By Coach E

Wake Up This "Hidden" Muscle to Fix HUNCHBACK Posture (aka Kyphosis)

If This Muscle Isn't Working, You'll Never Improve Your Posture

Ever catch a glimpse in the mirror and spot a major hunchback posture? Most people don’t know a key to fixing this lies in engaging hidden little muscles.

I bet at least once, you've noticed yourself slouching (perhaps when someone said the word "posture") and you then quickly pinched your shoulder blades together and puffed out your chest. And I also bet it worked for about 2 minutes and before you know it, you were right back to that hunched position with rounded shoulders and your head jutting forward.

Somewhat accurate?

how to fix hunchback posture or kyphosis

Moving Beyond the Quick Fix for Hunchback Posture

This hunchback posture, also known as thoracic kyphosis, is an exaggeration of the natural curve of our thoracic spine – the 12 vertebrae that make up our mid to upper back.

kyphosis posture

When you take the typical postural strategy of firing up your scapular stabilizers to pull your shoulder blades back, you call on superficial muscles like your rhomboids and lower traps to straighten you up.

The problem is that these scapular stabilizers are phasic muscles [1] – meaning they’re made of powerful, fast-twitch fibers that are meant to fire intermittently to produce powerful movements. They also fatigue quickly, which is why they're poorly suited for maintaining good posture. 

scapular stabilizer muscles hunchback posture

The Long Spinal Extensors: You're Not Quite There Yet!

Instead, you need to be activating deeper, tonic muscles for postural stability. Tonic muscles are those meant to perform sustained, low level contractions and are more resistant to fatigue. Think of tonic muscles as marathon runners and phasic muscles as sprinters. As such, tonic muscles are well-suited to help you maintain good posture all day.

However, not all tonic muscles are created equal when it comes to fixing that hunchback posture for good.

Once you advance beyond the scapular stabilizers, you might try to recruit the tonic muscles of the erector spinae, but there are some problems with this approach too.

This group of muscles runs the length of your spine - from your pelvis all the way to your neck [2]. Individual muscles in this group usually cross around 8 vertebrae.

Because the muscles are so long and cross so many joints, they aren’t the best way to fix thoracic kyphosis either.

When you engage these muscles, they don’t cause equal extension across all of the vertebrae they cross. Instead, they tend to cause a lot of motion at the most mobile joint, and nothing much else at all of the others.

deep spine extensors

And since thoracic mobility is an issue for most people, you’re probably pretty restricted along most of your thoracic spine.

This creates something like a hinge point in your back – it may look like you’ve got a bit better posture temporarily, but you haven’t found a true neutral spine.

The Multifidus: Activate These Muscles for Perfect Posture

The only way to address the issue of kyphosis long-term is to go deeper and get at some “hidden” muscle groups – the deep spinal extensors.

Deep to the erector spinae is the transversospinalis group. This group includes the semispinalis muscles, which cross 4-6 vertebrae and provide more targeted extension.

But even more important and the real key is to activate the multifidus muscles. This muscle group spans your entire spine and you may have heard of the multifidus as being important for low back pain, but they're also critical to fighting hunchback posture. These small but mighty muscles cross 2-4 of your vertebrae [3].  

Imagine how much precision targeting the multifidus produces. When the muscle contracts, the movement is going to come from a very specific area and cause extension at fewer joints.

By firing up the multifidus, you can create targeted extension at whatever segment you want. 

That’s why these deep, tonic, and localized spinal extensors are key to moving beyond the 2-minute fix and getting rid of that hunchback posture for good.

Get Rid of Hunchback Posture for Good with the
4-Point T-Spine End Range Expansion (ERE) Sequence

Now that we understand the why, we can tackle the how.

To do so, I have developed a technique called the 4-Point T-Spine End Range Expansion (ERE) sequence.

In the video below, you'll see the anatomy and learn the biomechanics of the spine and why this technique is so effective at combating hunchback posture.

4-Point T-Spine ERE Instructions

  • Start in a quadruped position, and warm up by moving through a few rounds of cat-camel to get your muscles activated. Flex your spine to look down, then extend the spine to look up, completing about  5-6 cycles.
4-Point T-Spine ERE Instructions - step 1
  • To get setup for the ERE position, lock out your elbows and keep them straight. Make sure your scapulae are protracted so you’re pushing away from the ground. Maintaining protraction will ensure your rhomboids aren’t doing all the work of thoracic extension.
  • Start with a neutral position of the spine. Then extend the spine and anteriorly tilt the pelvis (like you're sticking your butt out). While you do this, keep your chin retracted so you continue to look at the floor.
4-Point T-Spine ERE Instructions - part 3
  • Maintain this extension, directing your focus to extending your thoracic spine. Keep your scapulae protracted and continue pushing yourself away from the ground.
  • Now flex your lumbar spine and move into a posterior pelvic tilt, while maintaining thoracic extension.
4-Point T-Spine ERE Instructions - part 5
  • Hold all of this, then flex the cervical spine. This has you isolating the thoracic extensors with everything above and below in flexion. In this position, the deep, “hidden” multifidus is targeted.
  • Hold the position for a slow 360 breath before returning slowly to neutral. This is one cycle – you should aim to complete 3-5 cycles. 

Isolating this movement might feel difficult as first – especially if your posture has been bad for a long time. But keep practicing 2-3 times a week and when you do get the thoracic multifidus fired up, you'll know it and it'll open you up like you've never felt before, allowing you to maintain good posture with ease.

Continue training to build endurance in these muscles, and your posture will get better and better the more you do it and standing up straight will feel like a natural and easy position to maintain throughout the day – whether you’re working out in the gym or standing on the subway.

Want to Restore Mobility and Develop
Resilience of Your Spine?

What you've learned here just scratches the surface of what it takes to restore mobility and function to your spine.

The fitness industry has been promoting  "core stability" for years and this is great, but it's just one piece of the puzzle because if we're not training our spine for movement, we'll lose the mobility that it's designed for and both the muscles and connective tissues will degenerate since they're not being fully used.

But if you've got back pain, you don't want to jump into dynamic training of the spine prematurely, or you'll suffer flare ups and set yourself back.

To learn a progressive approach to restoring full mobility and function of your spine and how to train it for resilience and resistance to injury, watch the presentation on the next page. 

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) holds an Honours Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He’s been a trainer since 2004 and spent many years training professional combat athletes including 3 UFC fighters, so he’s had much experience dealing with injuries. He’s the founder of Precision Movement and has dedicated himself to helping active people eliminate pain, heal & prevent injuries and improve mobility so they can get back to and keep doing the things they love.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.

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