Guest post written by: Kate Galliett
In Post 1 on the shoulders “down and back” cue, you learned why putting your shoulders into that position isn’t the best way to achieve better posture. You learned two non-shoulder focuses you needed to have taken care of in order to achieve good posture.
Because good posture is not just about your shoulders.
Sure, your shoulders need to sit in a good position. But there are three often overlooked areas of your upper body that impact your posture. Understand more about these areas, and how to make yours better, and you’ll be well on your way to having better posture.
Today’s post will give you three action items for you to start improving your posture via your shoulder joint and its connection to the torso.
1. Increase mobility of your T-spine
Your thoracic spine, or T-spine, contributes heavily to your posture. If your pectorals, latissimus dorsi, and serratus anterior are shortened due to copious amounts of desk or car time, or heavy anterior-body training with minimal posterior-body training – no matter how much you pull your shoulders back, you’re fighting a losing battle against the length-tension relationship of your upper body.
When a muscle becomes overly shortened or has overly-increased tone, it needs to re-learn how to hold the new length-tension relationship with the other muscles working synergistically with it.
Essentially, you teach your body how it should function – and desk work or heavy anterior-body training teaches the body to round forward (if it’s not paired up with movement that takes the body out of that rounded or pulled forward position.)
Take action: Use a lacrosse ball (or tennis ball if you find the lacrosse ball too pain-inducing at first) and, using the ball, apply pressure to the pecs and serratus to increase the mobility of those areas.
Using your hand to move the ball around the area is fine to start. You can also use the wall to assist in applying pressure while you lean into the ball. These areas are notoriously tender for most folks, so start with gentle pressure.
The last thing you want is to increase tension and tone of the muscles of your upper body because you’re tensing in resistance from the pain of rolling out your pecs and serratus anterior.
The lats can be rolled out with a foam roller for a broad stroke mobilization or with a lacrosse ball if you know you have a particularly small area you want to get in to.
2. Strengthen your lower traps
Your trapezius muscle is large, and it’s made up of 3 sections, each section taking care of slightly different movement for your shoulders and back.
The upper traps are well-known for their ability to carry pain and tension after a long day at the office. (The upper traps also do actual movement functions, like medially rotating the clavicle, and assisting in scapular movement once the arm is slightly abducted.)
The mid traps are much less well known – they help pull the scapulae toward the spine, like the rhomboids.
The lower traps are often the least used and least trained part of the entire trapezius muscle
Even though the three sections all do slightly different things, they still work together. You don’t isolate one from the other entirely. So in training your back, it’s possible you’re getting some work out of the lower traps already.
But, it’s more common to see that the lower traps are under-active, just coming along for the ride during rows and even during the favorite posture-training exercise, the prone Y-raise.
Take action: The prone-Y Raise can be a useful exercise for the lower trapezius muscle, but due to the long lever of the arm, and difficulty a person with under-active lower traps would have in connecting to the lower traps to do the movement, it’s actually far more advanced than some would think.
Start with wall slides (these slides will move downward, not up like you mave have done in physical therapy if you ever had a rotator cuff injury). Aim to feel a contraction under your scapula and wrapping around your ribs, fairly underneath your armpit and slightly behind a line drawn down from the armpit.
3. Strengthen serratus anterior
If your posture isn’t strong, there’s a good chance your scapulae aren’t sitting in the best position to begin with – and pulling them “down and back” from that position can create more problems while also not solving your problem of missing postural strength.
Breathing correctly is one way to get the serratus anterior going. You’ll want to add in strength movements to further enhance the capabilities of the serratus anterior though.
Take action: The floor press is one of those ‘big wow’ exercises that also is fun to do, and really targets the serratus anterior. However, it is an advanced exercise, and one that should be progressed to slowly.
A great place to start is with a scapular wall slide (not to be confused with the previous wall slides. Demo’d here by Eric Cressey, a guy who knows a thing or two about shoulders (he’s a major contributor to the shoulder health of MLB pitchers), the scapular wall slide can teach you how to start feeling your serratus anterior better.
I’m also a fan of the serratus press, which is simple to start on. At the top of your push-up, or your straight-arm plank, press a little farther up so that you drive your torso up higher and engage your serratus anterior in the process.
This video will show you how to do the serratus pressing in three different positions:
Over the course of these two posts, you’ve learned five actions you can take to improve your posture, that have nothing to do with putting your shoulders “down and back.” These action steps will help you improve how you sit, stand, and move – which is what good posture is all about.