What exercise is best to pull shoulders backward?”– Mike Boss

Mike, any type of row, shoulder retraction, external rotation, or shoulder extension will activate and strengthen the muscles of your upper back responsible for better posture.

But, you also must determine what is causing your shoulder to be slumped forward; typically referred to as a kyphotic posture? Your shoulders could be slumped forward for three possible reasons; you sit around too much, you don’t have balance in your training, and you have bad breathing habits.

If you have a job where you’re sitting a lot or you play a lot of video games, you probably sit in a pretty flexed position for long periods of time. Make sure you get up every 20 minutes or so and stretch out. 

Bad posture can also come from benching too much and not performing the movements we’ve already talked about like some type of rowing exercise. It is important to balance your training volume, i.e., for every rep of a pressing movement, you should be performing a pulling movement. This will work to keep the muscles that surround your joints in balance.

Next, research has shown that learning how to breathe deeper, into your belly, can have a profound impact on how ‘tight’ your resting muscles are and you’re your shoulders and hips in better alignment. When you breathe into your chest – called chest breathing, which is typically associated with anxiety – it can cause bad posture and make your core unstable.

Finally, strengthening your upper back is only one component. You also must work on the restricted and shortened soft-tissues of your upper body; namely your chest, shoulders, back and lats. Slow and deliberate foam rolling or lacrosse ball rolling on these areas will help to relax and improve the quality of your muscles. This will help to bring your posture back to a neutral position and allow your muscles to contract harder. 

Check out this awesome 3 minute shoulder warm-up routine. It will not only help you to prepare for the workout, but it will get your upper back fired up:

NEXT: Keep Those Muscles Guessing >>

“Is it better to bench press an Olympic bar 100 times then to put 20kg on it and do 4 reps?”– Wes Barker

Your body is a very adaptable system. If you stress it with a ‘lighter’ load, it will quickly adapt and become much more efficient at performing the task (The SAID Principle). However, your muscles will stop being challenged and you will not continue making gains. Your set will turn into a marathon effort that will stress your joints and leave you mentally crushed. 

That is why your workout should not only incorporate different rep ranges, but also different and varying loads, i.e., amount of weight lifted for a particular exercise. The more you push the intensity, and challenge your body in different ways, the more sustainable progress you will make. (The Principle of Progressive Overload)

Yes, lifting an Olympic bar 100 times can create enough stress to cause adaptation, but you’re sacrificing efficiency. Wouldn’t you rather add weight, create the stress required for greater muscle growth and strength, and then move on in much less time?

Meet the Lift Doctor

Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most “innovative strength coaches” in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach “beyond their potential.” He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.