The 3 Steps to Fix Rounded Shoulders & Computer Posture Through Exercise

Working on a computer usually leads to bad posture and rounded shoulders.One question that has been coming up every now and then in reader emails is what you can do to fix rounded shoulders and computer posture.

Like many of us today, I work on the computer a lot and I’ve had my share of health issues as a result. Neck pain, aching wrists, rounded shoulders, poor posture, and stiff hips. Here are the exercises and techniques I use to keep my shoulders healthy.

Hi Martin

I have been enjoying learning about knee health and really appreciate the information you have compiled and share.

I wonder if you have also studied the affliction of poor posture and stooped/rounded shoulders? (…) I learned through learning Pilates that it could be a fixable problem. I have seen improvements but after reading a link you referenced on cross over shoulder pain I wonder if there would be specific steps to follow in releasing some muscles and then strengthening others in an order similar to what you have taught with good knee health.

For my upper body, I use the following three techniques to achieve better posture and prevent rounded shoulders.

Step 1: Scapular Wall-Slides to Fix Rounded Shoulders

Scapular wall slides (also called “wall angels”), are a great exercise to strengthen your back and fix rounded shoulders. This exercise doesn’t look like much on the outside, but wait until you’ve tried it. Here is a great video demonstration:

Some technique points to remember:

  • Keep your tailbone, your lower back, your upper back, and your head against the wall
  • Move your feet out a bit
  • Tuck your chin in
  • Keep your elbows and hands on the wall
  • Maintain around a 90-degree angle in your elbows

You will know when you do this drill correctly the moment it becomes much harder. Don’t cheat yourself out of the benefits by letting your lower back, elbows or hands come off the wall.

If you find the exercise too difficult to do on the wall, you can do it lying on the ground. The same technique applies. If you still can’t get your elbows and hands to touch the floor, hold on to some very light weights (I’ve learned this variation from Steve Maxwell).

Do this exercise at least twice per day.

Step 2: Make Good Posture Easier by Strengthening the Back Muscles

My dad used to say only have to “stand up straight!” I tried that approach for years, but it didn’t work. Standing up straight was much too tiring and I couldn’t do it for more than a minute.

Things changed dramatically when I got into strength training. After a few months of training, standing up straight for a long time had become so easy it was unbelievable.

The two exercises that gave me the greatest results were inverted rows and chin-ups. Other exercises for the upper back probably work just as well, but I like to keep it simple.

Here’s a video of inverted rows in case you’re not familiar with this exercise:

Both exercises require different movements (vertical pulling vs. horizontal pulling) and thereby work different muscles (some of which are the same for both exercises).

It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to be a world champion at rowing and chin-ups to benefit from these drills. As a male, if you can do at least 7 chin-ups and 10 inverted rows, your back is strong enough to stand up straight.

If you’re not strong enough yet to do chin-ups, do lat pull-downs instead. Another alternative is inverted rows with bent knees or with the body at a steeper angle (i.e., you’re more upright) to reduce the level of intensity.

Step 3: Banded Stretching Exercises

Another great tool is banded stretching exercises. I’ve first discovered these drills through Ido Portal. To do them, you need an elastic band and some place to anchor it on the wall.

Keep your shoulders down when doing these drills (i.e., don’t shrug your shoulders). Here’s the video:

Bonus Step: More Ergonomic Workstation = Better Posture

Having an ergonomic workstation is also important for improving posture. The better your posture at work, the easier it will be to keep your shoulders from rounding forward.

Your chair should be high enough so that there’s a 90-degree angle between your calves and your hamstrings.

The table needs to be high enough so that there’s around a 90-degree angle in your elbows as well. The angle in your elbows can be a bit higher, but shouldn’t be below 90-degrees.

The steeper the angle at which your forearms meet the desk, the more stressful it will be on the wrists. The forearms should be able to rest on the desk, with the elbow at around a 90-degree angle.

I’ve found it beneficial to put some padding under the wrist with which I operate the mouse. If I don’t do this, I risk getting wrist pain.

Your upper body should be vertical, with your head resting on your shoulders. Your head should rest in such a position that if you were to relax your neck completely, your head would stay aligned for a brief moment and then fall forward or backward with a 50-50 chance.

If your head immediately falls forward when you relax your neck, you have a head forward posture that puts excessive stress on your neck. As a result, you might get tension headaches and other problems.

Work on aligning your neck properly in the exercise you did in step 1.

The upper part of the monitor should be just below eye level. The lower the monitor, the more you’ll be tempted into hunching over (as your head is forced to tilt down for your eyes to see the monitor).

Laptops Will Kill Your Shoulders and Posture

The absolute worst for your shoulders and posture is working on a laptop that is placed on the desk. Only do this when you’re travelling, as it forces you into very bad alignment.

When you’re at home or at the office, get an external keyboard and a mouse. Next, place the laptop on a big box or a whole bunch of books so that the upper edge of the monitor is just below eye level. It looks goofy, but you’ll be surprised about how awesome it is for your posture.

Laptops are the bane of proper posture if you use them without any adaptations.

Stand-Up Workstations and Working on a Treadmill

I’ve also heard of stand-up workstations and some people that work walking on a treadmill. You can try that and if it works for you, great.

I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the results I got. I found that when I was standing, my concentration was always divided between my work and shifting my weight from one leg to the other.

Instead of a stand-up workstation, I found getting up more often and doing some mobility drills to be more beneficial. That actually increased my concentration and creativity.

Image Credit

Gary Buchanan, on Flickr

Comments

  1. Eric Chua Zheng Hua says

    Hi,currently i think im suffer from rounded shoulder due to sitting in front of laptop for a long time. I like to workout and ill go gym like 5 days a week.i have been doing gym for 2 years and initially im just focus on chest and front shoulder which i think this is why i have rounded shoulder. Will it be too late to correct this terrible posture because sometime i feel the pain in the top of my back when i arc forward and when i see at the mirror of my side, it was really bad posture. So i need your help .Thanks.

    • Martin Koban says

      Hey Eric,

      Unless you have broken bones, it’s never too late.

      You can use the exercises recommended in the article above and you can also an exercise called face pulls. Start with light weight and use correct form. The weights will increase within a week. You can also do this exercise using an elastic band anchored to a piece of furniture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSoHeSjvIdY

      The important thing is doing something everyday. Make it your habit to do the scapular wall slides every day. Just 5 repetitions are enough to get you started. Once you’ve settled into a routine with this, add more exercises like the face pulls and the shoulder routine.

      Let me know how it goes.

      – Martin

  2. Kimberly says

    I am so happy I found this article. I am also worried about rounded shoulders. I have serious shoulder pain from working with the elderly for many years. Lots of lifting. I also have the bad habit of hunching my shoulders up when I lift weights or helping the elderly. This habit is the source. Thank you for mentioning that huge difference between proper lifting and damaging lifting.

    • Martin Koban says

      Hey Kimberly,

      Thank you. I’m glad you found the article useful.

      A lot of small things added up always make a big difference. Hope your pain gets better soon.

      – Martin

  3. Samantha says

    What if we have a rounded back , but with no back pain? Is it an headup or perpenment damage? Please excuse the bad grammar.

    • Martin Koban says

      Hey Samantha,

      Even if there’s no pain, working towards good posture is worth it just because you’ll look more attractive and you’ll feel more confident.

      In addition to the exercises mentioned in this article, try sleeping on your back without a pillow. It’s going to suck the first week, but it’s the fastest way to fix forward head posture in my experience.

      Let me know how it goes.

  4. Neelabh says

    Hi I was just wondering, if I do all your exercises routinely minus the one with the bands as it would be difficult for me, how long do you think it will take for me to start seeing improvements? My posture is worse than most people’s, so I was just wondering if there’s like some type of rough estimate

  5. Cynthia says

    Hi Martin,

    I’m so glad I found the video and the questions and answers. I recently have had rounded shoulders due from desk work and having large breasts. I’ll be 50 on Monday 12/7, yikes! I didn’t realize how bad the rounding was till I saw photo of myself in a grp setting. I almost look like a turtle with head forward, lol! NOT a good look. I go the the gym 5 days a week after work. Would breast reduction help (been thinking about getting one anyway, just scared). 20 yrs ago I went for a reduction consultation who warned me I’d get rounding of shoulders if I didn’t get this done. Guess I should’ve listened. Hope I can correct this and that’s it’s reversable for me.

    Thanks in advance for your encouragement!

    -Cynthia

  6. Jared says

    21 years old and I’ve been working out daily since 18. Small chest and constant shoulder issues like slightly torn labrum and problems with my rotator cuff. I’ve never been flexible and I’m trying to dig deeper on this . I’ve heard the phrase rounded shoulders multiple times . Any suggestions ?

    • Martin Koban says

      I never said “women can’t do chin-ups.” I said they can do lat pull downs instead of chin-ups. Big difference.

      My fiancée worked up to 2 chin-ups (on rings) at one point and she is incredibly fit. My little sister can do 3 chin-ups and she’s also incredibly fit. That’s more than most guys I know.

      I also know several women that are 10-times stronger than I am. Like Odelia here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffxGASmzEdU

      Can all women reach this level? With Ido Portal’s guidance, yeah. Is it in any way a reasonable short-term training goal for anyone, male or female? Of course not.

      I want you to know that I’m working very hard to help people from around the world lead happier lives. I’m way too compassionate to care about something as irrelevant as gender, race, ethnicity, or religion.

      Lastly, please take minute and think about why my neutral statement (“women can do lat pull downs”) made you call me sexist. Where does this come from? Do you feel under attack elsewhere for being a woman?

  7. Erin says

    I really enjoyed this, except the female vs male chin up and inverted rows routine. Many of us are perfectly capable of both, and some men are not. The reverse is also true. Maybe next time you could simply say a less intense version is blah blah blah instead of making it about gender? I’m not being snarky, just honestly giving you some feedback. Other than that, this was really helpful.

    • Martin Koban says

      Hey Aman,

      Thanks for pointing that out. I appreciate the help very much!

      The original uploader has taken it down it seems. I replaced it with an actually better video.

  8. beth says

    Im on the computer a lot and I feel stupid writing this but i’m going to be honest. I am on the laptop for hours everyday playing games sat in bed. I do get out and play sports and go to the gym often. But as I play golf I have to improve my posture and I get told to look at my posture in a mirror and I look at it and I have a curved back my back has a lump on the centre just above the centre of my back and the centre of my shoulders. I’d really like to know is my posture changeable. because im getting worried and im scared my posture will stay like that forever. I just want to know what I can do with my posture when I’m sat in bed on my laptop. Please help me. By the way I’m 14 so I can do anything like that costs a lot of money. :(

    • Martin Koban says

      Hey Beth,

      I’m not a doctor, so best thing you can do is have your parents take you to a trained medical professional to get professional help.

      If I were you, I’d stop using the laptop in bed. You can get a cheap/used external USB keyboard and a USB mouse for your laptop. Prop the laptop up on a bunch of thick box or a cardboard box so that the screen is about as high as your face if you’re sitting up straight (on the chair). Then use the mouse and keyboard to operate the computer.

      Try lying down on the ground on a carpet or soft blanket. This should help straighten your back over time. You can listen to podcasts or audiobooks as you do this.

  9. Abhishek says

    I’ve got a bad posture ( a mix of forward head and kyphosis ) as a result of lifting heavy school bag in my childhood school times ( Not sitting in front of a computer ) . Back in those days I didn’t care about it much but now , though i don’t have any back or neck pain , I am starting to feel very insecure because of this posture. Currently i’ve started taking steps like sleeping without a pillow , Doing planks , pushups , Shedding some weight etc.
    Is it possible to fix it even after all these years ( I am 20 now )

  10. Sajid says

    Do I need to all the three exercises shown in three videos that you uploaded or doing any one of the three daily will do the work?

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