The best exercises improve posture by strengthening your neck, shoulders and back. Those are among the most neglected and abused muscles in your body. They pretty much define the need for chiropractors and massage therapists.
This article will show you how to make all these muscles stronger, which will improve your posture and change your appearance from pear-shaped to V-shaped.
These muscles function the same in men and women, so the exercise routines are unisex.There was a time when women could opt for torture devices like girdles to achieve that look, but this is a much healthier, long-lasting solution that will make you look and feel good.
Our necks are weak. Partly they are victims of modern work habits. Many of us sit all day, slouched over and staring at computer screens. Our kids and grandkids do this as they play video games, too.
There’s even a recognized condition called “Computer Neck Syndrome” that describes this lack of proper alignment.
Whether it’s lifting a grandchild to your face for a kiss or hoisting a suitcase into the overhead bin, you can’t do it without strong shoulders. These are the most moveable and unstable joints in the body, very susceptible to injury.
The shoulder is a delicate joint. All of these exercises should be handled with care — that means don’t try to lift weights that are too heavy. Go for the ‘exhausted’ feeling with 8 – 12 clean reps. The exercises here will strengthen the shoulder and the small rotator cuff muscles that protect your shoulder joint.
I know from too many years of too-heavy weight lifting, your shoulders can be easily damaged and require careful attention.
Back (latissimus dorsi)
The lats have a direct impact on our neck, shoulders, elbow, lower back and even your posture as you walk.
This big muscle system connects at five different points including the spine, pelvis, ribs, scapula, and upper arm. They play a big role in how your arms move and work.
How to Strengthen these Muscles
I like to group these muscles together into a single workout. You can do that, or take each area one workout at a time. Whatever best suits your fitness level and schedule.
Here are some specific exercises for each muscle group. I’m going to lay this out in a basic way, so if you’re an advanced lifter/trainer, this may be too basic for you.
Assume that you can do these movements with Resistance Bands, dumbbells, barbells or machines. How you create resistance does not matter. The key is using just enough to take the prescribed number of reps to ‘failure’ with good form
Sets & Reps
The Neck and Shoulders should be treated carefully, so I don’t recommend over-working them the way you might chest or arms.
Adjust the amount of resistance you are using so that you can do 8 – 12 Reps per set. The last rep should be difficult so that doing another cleanly is not feasible. Don’t cheat.
2 – 3 Sets for each exercise
8 – 12 Reps per Set
The back is a big muscle and can take some extra work, so I recommend:
3 – 5 Sets for each exercise
8 – 12 Reps per Set
Start by stretching your neck. You can do this by simply using a hand to pull your neck gently toward each side. Or you can lean back on a wall and stretch your head/neck back against the surface.
Grasp the resistance with your hands at your sides (dumbbells) or in front of you (barbell).
Now, Simply “shrug” the weight upward using only your neck and shoulder muscles.
The weight won’t travel very far. You will “bunch” the shoulders closer together as you do this. Hold it for a moment or two at the top, then release and repeat the motion.
There are variations of these movements you can try. For example, you do this move with a barbell and hold it behind your back if you prefer. But the shrug is the basic movement to strengthen your neck muscles.
You’ll also feel this in your shoulders.
Grasp the Resistance Bands or a pair of dumbbells with your hands in front of you, then raise it up in front of you to about shoulder height with elbows in the position pictured. Hold it for a moment then slowly lower and repeat.
Focus on the feeling in your neck muscles as you do the motion. This is another staple move for the neck muscles. You can also perform this with a barbell or kettle bells. The type of equipment is not important. The feeling in your target muscle is all that matters. Make those Traps (neck) muscles do the work.
Rear Delt Rows:
You can do this lying facedown on a bench using dumbbells or Resistance Bands as pictured above. Or standing, by bending forward, using an adjustable bench to brace your forehead, as pictured below.
Raise the weight smoothly up to parallel and then slowly lower it again and repeat. Feel it in your shoulders. Make them do the work, not your arms. And remember — shoulders are delicate joints. Use light weight and smooth motions. If you feel pain — STOP.
These moves target the middle area of your shoulder muscles. Again, you can use any form of resistance you have available: Resistance Bands (above), dumbbells (below) or Machine (bottom).
Choose one form of resistance to perform your 3 sets, or mix things up. But stick to only 3 sets to protect these delicate muscles.
This move will target the front of your delts. Again, take care with the amount of weight used. Focus on good form and feeling the sensation in the target muscles.
Use whatever is most convenient/feels best: Dumbbells (above), Barbell (lower left), Resistance Bands or Machines (lower right).
Back – Lats Routine
These moves will target the lats, but you’ll also feel it in your Neck and Shoulders. Your lats are a big, powerful muscle group and can take a little more work than the delicate deltoid/shoulder area.
Do 3 – 5 Sets of each of these exercises for 8 – 12 reps to failure.
Basically, you’re recreating the setup of a gym machine. Follow the instructions from your Bands maker.
Focus on the feeling in your back muscles as you do this. Do not rock back and forth to move the weight. It’s not about how much weight you are using, but that good form that focuses all the effort on the back muscles.
Seated Lat Pulls
This is a variation on the above. You can do this on a machine or with Resistance Bands anchored in a sturdy door, while you sit on the ground.
Focus on the feeling in your mid-back. Try not to let your arms do too much of the work. Make those big back muscles work!
You can do this movement best with Dumbbells. Putting one hand and one knee on a bench to steady yourself. Raise the dumbbell straight up the side of your chest, keeping your arm close to your side.
Focus on the back muscles as you do this. Feel it. Squeeze them as you contract at the top of the movement. Try not to use your arms much but keep the tension on the back.
You could also instead use Resistance Bands to perform this move if you don’t have access to dumbbells.
You don’t need to join a gym or spend a ton of money on equipment to do this workout — so no excuses! You can do most all of these moves with inexpensive Resistance Bands or dumbbells. Most can be mix and matched with those and or barbells and machines.
You can read a review of a few sets of Bands here. I strongly urge getting a set of them, even if you have a large gym setup like I do. They’re a great addition to any workout.
It’s not the equipment used that matters, it’s the user — you. Best of luck in your training!
If you have any questions or comments, please add them below. I’ll get back to all. If you’d like you can drop me a line at Brian@BoomerMuscle.com.