Rounded shoulders: improve your posture with these exercises

Round shoulders, bad posture

Stop what you are doing for a moment and check your posture.

If you’re at home on your phone or computer, chances are your neck is tilting forward, your upper back is slightly arched, and your shoulders are rounded so that your spine forms a “C” shape. This decidedly bad posture is also incredibly common, but it’s not without some significant (and painful) consequences.

The consequences of round shoulders

“The shoulder is a complex joint with multiple articulations [joints] and muscles that connect our shoulder blade and humerus [upper arm bone] to our neck and mid-back,” said Jason Biondo, a chiropractic physician with Palm Health in Landue, Missouri.

“When we talk about rounded shoulders, we’re talking specifically about two primary parts of the shoulder girdle: the glenohumeral joint (ball and socket) and the scapulothoracic region (shoulder blade),” he says.

The problem is that persistent bad posture of the neck, upper back and shoulders leads to muscle adjustments over time.

In the case of rounded shoulders, Biondo explains that the general result is “uppercrossed syndrome,” where the muscles in the deep part of the neck and mid-back become weaker, and the muscles in the back of the neck, shoulders, and chest tighten and pulls the shoulders forward.

And of course, the result of this bad posture is ultimately pain.

“You know that knot you’re always trying to work out in your upper back?” asks Biondo. “Yeah, it probably has to do with round shoulders. This can eventually damage the joints in your neck and the tendons of your shoulder.”

The problem, of course, is that modern life is preparing people for this pain. In fact, California-based chiropractor Nona Djavid points to the proliferation of work-from-home environments as the cause, as more people work in relaxed environments without an ergonomic desk or computer setups.

And she suggests that this technology-driven bad posture is further amplified by smartphone and computer use, sitting and driving for long hours, bending over (which is especially common if you have young children), and sleeping in a curled-up position rather than stretched out.

Working to correct the pain in everyday life

The first step to repairing rounded shoulders is to be more aware of the problem. “Having self-awareness is important, and if you find yourself slouching, immediately correct your positioning, or have a loved one or friend hold you accountable and tell you right away to stop slouching,” suggests Djavid.

She also points to the 20-20-20 rule as a good way to increase your postural awareness when forced to sit for long periods of time.

Simply set an alarm for every 20 minutes, and when the alarm goes off, check your posture, look away from your computer for something at least 20 feet away, and do a stretch to “reset” your shoulders for at least 20 seconds.

Bruegger’s position

Biondo suggests trying Bruegger’s pose to reset the pose when you’re sitting at your desk. Just sit at your desk with your feet flat on the floor, your arms by your sides. If you have rounded shoulders, your palms will most likely turn backwards as your shoulders bend forward.

From here, simply sit up, tighten your core, roll your shoulders back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together, turning your palms forward as your arms open slightly away from your sides.

Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and then release.

“It will have great effects in relaxing those tight muscles and activating the inhibited muscles associated with a slumped posture,” says Biondo. “Over time, you will find that you naturally sit or stand more upright,” he says.

Exercises to fix round shoulders

There are many ways to correct the bad posture that comes with the everyday use of technology. The main goal is to strengthen the muscles that are getting weak — the deep muscles of the neck and mid-back — while stretching the areas that are getting shorter (the chest, front of the shoulders, and back of the neck).

These four exercises are all designed to solve these problems. Add them several times a week as part of your regular exercise routine.

Reverse shoulder stretch

The reverse shoulder stretch is an excellent way to stretch the front of your shoulders and chest, opening up the front of the body while squeezing the upper back.

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Stand up straight, feet hip-distance apart, arms at your sides. Check your posture – roll your shoulders back, tighten your core and align your ear with your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.

Reach both arms behind you and clasp your hands together. Inhale, and as you exhale, raise your arms as high as you can behind you, squeezing your shoulder blades together, opening your chest so that you feel a stretch across the front of your shoulders.

Hold the position, breathing deeply, for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times.

Sensitive I, T, Y

This simple-looking exercise activates the muscles of the mid-back that are often overlooked and underworked. It doesn’t require any equipment at all, but you might be surprised at how difficult it is.

Sensitive Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Lie on your stomach on a mat, with your legs straight, feet together and your forehead on the floor or slightly lifted so that your head is hovering just above the mat. Reach your arms overhead, fully extended, fingertips pointing forward, thumb pointing up.

From this position, keep your head stable, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your arms as high as you comfortably can, away from the mat. Hold for a moment and then return to the mat. Repeat 10 times in this “I” position.

Move your arms so that they are pointing about 45 degrees from your torso as if you are forming a “Y”. Your thumbs should be pointing up again so that your hands are perpendicular to the floor.

As you exhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your arms away from the mat as high as you can. Hold for a moment at the top and lower your arms back to the mat. Repeat 10 times in this “Y” position.

Finally, move your arms so that they are pointing directly from your shoulder into a “T” position, with your thumbs still pointing up. Perform the exercise again, lifting your arms off the floor as you exhale, squeezing your shoulder blades together, before lowering your arms back to the mat. Repeat 10 times in this “T” position.

Then perform 10 reps in each position, rest and repeat the exercise two more times.

Scapular Wall Slides

Scapular wall slides are a great way to train the muscles of your mid-back to engage and strengthen through a full range of motion while extending your shoulders overhead. You may realize while trying the wall slides that your range of motion is limited by poor posture, making this move difficult.

Perform the exercise through the range of motion that you can move comfortably. With time and practice, your range of motion will likely improve.

Scapular Wall Slides Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Sit in a sturdy chair in front of a wall, with your back against the wall. Place the backs of your hands against the wall on either side of your shoulders. This will help you get started with the correct posture – your shoulders back, shoulder blades drawn towards the spine, your chest open and long.

Keeping your torso stable, extend your arms overhead and slide the backs of your hands against the wall. Try not to let them come off the wall at any point in the exercise, but instead work to engage your mid-back to pull your shoulder blade in, keeping your hands against the wall.

When you have your arms fully extended overhead, reverse the movement and slide your arms back along the wall to the starting position.

Perform 10 reps, completing a total of two to three sets.

(Here’s what shoulder blade pain can mean.)

hunting dog

The bird dog exercise is an excellent option for strengthening the entire posterior chain, including the back of the shoulders, mid-back, core, and spinal erectors.

Bird Dog Exercise

Courtesy of Laura Williams Bustos, MSEd., ACSM EP-C

How do you do that

Start on your hands and knees on a mat, your palms under your shoulders, your knees under your hips. Engage your core and make sure your body forms a straight line from your tailbone to the top of your head.

Keeping your torso stable, raise your right arm and left leg at the same time, extending your arm forward from your shoulder and your leg back from your hip as you use your posterior chain (the muscles at the back of your body) to extend this extension feed.

When your arm and leg are fully extended, hold for a moment and then put them back on the floor. Repeat the exercise on the other side.

Complete a total of 15 to 20 reps per side and perform two to three sets.

Next, these are the best core exercises you should try.

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