Tonawanda News

September 29, 2013

FIT FOR LIFE: Rounded backs are a big problem in the gym and out

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — One of the most common physical problems that I see, both in the gym and in the population in general, is a rounded posture in the upper back. 

This is a problem that is becoming more and more prominent in our society for a number of reasons, but probably the biggest contributing factor is the prevalence of desk jobs which require long hours hunched over a keyboard or — less likely — pen and paper. 

This lengthy and repetitive overstretching of the upper back musculature, in conjunction with a lack of physical labor to keep the muscles strong has led to scores of rounded shoulders in and out of cubicles. 

As a side note, the desk job has also led to legions of over-tight and shortened hip flexors causing problems from low back pain to the near inability to get one’s butt close to proper depth on a squat. But that’s another article in and of itself.

In order to combat this pandemic of postural terror, we need to spend a lot of time and energy strengthening the muscles of the mid and upper back, specifically the mid and upper trapezius, the rhomboids, the erector spinae and the latissimus dorsi, among a myriad of others.

Spending eight or more hours overstretching these muscles every day at a desk is a definite hindrance to strength and fitness goals. A weak upper back prevents one from supporting heavy loads properly in exercises like the squat, bent-over row, deadlift and overhead press. This, in turn, prevents one from making appreciable gains in other muscle strength or hypertrophy development until the supporting muscles have caught up.

But fear not, there are relatively simple ways to correct this weakness and build a healthy, strong physique that one can carry with pride.

The pathway to building a strong upper back should combine some very heavy weight lifting with some lighter, high-volume exercises to achieve maximum results. I recommend weekly heavy work sets of deadlifts of one form or another — three to five heavy reps — and various forms of rows in ranges of eight to 12 reps. 

Row variations are nearly endless, but some of my personal recommendations to target the upper back are the one-armed dumbbell row, the horizontal pullup — TRX or Smith Machine — the hammer strength low row and the Pendlay row. Lighter, weighted work such as scapular retraction pullups or rows, reverse pec-deck flyes and face-pulls can also be included to further strengthen and stabilize the upper back.

In addition to a healthy diet of heavy iron, some daily postural maintenance work is also a good idea. High-volume band pull-aparts can be done every day — 100 each day is a good idea for most people — as can banded internal and external rotations.

If you have any questions, please see a certified trainer.

Jack Lazarus is a certified personal trainer for Chrisfit of Niagara Falls and Lewiston.