Forward head posture, rounded shoulders, and a hunched back are just some of the many problems we increasingly face on a daily basis. These can result in shoulder pain, lower back pain, neck pain, and more. I personally went through this journey after years of bad posture from improper driving positions, constantly looking down at my iPhone to text, write emails, work in my programs, and surf the web, as well as jutting my head forward while working on my computer. It finally came to a point where I was in constant neck pain, my sternocleidomastoid (Say that 10 times fast…nevermind, just call them the SCM) muscles in my neck were SUPER tight, and watching older videos of me performing exercises, I looked back and was not surprised at how bad my issue was. Now, I see hundreds of people a day with the same issues walking around everywhere. I ride the metro in DC once a week and see a large amount of people glued to their phones looking down. Everywhere I turn, people are looking down for 30 minutes nonstop, and that is just one way…now multiply that by potentially 10 times a week! There is a common problem with most of these situations, and that is weak, underactive rhomboids.
While weak rhomboids are not the only problem, they play a huge role in helping with your posture, because they are muscles in your upper back, underneath your trapezius muscles used to pull the shoulder blades together and rotate your scapula in a downward direction. Why is that important? Well, if your shoulders are starting to round forward, your rhomboids should help neutralize that position.
I am going to introduce four exercises I use for some of my clients as well as myself to help correct posture. I noticed a huge difference in the ease of keeping a good posture after strengthening my rhomboids. A lot of your traditional back exercises do not do a great job of strengthening your rhomboids directly, so you are going to need to isolate them a bit more. Lat Pulldowns, Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, and Deadlifts are fantastic exercises I do every week, and program for clients, but they are not the best for rhomboid isolation.
Go onto a bench. I prefer a slightly inclined bench, since it was more comfortable for my extremely tight front and side of my neck. Lie face down, bring your arms outward in a straight line (a T Shape), hold for 2-3 seconds at the top of the exercise, then lower and repeat for a recommended 8-10 reps. Try 2-3 sets of the Prone T-Raises for three to four times a week. Keep the weight very light.
Go onto a bench, and again, I prefer the slightly inclined position. Lie face down, bring your arms straight out into a Y shape. Hold for 2-3 seconds and lower your arms. Repeat for 8-10 reps. You can usually do slightly more weight the Y-Raises than you can with the T-Raises, but keep it light. Try 2-3 sets of the Prone Y-Raises for three to four times a week.
Seated or Standing Rows with an Isometric Hold
This is a great version of a very popular exercise. I like to go heavy on exercises like Bent Rows. However, when I am doing cable rows, standing or seated (resistance bands can also do the trick), I prefer the isometric hold of at least 3 seconds when you pull all the way back. This makes sure you are not using momentum and you are not recruiting muscles you do not want to train in this exercise. I want to focus on the rhomboids, lower traps, mid traps, lats, (and rear deltoids if I am using an overhand grip). Go a little lighter than you would with a normal set. Use a moderate weight here, since you still want to go close to muscular failure. I like to do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, once or twice a week.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze
This is an easy exercise you can do everyday, multiple times of the day, due to the low impact nature of it. Pull your shoulder blades back and slightly downward toward your pockets to bring your elbows back and inward. Then simply return to your starting position. Hold for 2-3 seconds and go for 8-10 reps at a time. You can literally do these in the office, on the train, or anywhere you go.
It may take some work, like it has for me, but we did not get into our forward head posture and rounded shoulders overnight. Often, it has been years of bad habits. Expect a little relief right away, but be patient. Results will vary, do not expect to be magically cured in a week, but stick with it, you will be happy you did! Feel free to ask any questions!