If you’re like me at one time or another, you’ve probably
…done too many push ups
…sat at your desk a little too long
…driven too many miles
…took that slightly too ambitious group fitness class
…pulled one too many weeds
And as a result experienced some of that creeping stiffness across your chest, upper back, neck and shoulders or noticed that your posture was starting to get a little…slumped.
So why does this happen?
I’ve talked about this before, but there are three major reasons why your neck and shoulders get cranky and prone to injury.
1. Lack of thoracic (mid back) mobility
Even if you’re fit, it’s not uncommon to have stiffness in the mid and upper back.
This happens partially because daily life requires sitting and looking forward (driving and typing for example) and partially because most exercise programs are built with the assumption that you already have good spinal mobility, so they focus more on things like strength and cardio and less on can you move that one stiff spot in your upper spine.
But this post is about shoulders, so why does mid back mobility even matter?
It’s because your rib cage is attached to your mid and upper back and if it’s out of alignment and can’t move, then your shoulder alignment (and therefore function) will suffer as well.
So if you have a shoulder thing, you probably want to start by addressing your spine.
2. Weak stabilizers (aka postural muscles)
For the reasons I just mentioned above, most of us don’t usually have the best shoulder alignment and because of this we don’t tend to use our arms in the most optimal way possible.
Poor shoulder position + poor usage = weakness in the shoulder stabilizers, particularly the rotator cuff, serratus anterior, low trap and mid trap.
To most people that just sounds like fancy names of small muscles that you can’t see, but here’s why it matters. Those muscles hold your arms in their sockets and keep your shoulder blades on your back.
When they can’t do their job, injuries happen and all the big muscles around the shoulders that should be responsible for big movement, but not so much the minutia of alignment have to take over.
…which brings me to my third point.
3. Tight/over-recruited global (big) muscles
Here’s the thing about human movement. Just because a muscle is weak or compromised doesn’t mean that you’ll stop moving. Your nervous system will just take a new path to help you complete the movement you are demanding of your body.
So, if you have some weakness in the postural muscles that should be holding your arms in good alignment, it doesn’t mean your arms will stop working. It means the bigger and more dominant muscles like the pecs, lats and rhomboids will take over, which will often feel like stiffness and tightness in the front of the chest, neck and around the shoulders.
So what can you do about it?
This can get waaaaa-aay complicated, but here’s the short of it.
You want to mobilize the restricted areas and strengthen the weak muscles. This will allow things to move easier, while improving alignment and encouraging stability around the joint.
When you turn on the weak muscles, the big muscles that have already been working too hard have a chance to turn off.
How? Magic! (Just kidding. Your nervous system is just really smart and can moderate the change).
And I appreciate how heady and complicated all of this is, which is why I’ve designed a shoulder routine for you that does all of these things.
Shoulders may be hard, but these exercises are simple. All you need is a 1lb hand weight/soup can and a foam roller.
Exercises for rounded shoulders to improve posture
Bow and arrow (6 reps per side)
External rotation with 1 lb weight (8-12 reps per side)
Sternum drops (6-8 reps)
Overhead reach with 1 lb weight (8-12 reps)
Rib curls (6-8 reps)
Mini swan (8 reps)
Watch the video. Download + print the PDF for easy reference (see above). Do the exercises. They only take 10 minutes #painless
Rinse and repeat as needed (I try to do these 3x a week) and say hello to gorgeous posture and injury-proofed shoulders.