“The appearance of rounded shoulders comes from your shoulders sitting forward and down,” says Erika Bloom of Erika Bloom Pilates. “It’s an alignment issue that can lead to upper back, neck, shoulder, and even arm pain. It also emotionally closes off your heart center and presents to those around you as tired, meek, or closed off.” More specifically, rounded shoulders are when the curve of your upper back is pushing your head forward and down, says Astrid Swan, celebrity trainer and Barry’s Bootcamp instructor.
“The appearance of rounded shoulders comes from your shoulders sitting forward and down.” —Erika Bloom
“Rounded shoulders can also be caused by muscular weakness or muscular imbalance,” adds Swan. “It means the upper trapezius and levator scapula become strained while the major and minor pectoralis muscles are tight and shortened.”
There are other postural imbalances that can lead to the look as well, such as weakened rotator cuff muscles, according to Bloom. “More surprisingly, short lats can contribute to rounded shoulders,” she says. “We often think of needing to strengthen the lats for good posture, but they can actually pull the shoulders too far down and rotate them forward when imbalanced.”
Also, the spine can play a large part in the condition. “The spine should live in a natural neutral S-curve,” says Bloom. “The center of the head should be balanced over the center of the ribs, hips, and center of the feet. If we come out of this alignment, the shoulder girdle cannot naturally balance on top of the ribs. The upper back, neck, chest, and shoulder muscles must chronically hold shorter or longer than their natural resting length, and the body becomes imbalanced with rounded shoulders.”
If you’re one of the large portion of the population dealing with rounded shoulders, there’s no need to cave in—you can easily rectify the situation via exercise moves. “Once the source of your rounded shoulders is identified, it’s easily remedied with corrective exercises, which will leave you moving with ease,” says Bloom. “The key to correcting rounding shoulders is to lengthen and strengthen in a targeted way to remedy imbalances. Begin by restoring the entire spine to neutral by mobilizing it and then strengthening the multifidus and other muscles of the deep core. Then, open up the front of your arms and shoulders—including the biceps and pecs—as well as the lats. Find a connection in the muscles that hold your shoulders open.” Her pro tip? Visualize your head floating to the sky, your collarbones wide and open, and your shoulder blades draping down and wide.
For small movements you can do in your living room with a ball, Swan suggests using either a lacrosse or trigger ball. “Lay on the floor in a prone position and place the ball between your pec and armpit while slowly moving your arm around, releasing the tightness,” she says. “You can also use the same ball to lay on your back in supine position and play the ball on the upper trapezius and rhomboids and move your arm around like you did above.” A foam roller can help, too: “Use a foam roller to release your lats,” says Swan. “Place it under your arm while lying on your side, and roll back and forth from your shoulder to your hip. Hold in any sensitive spots.”
Keep scrolling for more trainer-approved exercises that combat rounded shoulders.
The perks of this classic yoga move is that it mobilizes the spine, according to Bloom. Begin on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. “Round your entire spine from the head to the tail, reaching the middle spine up to the ceiling and your sitz bones down towards the knees,” she says (you’ll look like a Halloween cat). “Then, reach the head and tail away from each other and drop the middle spine towards the floor. Pause for a breath in each position.” And repeat.
All fours opposition reach
Bloom notes that this move strengthens your multifidus as well as your deep core and lower traps. “Start on all fours with toes tucked under, spine reaching long, and shoulder blades wide across the back,” she instructs. “Exhale, deepen your abdominals to spine, and float one arm away from the floor to reach forward. Continuing to stabilize with the abdominals, and reach the opposite leg back.” Then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
Rotator cuff strengthener
The rotator cuff move strengthens your rotator cuff, AKA the muscles in your back that surround your shoulder joints. “Stand with a resistance band held between your hands with your palms facing up,” says Bloom. “Then bring your elbows to sides bent at 90 degrees. Keep the upper arms against the body but allow them to spiral out—like they’re rotating—as you pull your hands apart.” She adds that you should only go as wide as you can while keeping shoulder blades stable, and then resist back into starting position.
With this floor move, you’ll strengthen your shoulder opening and stabilize your muscles, says Bloom. “Lie face down with your arms stretched out, in line with shoulders like a ‘T,'” she says. “Float your arms up about two inches as you reach your head, neck, and shoulders forward and up into a very small arch. Reach your arms back to your hips as you slightly increase the arch. Return the arms to the ‘T’ then lower the torso and arms down to return to starting position.” And then repeat.
To strengthen your shoulder opening and stabilize your muscles and your core, this move is ideal, says Bloom. “Stand with a light weight in each hand,” she recommends. “Bend your knees to hinge forward at the hips with a long, neutral spine. Lengthen your arms down to the floor with your palms facing each other. Reach your weights back and up until palms come to hips.” She notes that it’s key to feel the collar bones widen and draw your shoulder blades down the back, and then lengthen your arms back down to starting position.
This move is exactly like you’re swimming, but on the floor—and it does everything from strengthen your shoulder opening, stabilizes your back and neck extensors, and strengthens your core. “Lie face down with your arms and legs extended long,” says Bloom. “Take flight by lifting your arms, head, shoulders, and legs up. Alternate tiny arm and leg lifts as if you were swimming, but only take arms as high as you can keep your collar bones wide and your legs as high as you can keep your back long.” Inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts.
This resistance band exercise feels great as it stretches your biceps, lats, and pecs. “While holding a resistance band in both hands with your palms facing down, extend your arms forward and above the head,” says Bloom. “Keep the arms plugged into the shoulder sockets, allowing the shoulder blades to expand across the back as you lift the arms overhead and behind you.” She says to continue to reach until you feel a stretch across the chest and shoulders. Only go as far as you feel a gentle stretch, and then reverse the arc and bring the arms forward to return to starting position.
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