Call it what you will, rounded shoulders, slumped shoulders or the ‘caveman’ look…this adverse “hunch forward” posture is far too common and 9/10 times, easily remedied. In this post, I’m going to go through how to fix rounded shoulders once and for all.
From an aesthetic standpoint, this posture type gives the appearance of narrow shoulders and a sunken chest, reducing your sex appeal by at least 30%. The altered shoulder position screws up shoulder function, restricts mobility (particularly overhead) and can lead to tight muscles, neck pains, shoulders blade pain, and lower back pain..
With that heaping pile of negativity said comes good news, YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. There are simple exercises you can do to correct rounded shoulders. You don’t need physical therapy and it’s easier than you might think.
Before you know it, you will be standing taller, broader, and looking more like an athlete than our prehistoric ancestor!
SO WHAT IS IT AND WHAT’S CAUSING IT?
Anatomically, there are few things going on to give the appearance of rounded shoulders:
- Arms rolled inward (Medially Rotated Humerus)
- Shoulder blades rolled forward (Protracted Scapula)
- Rounded upper back (Thoracic Kyphosis)
Now you’re probably expecting me to address sitting posture which is probably the lead cause of rounded shoulders. But since we’re all bored to tears with hearing about how we have poor posture and we need to sit up straight, here are three other culprits that are just as significant but you might be less aware of.
I could bitch and moan about how we’re using our phones too much, but the reality is, this is the age that we live in. With information becoming more and more accessible from our fingertips, smartphone use is only going to increase, so we may as well embrace it.
Here’s the problem though.
Much like how sitting can be an orthopaedic disaster, prolonged smartphone use has serious repercussions much the same.
Here’s Whats Happening
When we assume a position or posture for extended periods of time, muscles undergo adaptive changes. Muscles held in short positions start to stiffen up and become less flexible. Over time, adhesions (fancy word for stuck/knotted tissue) can develop and the central nervous system gradually resets resting muscle length. Before you know it, mobility is lost.
And this is your typical ‘smartphone posture’…looks a lot like rounded shoulders right!?
CORRECTING ROUNDED SHOULDERS
We can tackle this issue by consciously changing our smartphone posture.
When your body is in a good position and standing up straight, you will avoid placing undue stress on the tissues that can literally re-shape your posture over time.
Next time you’re on the cell, remember that your eyes should gaze forward, not down. Raise your elbows up to bring the phone to eye level and keep them tucked. This will keep your head nicely aligned with your body, shoulders engaged in a strong and stable position and prevent the upper back from rounding.
Now, I understand that 10% of the time you might be handling sensitive information (code for sending/receiving nudes) that you would prefer passers-by didn’t see. In such a situation, it would be acceptable to lower the phone. Just keep the shoulders back and elbows tucked and hold this position, as this will prevent you from defaulting to that caveman shape we desperately need to resist.
As a related aside, if you’re going to be sexting in public, you should probably consider investing in a privacy screen. They’re about 10 quid on Amazon, and they’ll save you a lot of headaches down the line.
Phone Sitting Posture
Phone Standing Posture
#2 Lack of Self-Care
Our bodies need constant movement to function well. And no, walking doesn’t cut it. I’m talking about all the movement patterns that we, as human beings, are designed to do.
But since ‘hunter gatherer’ isn’t the most practical modern day career (bollocks if you ask me), we seldom get enough movement variety to maintain our joint and tissue health.
For this reason – we must employ some self-care strategies outside of our jobs and everyday commitments.
A combination of mobility exercises and self-massage serves as a powerful self-care prescription. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. Whack on Game of Thrones (I can only assume you watch this or we can no longer be friends) and knock out a mini-routine for 10 minutes. That’s what I do, and it’s kept me pain-free, moving well, and feeling awesome.
When you’re slaying iron at the gym, a short mobility sequence with the right stretches and exercises before you do so would be a smart move. Not only will this boost your performance, but it will go a long way toward keeping you injury free.
For rounded shoulders, common posture issues and bad posture in general, we want to focus on opening up the pecs and other medial rotators of the humerus (latissimus dorsi, teres major, subscapularis). We also want to fire up the back and shoulder muscles that have become weakened from this adverse posture.
Here are some great shoulder exercise recommendations. You could even string these movements together for a badass self-care prescription.
Lat Foam Roll Release
In this video I share three stretching exercises using nothing but a foam roller. Your start position for each of them will be laying down.
T Spine Extension
In this exercise, you’re going to use a step for some deep shoulder stretches. You’re also going to feel the movement in your shoulder joints and chest muscles.
Over and Backs
This is a great shoulder mobility exercise and chest stretch to fix rounded shoulders and it really helps you open up those chest muscles. It’s also good for your trapezius muscle.
Scapula Wall Slides
This exercise is similar to a wall stretch or a wall angel. You’re going to bend your elbows, push your forearms into the wall and replicate a shoulder press movement.
This is among the best exercises to fix rounded shoulders. You’re going to keep your knees bent slightly, bend your elbows and pull the elastic band towards you in line with your neck and shoulders. Keep your neck and upper body still and squeeze your shoulders with each rep.
#3 Too Much Pressing, Too Little Pulling
A solid training plan will be well balanced. For example, there should be a pulling exercise for every pushing exercise, across any given workout or training week.
But this is rarely the case.
When aesthetic development is the primary focus, as it most often is, ‘mirror muscles’ are typically prioritised at the expense of the back and posterior shoulder muscles. And even if you train for performance/athleticism, pulling exercises are vastly undervalued and under-utilised.
Over time, this imbalance between push and pull movements leads to underactive muscles and muscle imbalances, namely an overdevelopment of anterior muscles such as the pectorals and a gradual weakening of opposing muscle groups such as the scapula retractors and shoulder external rotators.
And when there is uneven muscular tension across the shoulder girdle, posture gets altered as a result.
It is often suggested that there should be a 1:1 ratio between pushing and pulling exercises. And that might be a great guideline if you have a balanced physique and walk around like the anatomy chart man. HOWEVER, if you already present with a degree of rounded shoulder posture, moving forward, a 1:2 and even as much as a 1:3 ratio of pushing : pulling exercises might be warranted.
The benefits of restructuring your training in this way will extend far beyond postural change. Your shoulders will become stronger and more resilient and you will look far better when you build back thickness and re-establish muscular balance.
Not all ‘pulls’ are created equally. We can split upper body pulling exercises into two categories: horizontal pulling and vertical pulling.
Horizontal pulling includes exercises like:
- Rowing variations (dumbbell row, machine row, barbell row etc)
- Rear delt exercises
- Face pulls
Vertical pulling includes exercises like:
- Chin ups / Pull ups
To remedy rounded shoulders, horizontal exercises should be prioritised and maintaining the correct position is essential. This is because the action of horizontal pulling more directly counteracts the most common pressing movements such as the bench press and push ups.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you’re serious about correcting your posture – you will need to reduce pressing volume to accommodate more pulling, rather than just add exercises to your plan.
Here are three exercises that are firm favourites to fix your rounded shoulders:
Rows with isometric holds in the contracted position
Suspension Traner Y/T’s
HOW TO FIX ROUNDED SHOULDERS
If you expect to fix rounded shoulder posture, leave nothing to chance. Adopt these strengthening exercises and strategies to correct your hunchback posture and you will knock it down once and for all.
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Jack – this is EXACTLY my issue. I have sent a couple of notes seeing if you would be available for a series of training sessions (hour of flexibility, hour of strength, and hour of nutrition) on Sunday, September 24th. I will traveling in from the states for several days, staying in London. Would be great to connect. I am 50, in pretty decent shape, but have plateaued! Need some help………
Steve – thank you for your comment. I will be checking mail today but unfortunately, I am on a course that weekend. Please stay in touch if you have other dates later in the year. All the best.
Jack, can you provide tips the best exercises to do to ensure both the lower back and forearms are flush against the wall at the same time when attempting the scapula wall slides? Much appreciated. Huge fan!
For the low back, you need to slightly round your pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt). As for the forearms, you may need to improve shoulder external rotation. Look into pec stretches and anything that can help improve external rotation shoulder mobility. That said, this exercise will still help ypu, so use it and over time things should improve! 🙂
Love this!! Even though I consciously try to always think about my posture I still get lazy sometimes. Awesome reminder to work on it as well as great suggestions.
Thank you for the kind words, Im glad you enjoyed the blog 🙂
My name is Gerard Iacullo and I am a fitness professional living in Chicago. You are indeed a man after my own heart as we not only share the same goals, but have been influenced by similar mentors. I am certified in FRC and also practice principles from gymnasticbodies.com
Like yourself, in addition to always wanting to improve my aesthetics (I’ve competed 19x), I am constantly striving to improve my movement competency for all around performance and life quality. I see you perform upper/lower body type splits. Would you be willing to share what your exercise program looks like over the course of a given week, showing me where you plug in your isolation work along with your general strength exercises? I think you and I could have some great dialogue if you are so inclined. I thank you in advance and keep up the good work. You are a true inspiration and professional. Best, Gerard
Hi Gerard. good man – we are indeed on the same page. I typically go with an ‘accumulation / intensification’ style of programming and switch every 3 weeks. I am still refining my system which im sure will be a lifetime of experimentation. Isolation work is minimal but still present and usually at the tail end of a session. An upper body day for me might like like the follwoing:
B Vertical Pull
C Horizontal Pull
E Shoulder prehab / Isolation
I hope this helps and look forward to your reply!