Blame it on all the time you spend doing computer work, driving, lifting babies, or scrolling through your Instagram feed on your phone: All of these activities (and more!) contribute to the rounding forward of your shoulders, creating tight muscles that cause a telltale “hunch.” The good news? “It’s relatively easy to unlock tight shoulders and chest muscles with simple exercises that can be done while sitting on a chair, standing, kneeling, or sitting on the floor,” says Meg Plotsky, group exercise and corporate recreation coordinator at the Well & Being Spa at the Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas. “These exercises and stretches are truly accessible to everyone, and can be done any time throughout the day.” Here, Plotsky and other personal trainers, physical therapists, and chiropractors share their favorite exercises that un-hunch your shoulders instantly. (Looking for more ways to live a happy, healthy life? Order Prevention—and get a FREE Yoga DVD when you subscribe today.)
Goal Post Stretch
When your shoulders are rounded, the front of your chest collapses inward. This stretch opens up those chest muscles and “re-sets” your shoulders so they’re in their natural position, says Plotsky.
How-to: Grab a yoga strap, jump rope, or belt, then come to a comfortable seated or standing position. Take your strap or belt in both hands and straighten your arms out at shoulder height, with your palms facing down. Bring your hands a little wider than shoulder-distance apart on the strap and on an inhale, lift the strap up and overhead palms facing forward. As you exhale, bend your elbows to about shoulder height and lower the strap, drawing your shoulder blades down your back and in toward your spine. (Think goal post arms with the strap behind your head.) Inhale and reach your arms back up; exhale and return to your starting position with your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Back Bound Hand Stretch
When you spend much of your day with your shoulders hunched, that inward rotation of your shoulders can become habitual. This move counteracts that bad habit, says Plotsky. (Find out what your posture says about your health.)
How-to: Come to a comfortable seated or standing position and slide your shoulder blades down away from your ears and together toward your spine. Then bring both arms and hands behind you. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and your left elbow with your right hand. (If this is too hard, grab your wrist or forearm with the opposite hand.) Lift your chest and press your shoulder blades down your back while drawing them toward your spine. Take 3 to 5 deep breaths, then switch sides by grabbing your left elbow with your right hand and your right elbow with your left hand. Lift your chest and press your shoulder blades down your back and toward your spine. Again, take 3 to 5 deep breaths here.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze
This move strengthens the scapular/shoulder blade muscles, which prevent your shoulders from hunching forward and also gives you better awareness of good posture, says Jesse Lewis, a physical therapist in Bethesda, Maryland, and a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
How-to: Sit up tall with good posture and bring both shoulder blades together as if you were holding a pencil between them and down away from your ears as you squeeze. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times, and repeat this move 3 to 4 times throughout your day.
Soft Tissue Chest Massage
Lewis says this move loosens up your chest muscles, which is important because when they’re tight, they pull your shoulders forward, worsening a hunch.
How-to: Take a lacrosse ball or tennis ball and place it against your pectoral muscles, just inside your shoulder bone and underneath your collar bone. Lean gently up against a corner of a wall, with your chest resting against the ball on the wall and your face in the space the corner makes. Press gently into the wall with your body and massage throughout this area. If you find a tender spot, let the pressure of the ball sit against that knot until you feel the tightness release.
Great to do first thing in the morning or before you go to sleep, this relaxed chest-opener also helps to loosen tight pecs, which can cause your shoulders to hunch forward, says Lewis.
How-to: Lay flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms out to the side, palms up, as if forming a “T” with your body. You can increase the stretch by placing a rolled towel or foam roller lengthwise along your spine. Make sure to keep both your hips and head on the roller or towel if you’re using one. Stay here for 10 minutes each day.
This exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back, which reinforces proper alignment in the shoulders, says Jill Franklin, a certified Pilates, yoga, and aerial instructor in Los Angeles.
How-to: Attach a resistance band to a steady doorknob or piece of furniture at waist level. Grab the ends of the band and step a few feet away, then place your feet parallel and hip distance apart. Soften your knees and keep your torso upright with an elongated spine (you can also sit on a chair or stability ball). Begin to bend your elbows back behind your waist while squeezing your shoulder blades together, then slowly return to your starting position. Start with 10 reps then increase to 2 or 3 sets of 10. If you want more resistance, step farther away from the doorknob; if you want less resistance, move closer.
This exercise not only strengthens the muscles responsible for holding your shoulders back (the opposite movement of hunching them forward), but it also reminds the brain where shoulder range of motion should be, says Eric Saxton, a chiropractor in Sterling, Virginia.
How-to: Stand with your back against the wall with your arms out to your side and then bend your elbows and rotate your arms so that the back of your hands are touching the wall directly above your elbows. Slowly move your arms up and over your head while focusing on maintaining contact between your elbows, hands, and the wall, and then lower your arms. Only go as high or as low as you can to keep the backs of your hands and elbows in constant contact with the wall. Raise and lower your arms like this 10 times slowly, as if making a snow angel on the wall.