Before we get into it, I want to ask you a couple of questions…
Do you find yourself constantly slouching?
Do you think you might have a forward head position and/or rounded shoulders?
Do you work in an office and/or spend a good part of your day sitting?
If yes, read onwards.
If no, stay tuned for my next post… But you can still read onwards because you may also find this interesting. 😉
The posture I have described above is characteristic of a condition dubbed “Upper Crossed Syndrome,” and can often be corrected with the help of some easy techniques… so don’t fret if you’re currently suffering from it. There is hope for you.
It’s important to note that your body should have the ability to move in and out of various postures – so occasionally sitting in a slumped position isn’t the end of the world. Instead, problems arise when we spend so long in one given posture, our muscles adapt, and we begin to live there.
The are a number of reasons why these adaptations can occur, including daily activities (e.g. long durations of sitting), your body’s response to an injury, or even genetic factors.
Symptoms of this posture can include neck, shoulder, or back pain, tension-related headaches, and the inability to breathe well using your diaphragm.
Dr. Vladimir Janda, the man who coined Upper Crossed Syndrome, theorizes that certain muscles in an Upper Crossed Syndrome are “tonic” or prone to tightness.
- Pectoralis major & minor
- Upper trapezius
- Levator scapulae
- Sernocleidomastoid (STM)
Muscles in this posture that are “phasic” or prone to weakness include the…
- Serratus anterior
- Lower and middle trapezius
- Deep neck flexors
Here’s a visual of Upper Crossed Syndrome ⬇
Now that you have a general idea of what’s going on, I’m sure you’re wondering, how do you address it?
In order to correct this posture, you need to release the tight muscles and strengthen the weak ones. Okay there are a few more steps to it then that, but that is the ultimate goal we’re trying to achieve when rectifying this issue.
Here is How You Can Reverse Upper Crossed Syndrome
The step-by-step guide.
STEP 1: Learn to breathe with your diaphragm
You MUST learn how to breathe with your diaphragm. You breathe approximately 20,000 times per day. If you are stuck in an upper crossed posture, you are likely taking shallow breaths using your chest and neck to breathe instead of using your diaphragm—which is meant to be your primary breathing muscle. As a result, muscles like your scalenes, STM, upper trapezius and levator scapulae, which are usually secondary breathing muscles, become primary breathers responsible for inhalation.
This is not what you want.
Think about it as 20,000 breaths a day feeding tension into muscles that are already tight. Sounds pretty terrible, right?
Well, once you learn how to use your diaphragm correctly, and reset your breathing throughout the day, it allows the muscles above to be inhibited, or relax and do the job that they’re supposed to do as your accessory breathing muscles.
You might see some improvements with steps 2-4 without proper breathing practice, but if you skip step 1, I guarantee you will not see the same progress.
STEP 2: Complete release work and stretching to help inhibit tight muscles
Next, I like to stretch out my upper traps, levator scapulae, pecs and occasionally my SCM and scalenes. I would recommend holding each stretch for approximately 30 seconds per side.
If you have a desk job, try and complete these regularly throughout your day.
STEP 3: Start engaging muscles prone to weakness
This is where things get fun!
Wall exercises are an awesome way to hit the lower traps and the serratus, and are surprisingly challenging if completed in good form.
This video demonstrates 3 awesome drills to try:
Band Pull-A-Parts are a quick and easy drill to work your middle trapezius muscle. You can incorporate these into your warm up or complete a few sets at the end of your workout.
In order to strengthen your deep neck flexors, it’s important to get into a neutral head position. Below is a visual on how to go from a head forward position to more of a neutral posture during a front plank.
To help engage your neck flexors, it may help to press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and think about lengthening through the back of your neck… and embracing the double chin that follows. 😉
It may also be beneficial to adopt a pull-to-push ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 as you work on correcting some of these imbalances. If imbalances are present, overdoing it with heavy or high volume pressing can slow your progress and feed the imbalances that you are trying to correct.
Also, most rowing exercises will help to strengthen your rhomboid muscles, including a tried and true classic, the Bent Over Row; which is demo’d in the video below.
Okay there you have it.
Keep in mind that every single person is built differently with individual imbalances. These guidelines offer general corrections that may help in time to improve your posture, bring you out of pain, or to improve your performance. To find out what’s best for you, schedule an assessment with us!
*Note: When correcting Upper Crossed Syndrome, or any imbalance for that matter, you need to be mindful that you don’t go into an extended position (e.g. extending your spine past it’s natural position), as this can be equally detrimental to your body.
Boyle, K., Olinick, J. & Lewis, C. (2010). The Value of Blowing Up A Balloon. North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 5(3): 179-188.
Page, P., Frank, C. & Lardner, R (2010). Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances: The Janda Approach. Windsor, ON: Human Kinetics.