We have all heard our parents say to us, “Stand up straight, pull those shoulders back, and stop slouching.” Some people could never hold their shoulders in that position very long and as soon as their parents left the room the slouching shoulders would return, right? I find it ironic that today when a person with shoulders goes to a therapist or trainer, they are told the same thing with just a slight change of wording.
Most people believe that slouching shoulders are caused by poor strength on the back of the shoulders. The trainer or therapist has the person strengthen their upper back by using various exercises for the back. In a few cases, this may work as strength is truly the issue. For most people, though, these exercises could make it worse. I am going to explain why these exercises could make it worse and how you can solve your slouching shoulders.
Why Do Your Shoulders Slouch?
We see people every day walking around with their shoulders slouched. Are they tired, sad, in thought, or just lazy? Usually, they are tired of carrying the weight of their shoulders, sad about their appearance, and have many thoughts as to why. Rarely is slouching shoulders just pure laziness. So let’s dive into why this happens so the solution will become more obvious later on.
In my experience working with people that slouch their shoulders, the chest muscles, specifically, the outside chest muscles, play a huge role in creating this posture. Most things that we do in our lives require us to lean forward. Think about it. How many times do you lean backward to do anything? While working on computers, driving a car, and even eating our food, we lean forward, with our hands out in front of us. To be in this position requires us to shorten the outside chest muscles so we can extend our arms out in front of us. Then we contract the same muscles in the chest to bring our arms back towards us for example, to put food in our mouths.
The battle to end slouching shoulders doesn’t stop there.
Now the inside chest muscle must support our upper torsos, the muscles on the front of the neck must tighten to support our heads, and the muscles on the back of our necks must contract to help the muscles on the front of our necks. All of this leads to upper back pain, neck pain, and rounded shoulders. Whew! That is a lot of stuff going on just to do typical stuff we do every day, multiple times a day. It is no wonder we have this problem. As if that is not enough, people with rounded shoulders tend to take shorter strides for better balance. These shorter strides cause the calves to tighten, which causes us to lead with our noses, and the whole thing starts all over again. Then you pay a trainer or therapist to help you and they tell you if you strengthen your upper back all of that will go away. But it doesn’t and now your upper back is tighter from the workouts and there is usually more pain. How frustrating!
Next, you visit your doctor who wants to send you back to physical therapy and the whole process starts all over again. Some doctors may suggest a back brace if it is really bad, but that begins to cause pain on the front side because it is forcing the muscles on the front to extend beyond their limits and the brain is contracting the muscles trying to get you out of the situation. This is maddening, isn’t it?
Then you go home, sit in your recliner, which pushes your neck forward, rounding in your shoulders, and think about how you got into this mess and then how to get out of it. I wonder how this all could have started. How we sit, stand, and walk all contribute to rounded shoulders. The mistake is, that we are treating the wrong side. We are focusing on the site of the pain instead of the true cause of the pain.
How to Stop Rounded or Slouching Shoulders
If your lack of strength is the true cause, then yes, most of the exercises they do in the gym to strengthen your back can help. However, for most people, this is not the answer. In the gym don’t just focus on the back, but also on the abdominal area as it supports and holds up the rib cage. If the abs are weak, then the weight is too much for the back. By having stronger abdominal muscles, you can better support the ribcage and hold it up in the correct position. Stretching is still necessary for the upper quads, calves, and chest to reduce the pressure placed on the muscles.
In either case, begin with the stretching. If your calves are tight, you will walk with a shorter stride forcing you to lead with your nose and not your belly button. Tight calves, hard feet, and hard shoes all contribute to a shorter stride. A shorter stride leads to walking from the upper quads increasing the workload on the quads and inner thighs. This will cause the pelvis to tilt forward which tilts the torso forward weakening the abs and placing too much weight on the torso from the head.
The next step is not being able to extend your abs due to the pelvis tilting forward, therefore the weight of the head causes the shoulders to round in to support the head and as you can see, it is a cascading effect from the foot to the head.
In past, I have given you the stretches for the quads, calves, and inner thighs. I have also given the stretch for the front of the neck in past newsletters. I would re-visit some of those older newsletters for help or contact me and I will send them to you. Today, I will give you two stretches for the outer chest, but it would also be helpful if you include the other stretches as soon as possible. This is the first step to correcting your shoulders which will improve your energy levels and self-confidence.
In using my technique, you are allowing the brain to release the muscles versus the brute force that you see in many gyms and physical therapy. It takes practice, but once you get it, and you will, your body will feel more energized and vibrant.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles of living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.