Learn 3 rounded shoulders exercises that target three neglected muscles which will make holding good posture all day long effortless.
There are three muscles most people have never heard of, let alone strengthened. These are the keys to fixing poor posture, specifically excessive thoracic kyphosis, forward head posture, and rounded shoulders. Once you learn to activate and strengthen these muscles, maintaining good posture all day long becomes effortless.
In this article, I’m taking a bit of an 80/20 approach because it just includes just three exercises, and that makes doing this routine on a daily basis very doable.
So there’s no excuse for not fixing your posture!
Why Do We Get Bad Posture?
We’re going to quickly touch on why we get round shoulders posture. It can be summed up in one word: sitting.
We sit too much. When we sit, our bodies adapt. It doesn’t help that the position that we typically sit in is slumped, sitting on the tailbone, as opposed to on our sit bones.
Our lumbar spine (lower back) tends to be flat, and our thoracic spine (middle back up through shoulder blades) tends to be rounded. That causes our head to go forward and our cervical spine extends, and especially when we’re on our phones, we’re in this rounded shoulder position.
Whatever position our bodies are in a lot of the time, our bodies adapt to.
The other thing that happens is that deep muscles that provide good posture go to sleep because we’re sitting. We’re supported by the chair and the chair back. Those muscles aren’t used, so we lose them. They get weak. They stop firing when they need to fire, and then other muscles have to take over. Those other muscles don’t do too good of a job.
When we try to fix our posture on a daily basis – we notice we’re slouching – we think in our heads, “sit up straight” or “stand up straight,” so we immediately straighten up and get semi-tight. We’ve lost the strength and the activation of those deep stabilizer muscles. The superficial muscles come into play, and they say, “Oh, I’m going to help you out, get you standing up straight.”
But a couple of things happen here. One of these muscles is not designed for maintaining good posture. They’re typically Type 2 fibers, which are built for strength, power, or speed. They’re built for movement. You move, and then you rest.
The deep stabilizer muscles that get weak typically are Type 1 muscle fibers. These are perfectly suited for maintaining posture all day long because they’re built for endurance. When we try to stand up straight, those muscles get fatigued. Then we end up slouching because we can’t hold that position anymore.
The other thing is when you just try to stand up straight using those superficial muscles, once your attention goes elsewhere, and you probably know this as well as I do, you’ll start slouching again. Now that you understand why we tend to have poor posture, let’s get on to fixing it!
3 Rounded Shoulders Exercises
Now we’re going to cover the muscles and exercises to fix them.
We’re going start from the bottom up and start off with the psoas.
Exercise 1: Slumpy Psoas Activator
The psoas is a muscle that is often known as a hip flexor. It starts on the lumbar spine, and then it passes in front and inserts on the femur. So it goes right in front of the body.
Now, this muscle is very important because it does two things. One, it stabilizes the lumbar spine. Two, it contributes to anterior pelvic tilt. That’s the movement of tilting the top of the pelvis forward.
In the intro, I mentioned bad posture involves us sitting on our tailbone. Anterior pelvic tilt is how we restore good alignment to the pelvis so that we can sit on the sit bones. Those are the bones under your butt cheeks.
Once you get the psoas muscle on and with restored alignment, it sets the foundation for everything up above.
What we’re going to do is an exercise called the Slumpy Psoas Activator.
This is one of our go-to exercises that a lot of people have used with really good success.
For this exercise, you need to sit down on a stable chair or stool.
The word slumpy indicates the position that you start in. Sit on your tailbone, round your lumber spine, Just sit in really bad posture.
From here, you’re going to lift your foot just off the ground, just a little bit. Then press into your opposite hand. This activates the psoas. Now if you find you’re feeling more on the outside of the hip, bring your knee out (hip abduction) and rotate your foot in a little bit (internal rotation). That will better activate the psoas.
You just want to feel it right in the front of the hip.
- Assume slupmpy seated posture
- Lift one knee and press into the opposite hand
- Get into an anterior pelvic tilt position, and sit on the sit bones
- Straighten everything up as best as you can
- Hold that for 10 to 15 seconds, breathe naturally
- Lower down
- Switch sides
Do 2 sets of 4 – 6 reps, holding each activation for 5 seconds.
You should feel the contraction in your psoas before getting into an anterior pelvic tilt. Think of sucking the leg into the pelvis. That’ll further activate the psoas. Hold while breathing naturally. Then you let it go.
Now, this exercise is perfect for counteracting the negative effects of sitting because we’re training in this seated posture. Once you’ve woken up the psoas and you build strength and endurance with it, then every time you sit, you can wake it up a little bit. Again, get into that anterior pelvic tilt, sit on your sit bones, and from there, you’ll find it’s much easier, and it almost naturally improves the alignment up above. I try to do this exercise once every hour when seated at my desk!
Exercise 2: Thoracic Multifidus Activator
Basically, when you’re sitting, and you’re in bad posture, you’re sitting on your tailbone.
Once you get the psoas going and get into an anterior pelvic tilt, you get a little bit of lumbar extension, and already that helps to straighten up your spine.
Now we’re going to focus on the thoracic area and target a muscle known as the multifidus.
The multifidus spans the whole spine, but we’re just going to focus on the thoracic area. The thoracic area goes from the base of your neck to the lower part of your mid-back or just above your low back. The thoracic multifidus spans about two vertebrae across the whole spine, going from transverse process to transverse process. (That’s these little bones here on the side of the vertebrae.) It’s like a repeating chain all the way up the spine, spanning two vertebrae at a time.
When the muscles contract, they’re going to move the spine into extension all the way up a little bit of extension in every vertebrae across every intervertebral joint.
That’s what you have to remember when you’re doing this, and if you can’t visualize that, it’s very hard to wake this muscle up because it’s on the back of your body and it’s deep. We can’t see it. We can’t feel it. We just have to know what it’s supposed to do and have the proper cues to activate it.
We’re going to do a different version of an exercise that I’ve shared before, I’ve simplified it a little bit for this article. I call it the Thoracic Multifidus Activator.
You’re going to get into the four point stance. In this position, your main focuses are straight elbow (keep your elbow straight the whole time.)
Start off in a neutral spine. As best you can, find good posture, and then for your shoulder blades, you’re going to push your body away from the floor a little bit, but not all the way. Just a little to get some protraction in the shoulder blades. So the shoulder blades are apart from each other.
From here, you’re going to focus on that area I just showed you, from the base of the neck to the top of the low back. That’s your thoracic spine, and you’re going to think of extending through there and pointing your sternum (your chest) in front of you. Just pick it up. What you’ll find is you might get your lumbar extensors work a little bit more, and you’re feeling those a lot. Just flex the area a little bit, wiggle your butt a little to relax those muscles in that area. Then you pick up the chest again. Think of extending through the thoracic spine.
Nothing happens with your neck. You’re looking straight ahead.
If you find the lumbar area overactivating, remember, just wiggle it and relax it. Go through that cycle until you can really feel the thoracic multifidus turned on and extending the thoracic spine.
When you’re there, just hold it. Keep activating those muscles. Keep working them, contracting them, just like you would contract your quads in a wall sit.
- Get in the 4-point position, good posture, slight scapula protraction
- Extend through your thoracic spine (base of neck to low back)
- Point your chest in front of you, look straight ahead
- Hold it for 20 – 40 seconds
Do 2 sets of 2 – 4 reps and you’re holding for 15+ seconds up to 40 seconds. For this one, once you feel it, hold it just to build that mind-to-muscle connection.
Go through that cycle of extending the thoracic spine, relaxing the lumbar spine, extending the thoracic spine, and picking your sternum up in front of you. Stay looking forward and relaxing the lumbar spine. As you go through that process, you’ll start to feel in between your shoulder blades, deep, just around the spine, those muscles contracting. That is the thoracic multifidus, and that’s going to cause the thoracic area to extend up. It’s naturally going to help to realign the cervical spine (the neck) to get you out of that forward head posture.
Exercise 3: Slumpy Serratus Activator
Now that your spine is perfectly aligned, it’s time to work on those rounded shoulders. We’re going to do that by targeting one of our favorite muscles here at Precision Movement, the serratus anterior.
The serratus anterior is known as the boxer’s muscle because it gives you that last couple of inches at the end of a punch. It protracts the scapula. (That’s your shoulder blade.) It wraps the shoulder blade around the rib cage and drives the arm forwards.
But its more important function is that of posterior tilt of the scapula. If you have a cup of water sitting on the top of your shoulder blade, Posterior tilt would be tipping a cup of water backwards over your shoulder. That’s really important for keeping the shoulder blade flush with the rib cage and maintaining scapular stability as the arm moves around.
There are many muscles that contribute to scapular stability, but the serratus anterior is perhaps the most important muscle of all of the ones that contribute.
The Slumpy Serratus Activator is the third of our rounded shoulders exercises. It’ll get the serratus anterior working.
This is one of my favorite exercises and you might have noticed the theme with these exercises.
For this exercise, you slump, getting in bad standing posture, rounded spine, looking down. From here, you’re going to simultaneously straighten up as you extend the shoulders behind you and internally rotate. The backs of the hands face each other behind you.
From here, there are a few cues. You want to keep trying to lift your arms up and keep trying to bring your arms together. Your elbows stay straight, your low back stays relaxed, chin is tucked, and shoulders are down. Don’t hike your shoulders up using those upper traps. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Keep them down.
Your final focus is posterior tilt of the scapula. Think of sucking the bottom edge of the scapula into the rib cage. You’re constantly fighting yourself through all of those motions. Now, when you’re done, you maintain tension through the shoulders as you bring your hands by your sides. From there, you gradually relax while trying to keep that good shoulder positioning. That’s one rep.
- Start off in really bad standing posture
- Straighten as you extend your arms behind you, backs of hands facing each other
- Raise your arms behind you slowly
- Suck the shoulder blades in towards the rib cage (posterior scapular tilt)
- Maintain tension of the muscles of the shoulder muscles as you bring your hands by your sides and then gradually let it go as you maintain that good shoulder position
Do 2 sets of 4 – 6 reps, holding for 10 – 15 seconds. Remember to maintain that muscular tension in the shoulders as you bring your arms back down to your sides.
This is such as powerful exercise. I’ve been using this with all the shoulder cases I’ve seen. Recently, it’s helped tremendously for a couple baseball players and a national vollyball player. It’s going to help you, too, not only if you have shoulder pain, but what we’re talking about today for poor posture.
In prepping for this video, I also went through the research, and I found a couple of studies published in the Journal of Physical Therapy that showed when your serratus anterior is strong, that helps with your forward head posture . It helps decrease the activity of the sternocleidomastoid and the upper traps. It also reduces neck and shoulder pain.
It’s such a beneficial muscle to strengthen and learn how to activate in the first place.
There we have three exercises with the 80/20 rule at work here. These will really help with your posture and your rounded shoulders.
To summarize these three rounded shoulders exercises and give you reps and sets for every exercise.
Like I said in the beginning, we have other articles on all the topics and muscles we’ve covered today. I just wanted to put them together in this new little routine here to help you get to the root cause of these issues. I’m going to put up some resources below for the serratus anterior and for the psoas.
5 Psoas Strengthening Exercises to Solve the Root Cause – your psoas is important for posture, but if you sit much of the day, these exercises will help your hips feel better too.
3 Top Exercises to Activate and Strengthen Your Serratus Anterior – improve your shoulder strength and stability, in addition to your posture.
Wake Up This “Hidden” Muscle to Fix Hunchback Posture (aka Kyphosis) – we talked about how Type 1 and Type 2 muscles differ. Getting the endurance muscles active means you won’t have to try to hold good posture all day. It’ll come effortlessly.
5 Exercises to Fix Forward Head Posture That Actually Work – forward head posture can lead to all sorts of problems like breathing trouble, arthritis, and shoulder impingement. Correcting it will save you trouble down the road.
I’ve also put together another little routine inside our free mobile app called ROM Coach called Posture Pairs. What what’s going to do is going to combine these three exercises with three other exercises. When you do those exercises before each of these ones, it creases the benefits and the effects of the exercises you learned today.
Click the link here to download ROM Coach for free and then do the Posture Repairs Routine for an even more powerful approach to fixing your posture for good.
Finally, if you really want to get your shoulders in good working order, prevent wear and tear and keep good range of motion as you age, start with the Shoulder Pain Assessment. After answering a couple questions about your shoulder function, you’ll get started on the best path for you at your current pain or mobility level.
Thank you to everyone at Precision Movement for your tremendous contribution to functional fitness. It is apparent that you have put considerable time, thought and effort into your programs and platforms!