Many of us sit at a computer for 9 hours a day, which not only leads to bad posture but can also cause neck, shoulder and upper back pain. That is why it is important we include exercises in our workout routine that improve our posture and strengthen our upper back.
Below are 5 Bodyweight Exercises you can do at home to help improve your posture and strengthen your upper back to prevent and alleviate neck, shoulder and upper back pain. These moves will also get the big muscles of your upper back activated and working so that you can do more pull-ups and even look better in your summer wear!
1. Scapular Wall Hold
Scapular Wall Holds are a great move to not only get the big muscles of your upper back activated and working, but also improve your posture by stretching and opening up your chest. This is also a great move to have in your repertoire because you can easily do it in your office at your desk!
To do the Scapular Wall Hold, stand with your back to a wall. You shouldn’t stand more than 6 inches away. While standing further from the wall can make the move harder, you don’t need to stand very far away to get the muscles working. It is better to stand closer and focus on the correct muscles working than to stand further away and have your upper traps try to take over and compensate.
Drive your elbows down and back as you press your chest out. Lean back against the wall so that only your elbows are touching.
Brace your abs and engage your glutes so that your body is in a nice straight line. Keep your head in line and do not tuck your chin forward. Pinch your shoulder blades down and back as you drive your elbows back into the wall. Make sure that you don’t shrug your shoulders as you hold or arch your low back.
Think about driving your elbows back and down toward your hips/pockets. Hold in this position and feel your chest opening up and between your shoulder blades working.
2. Corner Rows
The Corner Row is a great variation of the Scapular Wall Hold that adds movement to the basic isometric hold. It is a great way to work on your scapular retraction for pull-ups while also strengthening your upper back and stretching your chest.
To do Corner Rows, you can actually set up in a corner or do them against a flat wall.
Stand in a corner with your back relaxing against the walls and your feet about 6 inches from the corner. Place an elbow against each wall with your elbows bent. With your body in a nice straight line, drive your elbows to press up out of the corner and off the wall. Press your chest out and pinch your shoulder blades down and back.
Relax back into the corner, keeping your body in a nice straight line from your head to your heels. Press back out. Do not arch your low back as you press out. Also, make sure not to shrug your shoulders.
You can also do this just off the wall if you don’t have a useable corner. It is best to start in the Scapular Wall Hold then relax back against the wall from there. You then press back out, driving through your elbows.
3. Scapular Push Ups
If you want to improve your scapular retraction while also working to strengthen your core, you need to include Scapular Push Ups. They are also a great way to improve your coordination and mind-body connection because they require you to control a very small movement and only engage the correct muscles.
If you struggle to engage the correct muscles, regress the move until you are only working your back and core. Do not compensate by dropping your hips or bending your elbows.
To do Scapular Push Ups, set up at the top of a push up on your hands and toes (advanced) or hands and knees (beginner). Make sure your hands are just outside your chest and under your shoulders while your feet or knees are together. Your body should be in a nice straight line from your head to your heels.
Keeping your elbows straight and your body in a nice straight line, pinch your shoulder blades together.
Relax back out even rounding your back up toward the ceiling. Repeat, pinching your shoulder blades back together. This is a small range of motion. Do not bend your elbows or drop your hips toward the ground to make it a bigger move.
If you really struggle to isolate the muscles between your shoulder blades, you can do this move from a quadruped position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
If you do this correctly, you should feel your core, back and even the muscles around your rib cage working.
If you have ever had a shoulder injury or if you plan to play lots of recreational tennis, baseball or softball this summer, you may want to start adding in YTWLs to your workout routine. These are great moves to strengthen your upper back and shoulders to prevent and alleviate shoulder and neck injuries.
YTWLs are actually four different movements to strengthen the muscles all around your shoulder joint. You can do YTWLs lying on the ground or even lying up on a bench. You will get a bigger range of motion if you can use a bench although you can easily do these from the ground. Complete all reps of one motion before moving on to the next.
First, lie on the ground or on a bench and then engage your glutes and keep your lower back relaxed.
To do the Y, reach your arms up overhead with your thumbs pointing up toward the ceiling. Your arms should make the shape of a “Y” with your body.
Then with your glutes engaged lift your arms up as high as you can. Use your back to lift. Do not arch your low back just to lift your arms up higher. Squeeze the muscles of your upper back to lift your arms up.
Hold for a second then relax back down and repeat. Press your chest out as you lift. Complete all reps of the “Y”s before moving on.
To do a T, reach your arms out to both sides at about shoulder height with your thumbs pointing up toward the ceiling.
Your arms should make a “T” with your body. If you are doing this on the ground, you are really only going to lift an inch or two off the ground. Over a bench or stool, you will perform a bigger range of motion because you will drop your hands down toward the ground and then fly them out to the side.
Lift your arms up to the side as if performing a back fly. Pinch your shoulders together as you lift and press your chest out. Do not shrug your shoulders. If you struggle to get the muscles between your shoulder blades to work, you can always bend your elbows very slightly. Drive your thumbs up toward the ceiling, pinching your shoulder blades together then relax your arms back down and repeat. Hold for a second or two at the top.
To do a W, bend your elbows with your palms on the ground and your elbows bent to a little less than 90 degrees. If you are lying on a bench, you may be able to bring your palms together or at least down toward each other.
Bring the backs of your hands up toward the ceiling, pinching your shoulder blades down and back to lift your arms. Try to lift your entire arm evenly and not just drive your elbows back as you lift. Hold for a second or two at the top and then lower back down.
The final move, the L, can be done two different ways depending on where you do it. If you are lying on the ground, you will set up with your elbows bent to 90 degrees and your elbows in line with your shoulders.
With your palms facing the ground, try to rotate the backs of your hands toward the ceiling. Then relax. It may be no more than an inch of movement. You are simply trying to rotate from your shoulders to bring your hands back and up as if reaching your fingers up toward the ceiling while driving your elbows down into the ground.
If you are doing this from a stool or bench, you will actually start with your arms hanging down toward the ground. Lift your arms, bending your elbows to 90 degrees.
Keeping your elbows bent, rotate the backs of your palms up toward the ceiling. Then relax your palms back down to parallel to the ground and finally rotate to drop your hands all the way down toward the ground, extending your arms.
None of these moves involve a big range of motion. Do not rush through the movements.
Cobra is another great move to strengthen your upper back especially if you suffer from neck, shoulder or upper back pain or injury. It can even work your core and glutes.
To do the Cobra, lie face down on the ground with your arms extended down by your sides and your legs out straight. Squeeze your glutes to protect your low back.
Press your chest out and pinch your shoulder blades down and together to lift your chest up off the ground. Hold up off the ground as high as you can and then relax back down. Make sure to keep your glutes engaged to protect your lower back and prevent it from doing all the work.
You can hold very light dumbbells to make the move more challenging. Really focus on pressing the chest out and pinching the shoulder blades down and together to get up off the ground as much as possible.
Using these 5 Bodyweight Exercises you can strengthen your upper back while also improving your posture to prevent and alleviate neck, shoulder and upper back pain and injury!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.