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Fight the Slump: Exercises for the Upper Back and Shoulders

by Sárka-Jonae Miller
See more articles by Sárka-Jonae Miller

(The Best Years in Life) Few things make me cringe like seeing an older person with slumped shoulders and a rounded upper back caused by years of having weak muscles and bad posture. With the advent of computers, time spent with one's shoulders unconsciously rounded forward has gone up dramatically, making it seem likely that many more of us will display the unfortunate inability to stand up straight when we become seniors. Except for instances on spinal abnormalities, a perfect slump to one's shoulders is avoidable. If you want to escape this fate, simply do exercises to strengthen your upper back and rear shoulders, as well as stretches for the chest.

When your shoulders round forward, the muscles in your upper back lengthen while the muscles in the chest shorten. Prolonged periods like this cause tight chest muscles and weak upper backs. Overtime, this can affect the length-tension relationships of your muscles and the alignment of your spine. But there's hope!

Reverse Flyes

Besides constantly nagging yourself to pull your shoulders back until it becomes a habit, targeted strength training exercises can go a long way to preventing a Quasimodo-like look as you age. Step one is to build up the muscles in the middle and upper back that retract your shoulders and bring your shoulder blades closer together.

To perform this exercise at home, grab some lightweight dumbbells and stand with your legs hip-width apart. Tighten your abs and bend forward until your back is parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang and bring your hands together, palms facing each other. Put a slight bend in your elbows so they are not locked, but do not bend them any further.

While concentrating on your shoulders blades and upper back, open your arms wide and toward the ceiling. Don't think about lifting the weights, but instead concentrate on retracting your shoulders. Lower your arms back to the starting position to complete one reverse flye. Do two sets of 10.

Rear Delt Exercises

From the same basic position as in the reverse flyes, you can target the muscles in the backs of your shoulders, known as the rear or posterior deltoids. Try even lighter weights for this exercise. Start bent over as before with a dumbbell in each hand, but turn your palms to face your legs. Your hands should begin together with your arms straight.

Lift the weights out to the sides as you did with the reverse flyes. Your arms will be slightly straighter and more in line with your shoulders throughout the range of motion. Be extra careful not to shrug your shoulders toward your ears.

Return your arms and weights to the starting position to finish one repetition. Do two sets of 10, switching to lighter weights if you have any difficulty.

Chest Stretches

If the muscles in your chest get tight from constant slouching, it can inhibit your ability to do strength training exercises for the opposing muscles in the back. To fix this problem, do a couple of simple stretches.

Stand in a doorway and hold up your right arm with the elbow bent to 90 degrees. Put your palm and forearm against the door frame and twist your upper body to the left. You should feel the stretch on the right side of your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and then do the same on the left.

You can also stretch your chest with your arm straight. If there isn't enough room, use a pole or a corner to put your palm against with your right arm straight out to the side. Twist to the left, hold, and then repeat on the left.

These simple exercises might not seem like a big deal, but that's because they're targeting smaller muscle groups that people often forget about. Sometimes, problems with the smallest muscles cause the biggest structural problems. Try to do this routine two to three times a week, if your doctor says it's okay.

See also:

Easy Ab Workout With an Exercise Ball

Travel-inspired Core Workout for the Abs and Back

Simple Exercises to Strengthen and Shape Your Derrière

Exercises for Sexy, Sculpted Calves



About the Author

Sárka-Jonae Miller is a health and fitness expert. She began working in the fitness industry in 2000 while pursuing a BS in journalism at Syracuse University. She became certified as a personal fitness trainer and group exercise instructor in 2003. She has also received training in massage therapy. Sárka also writes fiction. She is the author of the chick lit novel, Between Boyfriends. Get more health and wellness tips on Sárka's Natural Healing Tips blog or join her on Facebook and Twitter.

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