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One of the more common posture complaints we see at the clinic is having rounded shoulders. It’s a complaint that both men and women suffer from, and can be brought on by mistakes made while training at the gym, from weak back muscles, or from repeatedly bad posture while slouching at your desk or at home. So, how do you correct rounded shoulders? A big mistake we hear people making while trying to fix this type of problem at home, is using the wrong kind of stretches in an attempt to open up the shoulders, when in most cases it’s a chronic weakness in muscles of the back that are letting the shoulders round in the first place.

Rounded shoulders are often accompanied by a forward head carriage (where the head is positioned more forward and is likely placing pressure on the vertebra and discs in the neck), and a thoracic kyphosis (where the mid-back rounds forwards to compensate for how the shoulders are also pulled forward). This type of posture causes the muscles in the chest to shorten and tighten, while the muscles in the back become overly stretched and weak. Often we can think that changing the way we exercise can make a difference in our posture, but some exercises can make it worse so it’s important to know what can cause it and how to fix it.

What Can Cause Rounded Shoulders?

The tendency with exercise, in particular weight training, is a focus on muscles that tend to be more aesthetically pleasing. For example, working out the chest, biceps and shoulders. Taking an example of a bench press, this can strengthen the chest muscles. Strengthened chest muscles will pull the shoulders forward, especially if you’re not working out the area of your back responsible for pulling the shoulders back. Men can be more susceptible to experiencing rounded shoulders because they may be more likely to work out muscles that can pull the shoulders forward, so it’s important to compensate by effectively working out the back muscles as well, particularly between the shoulder blades.

As equal as muscle imbalance in the body, rounded shoulders could also be caused by extended use of a smartphone or tablet during the day, or using a computer or laptop where you are bent forwards or not sitting with correct posture. Spending a large amount of time behind the wheel can also be a culprit, as is carrying heavy loads during the day. All these can contribute to the body being hunched slightly over. Certain athletes can also be predisposed to rounded shoulders as they are consistently working out certain muscles over others – for example swimmers or boxers. When a large proportion of your day is spent with your arms in front of you in some way, it becomes a habit that you will then have to actively try to get your body out of doing.

How Can You Treat Rounded Shoulders?

Simple exercises and stretches that can improve and support the muscles in your back and shoulder blades include chest rows and reverse fly’s. Chest rows work the back, shoulders and it can improve your posture and is a good supportive exercise to accompany a bench press if you like to work out your chest. For this exercise you’ll need a weight bench, on an incline, so that you can lean your chest and stomach into the bench. Choose your weight in dumbbells and hold one in each hand, relaxed to the sides with your palms facing. To perform one repetition, pull the elbows directly back as if you’re making a right angle, and then return to the beginning.

Reverse fly exercises are very similar, and can be used to train your chest but they will do more for your upper back muscles so can work well in training to help bad posture. For this exercise, you’ll need the weight bench set up in an identical way, at an incline, so that you can lean into it with your chest and stomach. Again, choose your weight in dumbbells and hold one in each hand with your palms facing. Extend your arms out directly to the side in a controlled motion, before bringing them back to the centre with your palms facing again. These exercises squeeze the shoulder blades together, instead of working the chest and shoulders as much.

We see a lot of patients with this type of problem, especially where their shoulders are nice and strong but between the shoulder blades is not. This is a classic case of where it is so beneficial to workout your whole body equally, rather than focusing on muscles that are typically glamourised. Focusing on strengthening your back muscles will likely give you much more success in avoiding rounded shoulders, or correcting them if it’s something you’re aware you have.

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If you notice that you’re beginning to develop rounded shoulders, if you’ve been told you may have them or you’re making a habit of rounding your shoulders during your everyday activities then you may wish to incorporate some of these exercises into your normal gym routine to compensate for muscle imbalance. Other hobbies such as running or cycling, or simply spending your day hunched forwards over the desk can place more pressure onto the neck and lead to early degeneration and potentially issues down the line with disc injuries due to overbearing compression.

Being hunched forwards means your head is also generally positioned more forward than usual. The weight of your head while it’s in correct alignment can have its weight and force of gravity effectively distributed through the body, but when the neck is out of alignment this doesn’t happen so can cause compression on the cervical spine. In combination with exercises, you may wish to try and be more aware of your posture during the day. During work hours, relaxing at home, or on your daily commute to and from work, it can be difficult to keep yourself in check all throughout the day but it’s worth making time during the day to check in with your posture and correct yourself if you find that you’re slouching. It won’t always be difficult, and you won’t always need to make the time to do this, but in the beginning you will find that you will need to re-strengthen the muscles in order to find it easier to maintain.