How to Fix Rounded Shoulders (Best Exercises)

What are Rounded shoulders?

Having Rounded shoulders is when the resting shoulder position is in front of the mid line of the torso.

This type of poor posture generally involves the scapula being in a position of Protraction:

  • Lateral glide
  • Anterior tilt
  • Internal rotation

What muscles cause Rounded Shoulders?

The hunched postures you continually adopt throughout the day disrupts the normal balance of muscular activity in your shoulders.

In Rounded Shoulders, there is an imbalance of tension between the muscles that pull the shoulder blades forwards and the muscles that pull the shoulder blades backwards.

Think about it this way: There’s a tug-of-war battle between the muscles at the front and back of the shoulders (… And the muscles at the front are winning!).

a) Tight and/or Overactive muscles:

The following muscles are PULLING the shoulder blades into the forward position.

(We need to Stretch/Release these muscles!)

  • Pectoralis Major/Minor
  • Subclavius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Upper Trapezius (Anterior)
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Anterior Deltoid

b) Weak and/or Inhibited muscles:

The following muscles ARE NOT PULLING the shoulder blades backwards into a neutral position.

(We need to Activate/Strengthen these muscles!)

  • Middle/Lower trapezius
  • Rhomboid muscles

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What are the symptoms of Rounded Shoulders?

As the shoulder blades are being pulled into the forward position, having hunched shoulders will essentially place more pressure on the whole upper back!

This can lead to painful areas as shown in the above picture.

(Note: It may also predispose your shoulder blade to make clicking noises as you move it.)

how to tell if you have Rounded shoulders

a) Position of palm

Instructions:

  • Stand up right with your normal posture.
  • Have a quick glance at the position of your hands.
  • … Which way are your palms facing?

Results: If your palms are facing behind you, then it is likely that you have Rounded Shoulders.

b) Shoulder position when lying down

Instructions:

  • Lie down with your back flat against the floor and arms by your side.
  • Do the back of your shoulders naturally rest on the floor? Or do they sit in a forward position?
  • (DON’T CHEAT! Make sure that you are not over arching your lower back!)

Results: If the back of the shoulders do not come in contact with the floor, then it is likely that you have Rounded Shoulders.

c) Side profile:

Instructions:

  • Get someone to take a photo of your posture in side profile.
  • Draw a vertical line along the mid line of your torso.
  • Draw a vertical line along the mid line of your shoulder.
  • Compare these 2 lines.

Results: If the shoulder line is in front of the torso line, then it is likely that have Rounded Shoulders.

d) Only one shoulder is rounded

If you have a twisted spine, it can give the appearance of having one shoulder rolled forwards.

For example – if your left shoulder is rounded forwards, it could be due to the fact that your torso is twisted towards the right side.

Exercises for Rounded shoulders

Recommendation: Perform the following exercises 2-3/week to gain a sense of what each exercise feels like.

Over time –  see how your body responds and adjust frequency accordingly.

1. Releases

Tight muscles will lock the shoulders in the forward position. It is important to release these muscle first as to enable the shoulders to be re-positioned correctly.

Release technique:

  • Locate the targets areas. (mentioned below)
  • Place the massage ball directly under these muscles.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the ball.
    • If it’s tight…. it’s going to be tender!
  • Perform a gentle circular motion over these areas.
  • Do NOT hold your breath.
    • Ease off the pressure if you are tensing up.
  • Make sure you cover the entire muscle.
  • Duration: 1-2 minutes

(Note: If you are not familiar with where the following muscles are located, it will be a good idea to Google them!)

a) Chest release

Target muscles:

  • Pectoralis Major
  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Subclavius
  • Anterior Deltoid

b) Side release

Target muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Serratus Anterior

c) Upper Trapezius

Target muscles:

2. Rounded Shoulders Stretches

Make sure that you are getting into the correct position so that you can feel the stretch.

a) Chest stretch

(Muscles targeted: Pectoralis Major/Minor)

Instructions:

  • Place both hands on the door frame.
  • Pull your shoulders back.
  • Lunge forwards.
  • Do not arch your lower back.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the chest region.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

For more chest stretches: 7 Stretches for Pec Minor.

b) Lateral (side) stretch

(Muscles targeted: Latissimus Dorsi)

Instructions:

  • Assume the position above.
  • Whilst holding onto the door frame, let your upper arm take the weight of your body.
  • Whilst anchoring your legs as shown, aim to bend your mid section as much as possible.
    • Use your body weight to sink into the stretch
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your torso.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

For more lat stretches: Latissimus Dorsi Stretches.

c) Upper trapezius

Instructions:

  • Pull your shoulders back and down.
  • Tilt your head to the side.
  • Using your hand, pull your head further into the tilt.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

3. Improve shoulder internal rotation

If you lack shoulder internal rotation, the shoulder may compensate by hitching upwards and forwards.

a) Stretch the back of shoulder

Instructions:

  • Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout this stretch.
  • Bring your arm across the body towards the opposite shoulder.
  • Pull the arm further across the body.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Internal rotation

Instructions:

  • Place both hands behind your lower back.
  • Hold onto your hand/wrist.
  • Gently pull your should blades together.
  • Lift your elbows towards the backwards direction.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Improve shoulder extension

If you lack full shoulder extension, the scapula may sit in the dumped forwards position (Anterior tilt of the Scapula) and lead to slumped shoulders.

a) Stretch front of shoulder

Instructions:

  • Sit on a chair.
  • Place both hands on side the of the chair.
  • Pull your shoulders BACK and tip them BACKWARDS.
    • (Lock this position in throughout the stretch!)
  • Keep your elbows pointing backwards.
  • Slowly sink your body backwards. Your elbows should start to bend.
    • (Do NOT let those shoulders tip forwards!)
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the front of the shoulders.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Practice pure extension

Instructions:

  • Pull your shoulders BACK and tip them BACKWARDS.
    • (Lock this position in throughout the exercise!)
  • Without allowing the shoulder blade to tip forwards, bring your arm as far backwards as possible.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 30 times.

5. Control your Scapula

When fixing Rounded Shoulders: It is VITAL to know how to perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt. These scapula movements will help get the shoulder into a more neutral position.

(Note: You will need to know how to do these movements correctly before proceeding to the strengthening exercises.)

a) Scapula Retraction

Instructions:

  • Maintain wide and long shoulders.
  • Perform Scapular Retraction: (see above)
    • “Pull your shoulder blades together”
  • FEEL the contraction between the shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Scapula Posterior Tilt

Instructions:

  • Maintain wide and long shoulders.
  • Perform Scapular Posterior tilt: (see above)
    • “Rotate the shoulder blade BACKWARDS.”
    • Imagine the bottom of your shoulder blade digging into your ribs.
  • Aim to FEEL the muscles contract at the base of the scapula.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

 

6. Strengthening

If you have completed all of the above exercises, your shoulders should be feeling much more flexible.

(… but this is only half of the journey!)

Having the flexibility in your shoulder merely allows the potential to have them in a better position.

You will need to strengthen the muscles to maintain the Rounded Shoulders correction.

a) Elbows flares

Instructions:

  • Place both hands (with elbows forward) on the sides of your head. (see Start position)
  • Bring your elbows all the back. (see End position)
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt whilst pulling elbows backwards.
  • Feel the contraction between the shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

b) Wall press and squeeze

Instructions:

  • Place both hands high up on a wall in front of you.
  • Lean firmly into your hands.
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt.
  • Lift your hands off the wall without moving your torso.
  • Aim to feel the muscular contraction between your shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.

c) Prone arm circles

Instructions:

  • Support your chest on a stool.
    • (Keep your torso parallel with the floor)
  • Place your hands out to the side. (see above)
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior tilt throughout the exercise.
  • Draw small circles in a backwards direction.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Continue for 30-60 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

d) Prone angel

Instructions:

  • Support your chest on a stool.
    • (Keep your torso parallel with the floor)
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Perform and maintain Scapula Retraction and Posterior tilt throughout the exercise.
  • Transition to the arms over head position.
  • Keep your hands higher than your elbows.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Repeat 10 times.

e) Wall angel

Instructions:

  • Stand with your back to a wall.
  • Keep your back and arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall at all times.
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Transition to the arms over head position.
  • Remember to perform Scapula Retraction andPosterior Tilt throughout all movements.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Repeat 10 times.

7. Strengthen your chest muscles

Once you have achieved a more neutral shoulder position with the mentioned exercises for Rounded Shoulders, the next step is to eccentrically strengthen your chest muscles.

Eccentric training is where you strengthen the muscle as it is lengthening.

(This will help stretch your chest muscles even more!)

The Eccentric push up

Instructions:

  • Assume a push up position against a door frame.
  • Lean your weight into your hands.
  • Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout the exercise.
    • Maintain the Scapular Posterior Tilt and Retraction!
  • Slowly lower your chest down towards the wall as you bend your elbows.
  • Do not let your elbows flare outwards.
  • Aim to go as deep as possible so that you feel a deep stretch in the chest muscles.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Progression:
    • Go deeper into the movement.
    • Perform on the floor.
    • Perform a Bench press or dumbbell chest press.

8. Tape your posture

Taping your rounded shoulder posture into a more optimal position is very helpful when trying to address this issue.

Instructions:

  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt.
    • “Pull your shoulder blades together”
    • “Rotate the shoulder blade BACKWARDS.”
  • Place the tape starting from above collar bone and pull back and down to the middle of your thoracic spine.
  • Make sure you place firm downward pressure when applying the tape.
  • Do both sides.

(Depending on your skin irritability, you can leave the tape on for up to ~2 days. )

9. Brace for Rounded shoulders

Wearing a brace to prevent your shoulders from rolling forward can be helpful in this initial stages of fixing your posture.

My only warning is that you DO NOT become reliant on it!

Excessive use of a posture brace will likely lead to the weakening of all of your postural muscles!

The main thing when using a brace is to make sure that it fits comfortably.

10. What is the correct shoulder position?

This is a quick and easy way to reset your shoulders into a more neutral position.

Shoulder reset

Instructions:

  • Reach and stretch out your hands as far to opposite sides as possible. (see above)
  • Retraction: Slightly bring your arms backwards.
    • Make sure you can feel a gentle contraction between your shoulder blades
  • Posterior Tilt: Turn your palms towards the back as far as you can so that your thumbs are almost pointing towards the floor.
  • Take note of your shoulder position. Keep this position! And gently lower your arms by your side.
  • Think: “Wide and long shoulders”. 
  • Do NOT over squeeze your shoulders back together.

11. Other areas to consider

When fixing Rounded Shoulders, it is strongly recommended that you also address the following postural deviations:

a) Address Hunchback Posture

A thoracic spine (upper back) that is hunched forwards will force the shoulders to round forwards.

Here’s a quick exercise you can do for it:

Instructions:

  • Place a foam roller underneath the most curved point in your thoracic spine. (see above)
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the foam roller.
  • Lean backwards.
    • … but do not let your lower rib cage flare outwards.
  • Aim to feel the foam roller pushing into your back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Address Forward Head Posture

A Forward Head Posture is where the position of the head is in front of the mid line of the torso.

If the head is forwards, it is likely that the shoulders are rounded forwards as well.

12. Common Questions

a) Can Rounded Shoulders be corrected?

Yes! 100%.

Focus on performing all of the suggested exercises as mentioned on this blog post.

Perform them effectively. Be consistent. And most of all…

Be patient!

(You certainly didn’t develop your bad posture over night. It can take time!)

b) How long does it take to fix Rounded Shoulders?

This is a very common question that I receive… but also a very difficult one to answer!

There are many factors that contribute to the shoulder position. As a result, time frame to recovery will vary from person to person.

Generally speaking – I would suggest that you persist with the exercises for at least 3 months.

If there has been a lack of noticeable improvement, it is likely that other areas of your posture will need to be addressed as well. (see section 11)

c) Does sleeping on your side cause Rounded Shoulders?

Although sleeping on the side encourages the forward rounding of the shoulders, it is not likely the only cause!

If your side sleeping is significantly contributing to your rounded shoulders, I would encourage you to sleep on your back.

In this position, gravity will actually assist in pushing your shoulders back into a more ideal position.

How to sleep to fix Rounded Shoulders:

Note: If sleeping on your back is uncomfortable on the shoulders, consider placing a pillow under the shoulder and arms. (see above)

d) What are some exercises to avoid with Rounded Shoulders?

You do not necessarily have to completely avoid any exercises.

The main thing is to avoid performing exercises with the shoulders in the rounded forwards position.

If you are involved with a sport which requires for your shoulder to be in hunched position (eg. Boxing, Cycling, Swimming butterfly stroke, Rock climbing), then make sure you are following up with your corrective exercises!

Conclusion:

To fix your Rounded Shoulders, you will need to:

  • Release and Stretch the tight muscles that are holding your shoulders in the forwards position.
  • Activate and Strengthen the weak muscles that are responsible for pulling your shoulders into the ideal position.
  • Learn how to control your shoulder blades. (especially with posterior tilt and retraction)
  • Be aware of your posture throughout the day and aim to maintain a good shoulder position.
  • Address other aspects of your posture.

I wish you all the best!

What to do next:

1. Any questions?… Leave me a comment down below.

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!

The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information: Medical disclaimer.

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