Since the average American spends around 13 hours a day sitting, having a spine like a question mark punctuated by a concave chest and rounded shoulders is typical for the 9-to-5 desk jockey. Such habitually poor posture can actually alter the length of your muscles.
“The muscles in the front side of your body tend to get shortened and the muscles and tissues in the back side tend to get lengthened,” says C. Shante Cofield, DPT, and founder of TheMovementMaestro.com. This is especially true of the upper body, which is the primary culprit in the daily slouch-a-thon. Strengthening the upper part of your posterior chain — the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids and levator scapulae — can help straighten you out, correcting imbalances and improving performance.
“Better alignment means a better length/tension relationship of the muscles on either side of the joint, which means you can produce more force,” says Cofield. More force means heavier weights lifted, faster development and increased overall calorie burn. It also does wonders for your posture, making it easier to hold what Cofield calls a “confident position”: shoulders back, chest up and ears in line with the shoulders.
Adopting proper posture elongates you, making your belly look flatter and your waistline appear trimmer. Ready to stand tall? Use these moves for perfect posture in the gym and out of it.
Why: Strengthens all the back muscles and rear delts, helping straighten you up from head to hips.
Performance Benefit: Helps train you to get the bar off the ground faster and more efficiently during moves such as snatches and cleans.
How: Take an overhand grip on the pull-up bar with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades together, then drive your elbows down and back to pull your chin up toward the bar. Pause briefly then lower slowly to the start.
Seated Cable Row
Why: Isolates the upper back and counteracts a rounded thoracic spine.
Performance Benefit: Strengthens the muscles that power a barbell clean from the floor to your shoulders, which means you’ll be able to get under the bar that much faster.
How: Sit in the machine with your knees slightly bent and hold a V-handle with your arms extended. Keeping your torso upright (don’t lean back), drive your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together to bring the handle in toward your abdomen. Slowly return to the start.
Why: Trains scapular retraction, opening and lifting the chest.
Performance Benefit: Promotes a straight-back posture, which is essential for proper deadlift form.
How: With palms facing down, grip a lightweight resistance band and hold it at chest height with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight, retract your shoulder blades and open your arms to the sides, pulling the band apart as far as you can. Pause briefly then return slowly to the start.
Why: Strengthens the erector spinae, putting a jutting chin (caused by overstretched muscles in the back of the neck) back in place.
Performance Benefits: Strengthens the muscles that help you hold and stabilize a front rack position for squats and thrusters.
How: Lie facedown with your arms behind your back, resting the backs of your hands on your glutes. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and keep them raised as you bring your arms forward, parallel with the ground. As they come overhead, turn your palms to face downward and touch your thumbs together. Return to the start to complete one rep.
Foam Roller Angel
Why: Stretches tight pectorals and encourages a neutral spine, counteracting question-mark posture.
Performance Benefits: Positions shoulders properly for correct set-up position of big barbell lifts and presses.
How: Lie faceup with a foam roller positioned lengthwise under your spine, neck and head. Extend your arms to the sides, palms facing upward, and allow your shoulders and chest to open. Slowly move your arms in a “snow angel” movement from your hips to overhead, then back to the starting position.