In recent years, the combination of desk jobs and a constant attachment to mobile devices has turned most people into chronic slouchers. It’s not at all uncommon to see someone walking around with hunched shoulders and a rounded neck, even if they’re not looking at a cell phone or other device.
This rounded, forward head position is more formally known as upper crossed syndrome. It occurs when the muscles in the shoulders (specifically the upper trapezius and levator scapula) are overactive and the muscles in the chest become tightened.
In addition to being a relatively unattractive look, upper crossed syndrome also can have a serious impact on your overall health. Chronic tension in the shoulders and rounded posture can contribute to all kinds of conditions, including tension headaches, migraines, reduced lung capacity, neck pain, and an increased risk of developing rotator cuff injuries.
If you’re currently struggling with upper crossed syndrome (and, let’s face it, you probably are), the best thing you can do is incorporate corrective exercises into your routine to retrain your muscles and fix the improper recruitment patterns you’ve developed.
Listed below are four of the best exercises you should be doing to correct upper crossed syndrome.
Four Best Exercises to Correct Upper Crossed Syndrome
1. Standing Banded Row
This exercise strengthens the trapezius and rhomboid muscles in the upper back.
Loop a resistance band around a stable surface like a table or door jamb. Hold one end of the band in each hand and step backward so that there is no slack on the band.
Stand up straight and slowly bend your arms to pull the band back toward your body. When your arms reach a 90-degree angle, slowly straighten them to return to the starting position.
Repeat for 10-12 repetitions.
2. Subscapular Activation with Foam Roller
This exercise teaches you to activate and engage your serratus anterior and subscapularis muscles. Both of these muscles are important for stabilizing the shoulder blades and preventing them from rounding forward.
To do this exercise, stand facing a wall with a foam roller at shoulder height. Bend your arms at 90-degree angles and place your hands against the foam roller. Then, gently press into it and slowly begin to slide your arms up the wall. Keep your spine straight and don’t let the foam roller drop.
Repeat or 10-12 repetitions.
3. Prone Scapular Stabilization
This is an isometric exercise, meaning it involves holding the muscles in a contracted position for an extended period of time.
Start by lying face down on a mat with your chin tucked slightly so your forehead can rest on the ground. Keep your arms parallel and raise them above your head with your shoulders pressed away from the ears. Press into the floor with your legs and slowly lift your head, neck, arms, and shoulders off the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades back and down.
Start by holding for 10 seconds and repeat for 8 repetitions. Over time, you can increase the duration of the holds.
4. Chin Tucks
This is a great exercise for resetting the neck and improving your posture. It can be done kneeling or while standing or sitting in a chair, so it’s a perfect one to do while working at the computer.
To do this exercise, simply tuck the chin in toward the chest while keeping the neck straight — think of pulling your head backward to make a double chin. Hold for a couple of seconds, then relax your neck. Repeat for 10-12 repetitions.
Bonus Tips for Improving Posture
In addition to making these four corrective exercises a part of your routine, these other tips can help you speed up the process of improving your posture.
Work with a trainer while exercising to avoid reinforcing poor recruitment patterns
Consider wearing a back brace designed to correct one’s posture
Limit time spent on the computer or watching TV
Take regular breaks while working at a desk to counteract poor posture
Adjust devices to allow for a more comfortable, straight-back posture, i.e. raise your computer monitor up so the top edge is level with your eyes
Adjust your office chair to support a natural spinal curve
Sleep with just one high-quality pillow that is designed to maintain its shape