3 quick exercises for strengthening desk-sore shoulders

Do you spend most of the day sat slumped over your laptop? If so, stop what you’re doing and have a read of this – your crunchy neck and shoulders will thank you.

“Stand up straight” may have been the barking order we resented from our parents and teachers back in the day but, as much as it pains us to admit it, they may have had a point. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror after a hard day hunched over the computer, you’ll have clocked how rounded your shoulders have become.

It’s not just that rounded shoulders look odd – they’re the modern day phenomenon that’s the source of many aches and pains. Even the NHS warns against them.

“Over the past several years, there has been a growing concern regarding a ‘rounded shoulder’ posture,” explains Jaco Visagie, senior physiotherapist at Ultra Sports Clinic. “Not only is it one of the leading causes of multiple injuries, but let’s be honest, it just doesn’t look great.”

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Sculpt stronger shoulders with an overhead press

Similarly to the growing issue of neck pain (or ‘tech neck’ as it’s widely known), rounded shoulders are largely down to, you guessed it, technology. Hunched over our phones and curled around our keyboards for large portions of the day and night has caused our form to quite literally round inwards. 

In an upright posture, the head normally weighs about 10 to 12lbs. However, when it’s tilted forward (scrolling through Instagram or filling in spreadsheets), it can put additional strain on the neck, adding up to 60lbs of pressure onto the surrounding shoulder muscles. 

Whether we’re leaning forwards in sustained postures or overusing those frontal muscles, Visagie tells Stylist that it can lead to an imbalance of the muscles that surround the shoulders – pulling them forwards. “It also leads to a lack of movement in our thoracic spine (mid-back region) which is the part of the spine that we need to be most mobile,” he says.

“The four main muscles that we need to focus on correcting rea the pectoralis minor (chest muscle) which is usually shortened, the often weak or inactive rhomboids (between shoulders blades), the lower fibres of trapezius (mid-back along the spine), and the infraspinatus (part of the rotator cuff muscle group) which can be inactive leading to neck and shoulder pain.”

Adding postural exercises to your workout can help to reduce aches and pains

It’s easy enough to retract the shoulders when a trainer points out how rounded your posture is, but we ideally want to be in a position they sit back naturally. We’re not suggesting that you quit your desk job or start balancing books on your head (unless you want to), but including postural exercises into your workout can counteract the damaging affect rounded shoulders can have. 

“The spaces in the shoulder joint where a lot of tendons and nerves run through get compromised when they are not in the neutral position we would like them to be in,” Visagie says. “The body functions as a moving chain, so when there is a problem at the one end of this chain, it is important to consider what is going on at the other areas too. 

“Often patients presenting with rounded shoulders also complain of neck pain and headaches, caused by shortening of the neck muscles and the chin starting to poke forwards.” 

To ‘fix’ the problem (and if you do keep getting aches and pains then rounded shoulders really are something that need to be addressed), he recommends looking at working on mid-back mobility and restoring balance between postural and frontal muscles. 

“It is also really important to take frequent breaks when working at the desk for hours on end,” he stresses. “Although it isn’t always possible to sit with a perfect posture for eight hours a day, it is still important to change your positions every 20-30 minutes. Even though office chairs with optimal support and desk heights are not the ultimate solution to this problem, they do contribute to the prevention of it. Another good option to consider is a desk where you can alternate between sitting and standing.”

3 exercises for correcting rounded shoulders

We don’t need to have ram-rod straight backs. All we want is to be functionally fit, and that means having control over how our shoulders move and where our heads sit in relation to our necks and upper back muscles. Here are three of Visagie’s quick and simple exercises for rebalancing posture.  

Foam roller extension

Work out any tension that’s become stored in the mid-back.

  1. Place the foam roller in the middle of the mid-back.
  2. Support the head with your hands.
  3. Keep the chin tucked in.
  4. Drop the head and shoulders down towards the floor.
  5. Hold position 15 seconds and repeat four times.

Pec minor stretch (aka Scorpion stretch)

This will stretch any shortened chest muscles that are pulling the shoulders forward.

  1. Lying face down on the floor.
  2. Extend your arms out horizontally and bend at the elbows so they’re now like an upside-down goal post.
  3. Pushing your left shoulder off the mat with your left hand, lift your left foot off the floor and bring it behind your right leg. 
  4. Keep the right shoulder and leg on the floor.
  5. Hold position for 20s and repeat three times before repeating on the other side.


    This will help to strengthen the muscles at the back to help pull the shoulders back

    1. Begin by lying on your stomach (preferably on a bench but the floor would work too).
    2. Extend your arms ahead of you, lifting them into a ‘Y’ shape with the thumbs pointing to the ceiling.
    3. Keep the core engaged, glutes activated and shoulder blades squeezed before bringing your arms out horizontally into a ‘T’ shape.
    4. From the ‘T’ shape, tuck your elbows in to form a ‘W’ shape, squeezing the shoulder muscles as you do.
    5. Hold each of these positions for 10 seconds before moving onto the next one, remembering to keep the back neutral and the chin tucked in at all times.

    Got bad back ache? Try our juicy, 15-minute mobility class designed to loosen and lengthen tight upper bodies.

    Image: Getty

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