Unless you have a very different life than the average person, you spend a large part of your waking hours sitting down looking at a computer screen, television, smartphone, reading a book or driving.
When you spend all that time focusing on something in front you, it seems like it is only natural that your shoulders want to round forwards and inwards and that your head leans forward.
Rounded shoulders and forward head posture is probably the most common issues that develop over time from poor posture. They rise to a long list of problems including sore, stiff and painful muscles and connective tissue, increased risk of injury, lower self-confidence and mood, poor digestion and breathing and the list goes on…
But fear not!
You can reverse and fix rounded shoulders and forward head posture by focusing on these three things:
- Stretch and strengthen muscles in your upper body
- Increase your body and posture awareness
- Improve ergonomics of your surroundings
Below I will cover all three things in detail, but first, let me briefly answer what these posture issues more precisely are and their common causes.
What Are Rounded Shoulders?
The shoulders round forwards and inwards also forming a curvature in the upper region of the back creating that typical Mr. Burns look.
There are many reasons why rounded shoulders develop, but most of the time it has to do with maintaining poor posture for long periods of time. Basically, hunching over computer, book or smartphone.
This creates tight chest muscles and overstretched and weak muscles in the upper back, especially the smaller muscles around the shoulder blades (rhomboids).
What Is Forward Head Posture?
Forward head posture has many names including, text neck, nerd neck, turtle neck and one of my favorites iHunch.
It is exactly as the name implies, your head is in a constant forward leaning or tilting position which makes you look less attractive and puts a lot of stress on your joints and spine.
Most commonly, this issue develops from spending many hours hunched over a computer or mobile device. As you can understand, the cause is usually the same as rounded shoulders.
Hunching over tightens the neck muscles responsible for anterior (frontal) flexion and extension, while the posterior (back) is overstretched and weak.
The Wake-Up Call
What you need to understand is that the more time you spend maintaining poor posture, the more your body adapts and the harder it will be to reverse.
Your posture is like a reflection of you and how you spend most of your time because your spine, muscles, connective tissue, joints will literally adapt to your dominant posture.
But both rounded shoulders and forward head posture are adaptations that you do not want and it can cause a lot of problems for the well-being of your body and mind.
Additionally, doing a lot of exercises does not necessarily make things better. Depending on the type exercises it could even make it worse if it further enhances the muscular imbalances.
E.g. if you do weight training or sports focusing on a lot of pushing or pressing movements.
How To Fix Rounded Shoulders And Forward Head Posture
There are actually a lot of things you can do to improve your posture, and you probably won’t find one thing that you can do, which will fix all your issues.
As I mentioned, in the beginning, you want to focus on three things.
- Stretch and strengthening
You need to stretch and strengthen different muscles to reverse the imbalances you have created by your poor posture.
However, while this is a great start you won’t get far if you are still oblivious of what good posture feels and looks like. You have to change and improve your posture while working at a desk, enjoying a movie on the coach, or browsing Facebook on your phone etc.
Finally, if your surroundings make it difficult or even impossible to maintain good posture chances are that you simply won’t be able to do it.
1. Stretch And Strengthen Muscles
There are many different exercises that you can do to achieve this.
I will list a bunch of exercises below, but you should not limit yourself to these at all.
The exercises I have chosen are what I think most people will feel comfortables with, but if you feel uncomfortable or can’t do it, then you should just find another exercise to do.
I would suggest you do a youtube search as there are plenty of good videos showing different exercises.
1. “Glued” To The Wall
While standing “glued” to the wall, pull your shoulders and shoulder blades back and down and make sure that your head is touching the wall in a good alignment.
The amount of effort you have to put into this is a good indication of how bad your posture is.
Now hold that position for 1-3 minutes. This both strengthens the weak muscles and stretches the tight muscles while also familiarising you with correct head posture.
If you are up for it, here is an advanced version.
2. Stretch Your Neck
Stretch each side of your neck by grabbing the side of your head with the hand from the opposite side and pull your head gently to the side.
Do 3 sets of 20-30 second to each side.
3. Massage Front Of Neck
Gently massage the thin muscles on each side of your throat.
Perhaps you will be able to give a better self-massage if you turn the head to the opposite side stretching some of that tissue out. I suggest you try it out.
3. Chest Stretches
Using any wall corner or doorway, put your right palm and forearm against one side of the corner/doorway at a 90 degrees angle with the elbow.
Now gently lean into it until you feel a good stretch. Remember to keep good posture while doing it.
4. Scapula Retraction With External Rotation
For this one, I recommend you get a resistance band for your home. Then you can basically do all the exercises from home.
If you are at a gym and cant find a resistance band, you can also use a cable machine.
The trick is to use a light resistance and do a lot of reps because the relevant muscles (rhomboids) respond much better to this kind of stimulus.
Grab the resistance band with straight arms in front at about shoulder width. Your grip should be so your thumbs are points towards each other.
Now pull the band with straight arms as if you want to pull the band apart. Pull until it reaches your chest while externally rotating your shoulders so at the end both your thumbs are pointing backward.
Watch this video by Jeff form AthleanX where he shows how to do it.
2. Increase Posture Awareness
There is no way around this, you need to learn what good posture looks and feels like. This can be tough, especially if you have been slouching for year
But you need to find out how to do it and what it feels like, and then you need to be policing your own posture!
Perhaps you can ask for help from colleagues, friends or your partner.
You need to continuously enforce good posture on yourself until it becomes a habit.
For this, I believe posture braces and posture shirts are very helpful. I have written a lot about these on other posts, and I would suggest you check that out.
A good place to start is this buyer’s guide to choosing the right posture corrector.
Another thing that I really think helps with body awareness is doing yoga.
3. Improve Ergonomics of Surroundings
You probably have a lot of different surroundings, so let me talk about where you can get the most bang for the buck.
I believe this is will be the desk where you sit most of the time. Could be both your desk at work and at home.
An easy fix for your desk is to make sure that your computer/laptop screen is in an eye-level height. I like to use a laptop stand to bring up the screen to eye-level height.
This by itself will help prevent you from slouching, but obviously, it is better if you also try to consciously stop yourself from slouching.
Other things to consider: standing desk, your chair, and you should also take plenty of breaks where you get up from your chair and perhaps walk around a bit.
Another place to consider improving is the bed you sleep in and how you sleep.
Your mattress should be neither too soft or too hard, and your pillow should be relatively thin in order to not push your head forward.
While sleeping on the back is probably the best sleeping position for most of us, here are some tweaks that you can do no matter whether you like to sleep on the back, side or tummy.
Sleeping on the side: Hold pillow between your knees which will relieve the hips and avoid them rotating inwards (also known as fetus position).
Sleeping on the back: Place a pillow under the knees and prevent your back from arching
Sleeping on the tummy: Put a pillow under your hips to remove stress on the lower back
If you want to improve your posture and fix your rounded shoulders and forward head posture, then you need to put in a lot of time and effort.
You did not get your poor posture overnight and similarly, you won’t be able to reverse it overnight.
You have to focus on three things:
- Stretch and strengthening
But for really great and long-term results, you need to think about the issue of getting a new habit of maintaining good posture. Because posture is not really something you fix, but it is something you maintain.
This can be very tough in the beginning, and at this is where I believe buying a posture brace or posture shirt can be really helpful. You can check out my guide here.