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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: June 8th, 2023

Yes, your mother was right when she told you stand up straight, shoulders back and chin high. she sub-consciously knew that posture (particularly shoulders) reveals information.

Body language gurus say that our emotions are reflected in the position of our shoulders. People can discern a lot about our moods. Perhaps we are expressing confidence and strength, even virility.

Think of the famous statue of David. The male “V” shape is particularly appealing to women. Menswear designers know this well and create jackets that are padded in the shoulders to enhance masculinity.

In another vein, you can communicate positive qualities like dominance, pride and respect with your shoulders. Savvy manager do this all the time. They know how to convey leadership. They avoid the bad hunched look that denotes weakness.

Posture is everything, especially in the workplace. No one wants to look shorter and more feeble. Plus, rounded shoulders can cause chronic aches and pain. But you can stop this bad habit with a few well-chosen exercises. Stop that chicken neck and get with it!


What Exactly Are Rounded Shoulders?

The term “rounded shoulders” describes a resting or relaxed shoulder position where the area has moved forward from ideal alignment. Different terms are used, most negative, such as slouching, hunchbacked, forward head posture, slumped shoulders, “mom posture” and more.

Someone has dubbed the problem the “Upper Cross syndrome.” Anatomically, it implies a tightness of the upper trapezius and levator scapulae in back and pectoral tightness in the front.

There is a weakness of the deep neck flexors in the front and lower trapezius, rhomboids and serratus anterior in the back. In short, the neck, back and shoulder muscles are clenched. Pain and tension are a vicious cycle caused by poor posture.

Rounded shoulders stem any activity that involves looking down or forward for a long time. Some of the activities that may contribute to rounded shoulders include:

– Poor desk ergonomics

– Using a smartphone or tablet

– Using a computer or laptop

– Sitting for long periods

– Driving a vehicle

– Bending over repeatedly

– Carrying heavy objects all day


Test for Rounded Shoulders

A way to tell if you have rounded shoulders is to stand in front of a mirror and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. If your knuckles face forward, it could indicate that you have a tight chest and a weak upper back, resulting in the appearance of rounded shoulders.

A correct standing posture will see the hands facing towards the body with the thumbs facing ahead. This is a simple test, but it gives doctors a good indication of a person’s basic posture.


How to Fix Rounded Shoulders

Over a period of time, we have trained our muscles and joints to slouch/hunch forward, so we have to retrain them to find the correct posture and alleviate any associated symptoms.

The good news is that rounded shoulders can be easily fixed or prevented in most cases.

You may buy a posture coach or even a posture corrector. Yes, posture correctors work! Here you have the Scientific and Medical Reasons Why You May Need a Posture Brace.

However,  a cheaper alternative is to do exercise. A routine of devoting 20-30 minutes a day to certain exercises 3-5 times a week can help correct rounded shoulders.

To get started, you don’t even need a lot of equipment apart from an exercise band and a foam roller.

Exercises to fix rounded shoulders can be divided into Three types:


1. Releases

Tight muscles lock the shoulders in a forward position so it’s important to release and them reposition correctly.

1.a) Chest Release:

This move will release the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) that are usually very tight in a rounded shoulder posture.

Procedure: Grab the hook of a cane or a tennis ball. Position it just below your collarbone (in the groove area). Apply appropriate pressure to release the trigger point. If you find a tender spot or tightness, hold it there and perform gentle circular motion for at least 30 seconds. Apply the pressure at different angles so you cover the entire muscle.

Give yourself at least one massage each day for maximum benefit.


1.b) Thoracic Release:  

This exercise relaxes the upper trapezius muscle which is generally tight in rounded shoulders.

Procedure: Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your hands locked behind the neck. Place a foam roller in a horizontal position under your back and roll it up and down the spine. When you reach the top and bottom parts of your spine, hold that position for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat the process. You may prefer to do 2 sets of 10 reps.


1.c) Side Release:

This relaxes the latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior muscles that generally tight in rounded shoulders.

Procedure: Lie on one side on an exercise mat. Place a foam roller/ball under these muscles and roll it up and down. Apply appropriate pressure to help release the trigger point. If you find a tender spot of tightness, hold it there and perform gentle circular motion for at least 30 seconds. Apply the pressure at different angles so you cover the whole muscle.


2. Shoulder Stretching  

2.a) The T Stretch:  

This should be the first thing you do in the morning to help loosen your pectorals throughout the day. It can also be done before sleeping.

Procedure: Lie flat on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be extended to the side of the body with palms facing up. The body will looks like a T from above.

Hold this position to give a slight stretch in the back and shoulders, loosening up the pecs.


2.b) Door Chest Stretch:

After the shoulders, the next area to be stretched is the chest muscles to keep your posture strong. This convenient stretch involves a doorframe. It helps you control how far you can stretch forward. It can be done as often as you want and almost anywhere.

Procedure: Stand up straight in front of a doorframe. Place your hands on either side of the frame, just above your head and set your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Place your forearms flat against the door jamb, move one foot forward and gently lunge past the frame.

This will stretch the chest and shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Rock back into your original position and repeat 3 times.


2.c) Wall Stretch:

This is one of the most important exercises for rounded shoulders.

Procedure: Stand up with your tailbone, lower back, upper back and head against a wall. The feet should be positioned slightly away from the wall. The arms are pressed flat against the wall, keeping the elbows at a 90-degree angle. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.


2.d) Wall Angles:

Procedure: Wall angle can be done by standing upright with the back against the wall, arms pulled back to touch the wall throughout the exercise with the feet positioned slightly forward. The hands are placed in a “W” position against the wall.

Then, extend the arms upwards towards the ceiling while keeping the shoulders down and flexed, and bring them back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.


2.e) Handclasp:

This stretch is done by standing up straight with the hands by your sides. Try to reach behind the back and clasp them together. Then pull the shoulders back gently until the chest opens.

Don’t allow the neck to push forward. Hold this position for 30 seconds.


Note: All  stretches are to be done daily and the position held for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.


3. Shoulder Strengthening 

After these stretching exercises, you will have much more flexibility in your shoulders.

But this is not enough as flexibility alone does not allow the shoulders to remain in a food position. Strengthening the muscles will help you attain the correct posture.


3.a) Shoulder Blade Squeeze:

This is a simple exercise that builds strength throughout the day, reminding the body what good posture feels like. It can be easily done anywhere.

Procedure: Sit/stand up tall and straight and slowly flex your shoulder blades together. Imagine holding a tennis ball between them. As they flex, the shoulders should move down and away from the ears.

Hold this position for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times  3-4 times a day.


3.b) The Eccentric Push Up:

You can eccentrically strengthen your chest muscles after a neutral shoulder position is achieved.

Eccentrically strengthening means when the muscle is in its lengthening stage, it helps the chest muscles open even more.

Procedure: Stand in a push up position in front of a door frame. Then transfer your weight to your hands by lowering your chest down towards the wall as you bend your elbows (without flaring them outwards). Keep your shoulders pulled back and down throughout the exercise.

Try to go as down as possible to get a deep stretch in the chest muscles. Restart and perform 3 sets of 15 reps each.

Progression:  Perform on the floor. Use weights while lying on your back. Wide push up.


3.c) Wall Slide:

This exercise helps strengthen the lower trapezius and serratus anterior muscles as well as opens the shoulders and chest.

Procedure: Stand up with your back and arms pulled backwards against a wall. Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle with your arms and forearms pressed against the wall.

Slowly glide your arms toward the ceiling until your thumbs touch one another and then go back down to  the starting position (grazing knuckles against the wall). Perform 1 set of 10 reps daily. 

Progression: 3 sets of 15 reps by adding weight cuffs to your wrists


3.d) Planks

The plank can ease round shoulders back into correct alignment.

Procedure: Lie on the floor with face towards the floor, propped up on the forearms and toes. The legs are straight and hips raised to create a straight and rigid line from head to toe. Planks help strengthen the core and lower back muscles.


3.e) Pull-Ups or Seated Rows:

In the gym, doing pull-ups or seated rowing with moderate weights can be quite helpful. It can be done without gym equipment as well.

These exercises build strength in the shoulders and all the major muscles of the back, including the middle trapezius and the rhomboids, thus bringing the shoulders into a neutral position.

Procedure: Hold a resistance band with the ends in each hand with the arms extended with palms facing each other.

Then, wrap the band around the bottom of your feet. Pull the ends of the band towards your chest by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together so that your hands reach your torso. Move slightly behind the torso. Keep your arms close to the body to avoid leaning forwards/backwards.

Hold and return to the starting position by straightening your arms. Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.


3.f) Chin Tuck:

Procedure: Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your arms to your sides and your knees bent. Without lifting your head off the mat, do your best to create a double chin or multiple double chins. Then, hold your head just off the ground and try the same movement.

This exercise is often used by swimmers to prevent the rounded swimmers back or shoulders. It helps stretch out the neck muscles gently.

You can repeat this exercise as often as you like but do it at least once daily for best results. 


Other Tools: 

1. Tape Your Posture

Taping the shoulders by a professional therapist helps remind you to maintain good posture.

Procedure: The shoulders are gently pulled to its neutral position. The tape is placed starting from above collar bone and pulled back and down to the middle of the thoracic spine. Firm downward pressure is applied on both sides.

You can leave the tape on for up to 2 days depending on your skin irritability.

A brace prevents your shoulders from rolling forward and is helpful in the initial stages of fixing your posture.

But, do posture braces work? Here, you have the answer.

Scientific and Medical Reasons Why You Need a Posture Brace


2. Ergonomic Advice

Since most of the causes of rounded shoulders are related to desk job work, here are some helpful ergonomic tips for desk potatoes to maintain a correct posture and prevent a recurrence of rounded shoulders.

– Use an Ergonomic Chair with Lumbar Support:

Don’t slouch or be uncomfortable while working at desktops or laptops. Use a chair with proper back support.

– Place Your Monitor in a Good Location:

Keep the top of your monitor at or below eye level and about 20-22” away from the body. Use well distributed soft lighting that has less glare to avoid eye strain

– Focus on Your Posture:

While sitting at the desk, keep the body in neutral position to avoid excessive stress and strain on your muscles. Your forearms, wrists, thighs and hips should be parallel to the floor, with shoulders relaxed and elbows close to the body. Follow the 90-90-90 rule while sitting on a desk chair — i.e. your hips, knees, ankles and elbows are at 90-degree angles. Your feet should rest flat on the floor or use a footrest or stool.    

– Keyboard and Mouse Placement:

The keyboard and mouse should be close enough so you don’t strain your shoulders and arms. Use a wrist or edge pad to prevent injuries due to sharp edges.

– Keep Moving:

Do not sustain the same posture for an extended time; take frequent breaks and follow the 20-20 rule — after every 20 minutes take a quick 20 seconds break. Walk out in the corridor, have a cup of coffee or do some basic stretches. 


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