athletic woman with muscular shoulders

If you look hunched over, whether you’re on your bike or [attempting to] sit up straight, then you probably have rounded shoulders.

This is bad posture and is likely to lead to shoulder injuries, back aches, and other issues if you don’t do something about it.

So today we’ll talk about how to fix rounded shoulders.

Rounded Shoulders: Here Before You Know It

Lots of people have really lousy posture these days, but us cyclists might be the worst offenders. Think about it. Rounded shoulders are common in 1) cyclists and 2) people who sit at desks. Cyclists who sit at desks are in double trouble!

That’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past 10-20 years. At this point, my upper body is deformed from years of road cycling!

(And I’ll admit I spent too much time hunched over my computer, making me a prime candidate for sitting disease, too!)

It wasn’t until after multiple shoulder injuries that I decided to get serious about correcting my upper body muscle imbalances.

[I wish I had a copy of The Pain-Free Cyclist years ago!]

Here, I’ll share what I learned about rounded shoulders and what I did to correct my posture.

Who is at risk?

Cyclists, for sure. And anyone who sits at a computer desk.

But that’s not all.

Rock climbers can face similar issues from doing too much pulling exercise.

Bodybuilders and powerlifters who focus way too much on the bench press also run into trouble. (Too much chest exercise, not enough back exercise.)

How does it happen?

It’s simple: too much sitting.

Too much sitting leads to tight hip flexors and tight hamstrings. And that tightness starts to round your back and pitch you forward.

If you’re already spending most of your time reaching forward – over a computer keyboard, for example – you train your body to assume that position.

What if it gets worse?

If you ignore the problem, your shoulder mobility is only going to get worse.

You’ll be more likely to suffer shoulder impingement. (And that really sucks for everyday life. When I had this, every time I would reach overhead, it felt like my shoulders were tightening up and pinching. It sucked.)

Your posture will continue to get worse.

You may end up with terrible posture, or postural kyphosis – a rounding of the back due to too much slouching.

In other words, lots of pain is in your future. Back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain, for sure. Probably other joint pain as well.

[Joint issues? Here’s how to take care of your joints.]

Do I Have Rounded Shoulders?

Here’s how to tell if you have rounded shoulders:

Sit in a chair normally and have a friend take your picture from the side. (If possible, get a picture of yourself at your work desk, too.)

Print the picture or open it in a photo editing program and draw two vertical lines. One through the center of your torso, and the other through your shoulders.

Ideally, these lines should overlap. If the line through your shoulders is in front of the line through your torso, you probably have rounded shoulders.

How to Fix Your Rounded Shoulders

This all sounds terrible. I bet you’re wondering, “what can I do about it?”

I have good news: it’s unlikely that you need surgery.

You might not even need to go see a doctor. (However, I’d highly suggest at least one chiropractor appointment to get a professional opinion. They’ll probably find something you would miss, and their expertise will help speed up the process.)

You won’t need to spend three hours per day in the gym, either.

You can correct your posture with a home fitness routine.

Just like you inadvertently trained your body to be in this position, you can train your body to resume the correct posture.

But it won’t be fast. It will require gradual but continuous effort.

There will be two parts:

  1. Stretching. Pinpoint all your tight muscles and get them loosened up with some stretches and myofascial release techniques. Pay special attention to your hamstrings, hip flexors, and all the muscles in your chest.
  2. Strengthening. Do exercises to correct any muscle imbalances and strengthen weak, neglected muscles. Primarily you will want to strengthen the muscles that are responsible for holding your shoulders back. (Obviously if you have rounded shoulders, these muscles are weak.)

The goal is that when at rest, your shoulders relax into the proper position.

Suggested Stretches & Self-Massage Techniques

We want to stretch out any tight muscles and eliminate any tight spots or knots in your connective tissue, to make sure you can get the most benefit from the exercises that follow.

(If you already perform foam rolling and self-massage as part of your daily routine, you can skip ahead.)

Stretches

You want to stretch your chest, sides, back, and shoulders. There are many stretches to choose from.

You can even do a yoga practice aimed at stretching your neck and shoulders, such as this one:

Foam Rolling and Myofascial Release

Use a foam roller to loosen up your back, sides, and hamstrings. Like so:

Use a lacrosse ball or similar tool to target your chest. Here’s how:

Next, let’s take the focus to our shoulders…

Corrective Shoulder Exercises (Add These to Your Daily Routine)

Here are some exercises designed to stretch and strengthen your back and shoulders. These are simple exercises that you can do daily, at home, with minimal equipment.

How often to do these exercises:

Ideally, you would do these corrective exercises every single day.

Remember, you got into this situation due to years of poor posture. You’re not going to fix your rounded shoulders fast. You’ll need to do frequent workouts (i.e. daily workouts) over a long time period.

One set per week isn’t going to fix chronic bad posture. You need chronic exercise to do that!

So I want you to aim for doing a shoulder routine five days per week, morning and evening.

You might even do 1-2 sets in the morning, a set as part of your warmup before an afternoon workout, and then 1-2 sets at night before bed.

But start slow!

Considering these exercises are targeting muscles that you don’t often use, in ways they’re not used to working, you can expect considerable soreness after relatively few exercises.

You might want to start with just one set per day, with less than 10 reps per set.

After the first week, adjust the volume based on how your body is reacting.

Suggested equipment:

While minimal equipment is needed, I highly recommend these two items:

  1. A foam roller. (The TriggerPoint Grid 26″ foam roller is my top choice here. It’s $45 at Amazon.)
  2. Exercise bands. (This Rubberbanditz set is a good choice for these exercises. It’s $21 at Amazon.)

Now on to the exercises…

Prone Cobra

Lie flat on the floor, on your stomach (i.e. prone position). Arms are by your sides. Pull your shoulder blades together and raise yourself off the floor using your back muscles.

Keep your neck in line with your spine.

This will really work your scapular retractors and paraspinal muscles.

Here’s a really quick video demonstration:

And here’s a longer video that explains the exercise in detail:

You should do this daily. Start with holding the position as little as five seconds, working up to a 30 second hold.

And again, a word of caution: ease into it! It very well might leave you sore if you’re not used to this position.

Palms Up Plank

This is just like a regular plank with your forearms on the ground, but with your palms facing up. This prevents you from using your forearm muscles for help and results in more direct work on your core.

Having your forearms in this position also helps to “unround” your shoulders, putting them in a more open position. (Your shoulders will be externally rotated – the opposite of the typical deskworker, typing away at their keyword, rounding their shoulders.)

I consider myself pretty good at planks, but when I began this variation – even just a single 30 second hold – it led to considerable soreness in my upper back and neck. So ease into it!

Thoracic Extension (on a foam roller)

Lie on a foam roller, positioning the roller under your middle to upper back. Your butt can be on the ground; the foam roller will prop up your neck and shoulders.

The thoracic extension is a very small motion where you simply extend backwards from the middle of your back.

Important: keep your head in line with your spine. You’re not using your neck to extend backward.

Do these daily with the rest of your foam rolling and mobility routine.

Shoulder Dislocations (with a band)

Standing up straight with your arms at your sides, hold a band in front of you, hands a little more than shoulder width apart. Pull on the band until it is taut. (Some people use a broomstick for this exercise, but it’s gentler on my shoulders to use a band.)

Lift the band overhead and continue through the full range of motion of your shoulders, until the band is behind you. Then reverse to the starting position. Keep your arms straight the entire time.

This is a great way to loosen up your shoulders and stretch your pecs.

Here’s a quick video that shows you the motion:

And here’s a video with more detailed instruction:

This is a great movement to perform 2-3x per day, 10-20 reps per set. (But starting out, one set of 10 per day is probably enough. It’s rather strenuous in the beginning.)

Behind-the-Neck Band Pull-Apart

Stand up straight with your arms extended overhead, grasping a resistance band with your hands about shoulder width apart. Pull your shoulder blades back and down to lower the band behind your neck. Allow the band to stretch as necessary. Hold here briefly then return to the starting position.

This movement strengthens the lower trapezius muscles, which are often neglected.

I began doing this solely to fix my rounded shoulders, but I love the movement, and now I do it all the time!

I highly suggest getting a band, but in the meantime, you can actually do an equipment-free version of this called scapular wall slides or “stick em ups.”

With your back against a wall, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and your arms against the wall (the classic “stick em up” position), slide your arms upward as far as possible and then back down to the starting position.

Face Pull (with Band)

You might not be familiar with the “face pull” exercise, but it’s exactly what it sounds like.

There is a resistance band placed at approximately chest height, and you pull the band straight toward your face by squeezing your shoulder blades together.

This is a great exercise for your back and shoulders. Specifically, it works the rear delts, rhomboids, and external rotators.

Here’s a video with a great demonstration of the exercise and a full explanation of why to do it, how to do it, and what not to do (common mistakes):

Caution: video contains profanity.

Normally you’d perform this exercise on a cable machine in the gym, using the rope attachment for your grip, but you can get similar benefits at home using a resistance band, as long as you have a place to anchor the band at the correct height.

Here’s a video showing the face pull with band:

Using a low weight and doing multiple sets/reps is the best way to do this. Proper form is crucial on all these shoulder exercises.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

Want to get started on your shoulder workouts but you’re sitting at your desk at work right now? Here’s a movement for you!

You simply squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold, and then release. It’s simple.

Here’s a quick video:

You can also get your arms into it and pretend you’re doing a face pull, except you won’t have any resistance.

YTWL Circuit

This is a group of four different exercises: the Y, the T, and W, and the L.

They are all similar, but each one targets a different part of your back and shoulders (e.g. the “Y” hits your lower trapezius while the “T” hits your middle trapezius).

The video is a little long, but it’s very important that you follow the instructions and get your shoulders into the proper position. It looks like you’re moving your arms, but correct shoulder positioning is critical.

Scapular Push Ups

You utilize the standard push up position, but don’t bend your elbows. The range of motion is strictly limited to your shoulder blades.

So instead of really targeting your chest, these target your back and shoulders, especially the serratus anterior, lower scapular stabilizers, and rhomboids.

Here’s a demonstration:

And here are some progressions to make this exercise easier or harder:

As I’ve mentioned before, you might not be accustomed to working these muscles, so you’ll probably start out with an easier variation than you would use for typical push ups.

Next Steps

Let’s recap. Here’s your plan of action to fix your rounded shoulders and keep your shoulders healthy for years to come:

  1. Determine your current shoulder health. If it’s not too bad, continue on. If it’s pretty bad, see a chiropractor for a customized plan.
  2. Purchase a foam roller and set of resistance bands. I recommend the TriggerPoint Grid foam roller and either the Rubberbanditz or Bodylastics resistance band sets. Also, grab some lacrosse balls and/or tennis balls if you don’t have any of those lying around.
  3. Improve your flexibility and mobility by incorporating stretching, foam rolling, and myofascial release into your daily routine.
  4. Strengthen your back and shoulders by performing the exercises listed in this article. This is where your improvements will really be made.
  5. Chart your progress. Keep a training log of your strength improvements and get another side profile picture to compare to the first one you took.
  6. Look and feel healthier!

 

Show References

You may also like

Leave a Reply