Want to know how to fix rounded shoulders? It’s not stretching. But here are three easy exercises to get you on the road to pain-free good posture.
Hey, Coach E here from Precision Movement, and welcome to another article. Today I’m going to help you fix your rounded shoulders for good.
Rounded shoulders are a very common problem that will lead to shoulder impingement, bursitis, and possibly a rotator cuff tear – especially if you’re an overhead athlete like a thrower or a tennis player.
Unfortunately, the standard chest stretches, and upper back exercises won’t give you all of the results you’re looking for.
I’m also going to share our Precision Movement approach that will get you results that last.
Characteristics of Rounded Shoulders
Today, we’re focused on rounded shoulders, which is a very, very common problem in today’s society. It’s characterized by three postural dysfunctions.
- Scapular protraction.
That’s when your shoulder blade is wrapped forward around the rib cage.
- Scapular anterior tilt.
Anterior tilt is when the top of the scapula tips forward. If there were a cup of water balanced on top, it would spill down your front.
- Shoulder internal rotation.
That’s when your palms are rotated down. Look down at your hands while they’re resting at your sides. If the palms are facing back, behind you, then you have shoulder internal rotation.
These are the three main characteristics of rounded shoulder posture. The problem with this is that it can lead to shoulder pain and injury.
When you lift your arms up overhead, and you have rounded shoulders, you’re going to impinge some structure in the shoulder. It could be the bursa. It could be the rotator cuff tendon. It could be the joint capsule.
Over time, the more you do this, that’s going to lead to wear and tear. That’s when you’re going to get pain, inflammation, and ultimately, injury.
What Medical Researchers Have Found on Rounded Shoulder Posture
In a study titled “Head and shoulder posture affect scapular mechanics and muscle activity and overhead tasks,” the researchers found that “individuals with forward head and rounded shoulder posture displayed significantly greater scapular internal rotation with less serratus anterior activity during [shoulder flexion and overhead reaching] tasks, as well as greater scapular upward rotation and anterior tilting during the flexion task when compared with the ideal posture group.” 
In short, that means we’ve got to fix the rounded shoulders to prevent this anterior scapular tilting so it doesn’t lead to excess wear and tear or injury.
Another study that was done in 2023 titled “Prevalence of scapular dyskinesis in office workers with neck and scapular pain”  showed that those who had neck and scapular complaints (pain, irritation, achiness) has postural deviations including:
- Rounded shoulder – 100%
- Forward head posture – 43.3%
- Thoracic hyperkyphosis (rounded thoracic spine, or dowager’s hump) – 54.5%
There is also tightness of the pectoralis minor, levator scapula, and upper trapezius muscles.
This study showed just how prevalent rounded shoulders and other postural dysfunctions are in people who have neck and shoulder pain.
Meaning it’s not just shoulder problems that you should be worried about.
If you’ve got neck problems, then rounded shoulders is something that’s really important, even critical, to address for long-term results.
Now, the standard approach to tackling how to fix rounded shoulders is stretching the chest and exercising the muscles in the mid and upper back, like the rhomboid, with rows and even some external rotator exercises, like a side-lying external rotation.
Now, while this approach will work, we can do it a little bit better. We can make it a little bit more effective and take less time in doing so.
We do that with our unique exercises that are put in the right order and with precision cueing. Really pay attention to the cues and your form when you’re doing the exercises.
Exercises to Correct Rounded Shoulders
To fix your rounded shoulders, we’re going to go through just three exercises. There’s no static stretching. Everything’s active, and that helps us just to be more time efficient because we’re getting more bang for our buck.
We’re going to release muscles at the same time that we’re activating and strengthening them.
Exercise 1: Pec Minor Release
The first thing we will do is release the pec minor. It’s been shown in many, many studies that the pec minor is often shortened. That leads to that anterior scapular tilt position.
To do that, we’re going to use a massage ball. You can use a lacrosse ball, massage ball, or even a tennis ball.
You also need a wall that you can lean into.
The area we’re going to work is around the collarbone. Then it goes down to about the center of the upper third of what most people consider the pecs.
We’re just going to put the ball in three different spots. Then we’re going to do an active release.
- Lean into the ball on the first spot against the wall, arms down
- Get some good pressure into the ball
- Round your body around the ball
- Open up both sides with your right arm reaching up and back and your left arm reaching back so your chest is opening up
- Keep pressure on the ball
- Hold that for 5 seconds
- Bring it back and pick another area.
Do this in 3 – 5 different areas on both sides.
Lean into the ball. Round yourself around the ball so the pec minor is loose. Keep the pressure on the ball so you’re pinning the muscle.
When you open up your chest. your arms are kind of like a straight line, pinching your shoulder blades back together, squeezing. Nice deep breathing, keeping your shoulders down a little bit, not shrugging your shoulder up into your ears, and then relaxing.
This release really opens up the pec minor. It lengthens it and ensures that we’re getting pliability through the full muscle because you’re pinning areas and lengthening both sides of it.
When the ball is pressing into your pec minor, by opening up your opposite arm, you’re lengthening one side of the muscle. By raising your arm on the side you’re pinning, you’re opening up the other side.
This all goes to make sure all that tissue has sufficient pliability.
Whereas when you do standard static stretching, you could do a pec minor stretch in the doorway with the arm extended diagonally upwards or bent 90 degrees at the elbow. Either way, if there’s a tight area in that muscle, it’s not going to get released through that stretch. The tight area is going to stay tight because the already loose area is the part that’s going to be stretched to allow that muscle to lengthen and get that arm out.
That’s why we like active self-myofascial release over standard static stretching.
That’s why this exercise will make sure that you get that pliability through the pec minor.
Exercise 2: Wall Neck Side Bend
The second exercise addresses the upper trap in the levator scapula.
If you remember back to that second study I cited, they showed that people with rounded shoulder posture had a lot of tension in these muscles, the upper trap and the levator scapula. Those are both on the side of the neck.
Again, we’re not going to do standard static stretching. I really don’t like standard static stretching for the neck. I find it easy to irritate the cervical spine, so I just avoid it and do this exercise instead.
For this exercise, you get your back to the wall. You’ve got a natural, neutral spine. That’s a little bit of a curve in your lumbar and your shoulder back. You’ll have three points of contact with the wall: shoulder blades, butt, and head.
Keep relaxed here. You’re not holding a lot of tension.
- Once in position, take a deep breath in
- Exhale as you drop your ear to your shoulder
- Hold it for 2 seconds
- Inhale on the way up
- Exhale as you go to the other side
Do 1 set of 5 reps on each side, holding for 2 seconds.
Remember, inhale on the way up and exhale on the way down.
When you’re down and holding, you’re actively trying to get the ear closer to the shoulder, but you’re not moving because you’re at your end range. Try to maintain that activity in the muscles. That will help to build strength in those muscles while simultaneously relaxing the opposite side.
For example, when I’m actively holding the left side, I’m going to be relaxing on the right side.
This technique matches your movement with your breathing. It’s an exercise that can relax your body generally, so it brings you from a sympathetic state down to the parasympathetic nervous state.
You’re getting more relaxed.
Then, with the active movement side to side, we’re actively lengthening the muscles – the upper traps and the levator scapula. By matching this with the breathing, we’re bringing everything down. We’re bringing all that tension found in those muscles with the rounded shoulder posture right back down and relaxing it.
If you have any neck pain, this might help to relax and help you to be able to do the next exercise even better.
That’s another important component of our approach, the order of exercises.
When you do this routine, do this order of exercises.
Exercise 3: Rounded Shoulder Reverser
The third and final exercise we’re going to go through today is one that I came up with just for this article and accompanying video. It’s a combination of some other techniques that I have. I’m calling it the Rounded Shoulder Reverser.
For this technique, we’re going to use the wall again.
It’s a really great technique because it also incorporates thoracic spine extension and spinal posture. Now spinal posture isn’t always associated with rounded shoulders, like forward head and excessive thoracic kyphosis. But it often is, so this exercise helps to address all of these other correlated postural dysfunctions.
For the Rounded Shoulder Reverser, step back against the wall and then step your feet out about 6 inches. (How far you step out will partially depend on how tall you are.)
Put yourself in a nice neutral posture. That means:
- Shoulders back,
- Head touching the wall, looking straight ahead, not tilted up or forward
- Natural curve in the lumbar spine – you should be able to fit your hand between your low back and the wall.
- Relaxed neutral posture but not holding with tension
Feeling good? Okay.
- Once against the wall, bring your hips away from the wall so your body is straight, and your head is looking up at a slight angle.
- Internally rotate the shoulders, bringing the hands back toward the wall
- Push your thumbs against the wall
- Raise your arms up, and you externally rotate, sliding the hands against the wall until you reach a Y, palms out
- Press for 5 seconds
- Reverse the shoulder movement, keeping that posterior scapular tilt the whole time, rotating your palms back toward the wall
- Keep that tension through the shoulder blades as you bring your butt toward the wall
- Gradually let everything go while maintaining this good shoulder posture
Do 2 sets. Start off at 3 reps, and you can work up to 6 reps.
Think about that posterior scapular tilt movement – so sucking the middle and bottom edge of the scapula into your rib cage, keeping the shoulders down.
Keep a little bit of pressure against the wall. Go slowly and keep control through every degree of your range of motion.
You can even go a little further than the Y at the top, depending on your shoulder range of motion. But you don’t want a lot of tension which overuses the upper traps at the top.
Breathe, relax, and then come off the wall for a moment. Maintain this good shoulder posture while being relaxed.
This way, we’re teaching our body how to maintain this good posture that we want with relaxation. If we just hold there with a lot of tension, we’re not going to be able to translate that into our everyday life. You can’t just walk around all day being super tense.
Breathe as you’re pressing against the wall. Think posterior tilt of the scapula the whole time. That’s key.
Go nice and slow. This way, you’re training through the full range of motion, every degree. You’ve got muscle activity and stability in the shoulder.
If you do this exercise with that intention and the proper form and all these little cues, then you are going to quickly reverse your rounded shoulders. You’re going to be able to effortlessly hold that great posture all day long.
Next Steps for How to Fix Rounded Shoulders for Good
There you have our approach to dealing with rounded shoulders.
I’ve got a couple of other articles that you might want to check out.
Finally, if you do have shoulder pain or neck pain, grab our Shoulder Pain Solution so I can coach you through exercises like this and more in a progressive fashion to fix your problems for good.
Finally, take our Shoulder Pain Assessment to see what your underlying causes of shoulder pain may be.
Thanks again for reading, and see you next time. Peace.
Your videos have been very helpful. Much better than going to physio, having them show you how to do one exercise once and then be expected to memorize it. Sometimes they will give you a short video of a computer generated person doing the exercise. However you walking us through each step visually and describing it has been most helpful.
– Ben V.
This article was reviewed and updated on July 17, 2023 by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erin Boynton, MD, FRCS to include new research and information on latest surgical developments. Read more about Dr. B here.