Solving Problem Posture

by Nathan Tomasello

There is nothing worse than a weightlifter with big muscles and terrible posture.  We’ve all seen them. You know who I’m talking about. You may even be one of them, standing in the gym with a stringer tank top and massive front delts pulling your shoulders forward.  I’m not just talking about poor shoulder alignment, you may be staring down at your phone right now, with your chin jutting out too far and your neck in a semi permanent curve. And don’t get me started on your sitting habits…driving around in your car slouched like its a bean bag chair, with your lower back curved the wrong way and your pelvis tilted.  Tisk, tisk.

Why go thru the trouble of building all that bulk if you are not going to showcase it correctly?  

Besides the obvious downgrading effect of bad posture on your physique (hasn’t all of those Instagram mirror selfies taught you anything?) there are some serious health risks to your spine if you are standing and sitting hunched over.  Luckily for you, my loyal Muscle & Strength readers, I’m going to help you identify the root of your posture problems and show you how to fix them.

Posture Problem #1:  Hunched/rounded shoulders

Root of the problem:  weak or unengaged Rhomboids and Traps.  Weak Rear Deltoids. Benching too much.

Quick Fix:  Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back.

This problem is probably the most widespread of any posture problem and there are several different culprits to blame.  Prioritizing heavy chest training over back training is one of them. Do this quick test to see if you are guilty of being a benchaholic.  Stand with your arms at your sides. Look down at your hands. Do your thumbs pronate in towards your thighs or are they in a neutral position pointing straight ahead?  If your thumbs are rotating inward then you are guilty as charged. Your front delts and pecs are over powering the muscles in your upper back and are pulling your shoulders forward.  this strength imbalance is making you look like a neanderthal and can lead to injury in the rotator cuff. The quickest and easiest fix is to concentrate on standing up straight and pulling your shoulders back into position…but that will likely not completely cure the strength imbalance that has formed from years of standing wrong and slacking on upper back training.  Here are the exercises we are going to use to fix the issue:

Seated Row pause reps

If we are going to counteract your heavy benching then we need to use an antagonistic movement and load up on the weight.  For this I like heavy seated rows using an overhand grip on a wide or lat bar, ideally holding the bar at the same width as when you bench.  I bet even though you have been doing heavy rows, you haven’t been concentrating on the most important part of the movement - scapular retraction.  Pull hard and squeeze your scapula together and pause for 1 second when the bar touches your upper abs. Do 5 sets of a heavy 3-5 reps.

Band Pull-a-parts

This is a great rehab movement that should be done daily before every workout to help strengthen the rear delts and pull the shoulder into proper alignment.  Grab a mini band with an overhand grip and hold it straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Keep your arms straight and pull the band apart until your arms are straight out from your sides.  Do sets of 10 or 20 depending on rear felt strength and band thickness.

Seated Shrugs

This shrug variation is great for strengthening your traps in a way that will fix your posture.  Most of the time when doing shrugs you are probably pulling your shoulders straight up - which is correct - but by doing this seated version we will target the lower traps which play an important role in posture.  Start by sitting at the end of a bench and holding a set of dumbbells at your side. I recommend using roughly 70% of the weight you would use on regular standing shrugs, so if you normally use 100lb DBs, grab a set of 70s for these.  Keep your lower back arched but lean forward slightly at a high angle. Shrug the weights up and back, pinching your shoulder blades together at the top, holding for 3 seconds. Complete 3 sets of 8 reps.

Single arm Rear Delt Flys

This is a great movement to help counteract all the time you have spent developing the front of your shoulders while neglecting the posterior head of the delts.  Lay on one side on a bench with your bottom leg “figure foured” underneath you for balance. Grab a light dumbbell with your top arm and let it hang over and across your body so it is pointing at the floor.  Keep your elbow locked and move it up in a straight line (not “back”) towards the ceiling. Lower under control. Complete 3 sets of 6 on each side.

Posture Problem #2:  Slumped seating

Root of the problem:  Weak Low Back.  Weak/Tight Hamstrings

Quick Fix:  Sit up straight.  Adjust your car seat.

I know, I know, I do it too.  It’s hard not to sometimes, but if you really think about it is it really comfortable to sit slouched forward?  It’s not and besides making you look like a kid it is terrible for your spine and hips. The best thing to do is to remember to sit up straight, but from a strength standpoint, it could be your weak posterior chain that’s contributing to this bad habit.  Tight hamstrings are also a factor so in addition to some strength exercises we are also going to use a yoga position to help correct your slumping:

Upward Dog/Downward Dog

Start in a push up position. Raise your hips in the air as you push your shoulders down and back, forming an A-Frame with your body.  Drive your heels towards the ground, keeping your legs straight as you feel the stretch from your glutes down to your achilles tendons.  this is Downward Dog. Hold the position for 10 seconds then swoop down into a push up, but let your hips fall to the ground. Extend your arms and arch upward, stretching your abs and letting your feet fall flat.  Hold the Upward Dog position for 10 seconds. Rotate between these two poses for a total of 2 minutes.

Reverse Hyper

If you don’t have access to a reverse hyper machine, you can mimic this great lower back strengthener by laying across a swiss ball or a bench, with your lower body hanging off.  Hold on to the bottom of the bench and raise your legs up until your body is in a straight line and parallel to the floor.

Hamstring Bridge

Lay on your back with your hips close to a bench or plyo box.  Place one heal on top of the bench and the other foot straight up in the air.  Press down thru your heal and elevate your hips engaging the glute and hamstring.  The goal is to have a straight line from your knee thru the hip to your shoulder. Do 3 sets of 5 reps, pausing for 3 seconds at the top of each rep.

Posture Problem #3: Head forward and down

Root of the problem:  Weak Neck and traps.

Quick Fix: Stop staring down at your phone.

There’s nothing worse than seeing someone with an otherwise strong physique that has a skinny neck jutting out from massive shoulders.  The problem is that most weight lifters do very little to work their neck - combine that with everyone’s habit of staring down at their smart phones constantly and you have a recipe for upper spine posture disaster.  Here’s how you can avoid this common pencil neck problem:

Neck Plank

Start by sitting on a swiss ball and walk forward until you are in a glute bridge position with only the back of your head touching the ball and supporting your body weight.  Keep your spine straight as you press thru the back of your head into the ball. Start with three sets of 10 seconds then work up to 30 second holds before adding weight.

Shrug Holds

Perform these as you would a normal barbell shrug, but you are going to pause for 5 seconds at the top.  Don’t just hold your shoulders high, concentrate on trying to squeeze them all the way to your ears for the entire 5 seconds.  This extra hold at the top will really target the upper traps where they tie into your neck and help pull your head back over top of your shoulders.

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