your body. As well, the pec major is in charge of flexing the humerus, or moving the humerus in front of the body, along with horizontal adduction, which is moving the humerus across the front of the body.

The pec minor originates from the top of your scapula (shoulder blade) and attaches to your ribs. The pec minor does not have as much responsibility when it comes to motion, like the pec major does, but it is equally important. The pec minor is in charge of keeping your shoulder blades depressed and retracted (close to the body and flat). As well, the pec minor can be the difference between good posture and rounded shoulders if it is too tight.

Why do we train chest?

If we train every other aspect of our bodies, but neglect chest, our bodies will obviously be unbalanced. The most basic and important reason to train chest as a woman, is for muscular balance. I’ve harped on this plenty, but muscular balance has many benefits in both training and a healthy life. In training, muscular balance helps to reduce the risk of injury greatly, while also allowing for optimal muscle movements and contractions. In life, muscular balance will help to allow pain free movement, as well as helping with posture and proper movement patterns. The more balanced you are, the more overall stability your body will have.

Just because you have to train chest doesn’t mean that you have to have a full day of bench press though. Since it is a larger muscle group, it should not be paired with other larger muscle groups, such as back. I recommend adding chest movements into your shoulder training days, or your arm days. A nice way to incorporate chest into your training would be to have a “push” training day. Your chest muscles main action is to push, and incorporate other “push” muscles, such as triceps and shoulders. Combining all of these muscles into one day can help to strengthen the overall pushing movement, without needing to give each muscle group involved its own day, especially if you are not a fan of one of the components.

The main point I am trying to make is that chest day is important. Especially for women, it may not be fun, and it may not be the muscles you are looking to define and exaggerate, but chest day is important. It is important for muscular balance, and overall strength and stability. Below I have included two sample chest training days, one full chest day and one push day. Try them out!

Sample Chest Day:

Warm Up: 10 minutes cardio, 1 set incline pushups

A1: Dumbbell Chest Press 10 reps

B1: Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 10 reps

C1: Pec Fly Machine 10 reps

C2: Push-ups (full or modified) 10 reps

D1: Front Raise 12 reps

Sample “Push” Day:

Warm Up: 10 minutes cardio, 1 set incline pushups, 1 set light overhead press

A1: Dumbbell Chest Press 10 reps

B1: Overhead Shoulder Press 10 reps

C1: Incline Chest Press 10 reps

C2: Lateral DB Raises 10-12 reps

D1: Upright Row 10 reps

D2: Face Pulls 10-12 reps

(Unfortunately, this video had a glitch so stop watching after the face pulls 🙈)