The sedentary lifestyle that most of us have today which causes a hunched over or “hunchback” posture. This is mainly caused by sitting at a desk, driving, sitting on the sofa, texting while looking down at your phone, etc. The rounding of the upper spine (thoracic) is called kyphosis.
The position we all sit in too much causes a tightening of the chest and a weakening/loosening of the upper back muscles. To fix this we need to stretch and loosen the chest muscles and strengthen the upper back muscles.
Loosening the Chest
Firstly, to address the tight chest we must get a regular and effective chest stretch. Preferable at the end of a workout because the muscles are most flexible at the end of a workout. The usual chest stretch (hands together behind back while pushing chest forward) that is taught in my opinion is not effective enough. The best chest stretch is performed an arm at a time. A solid upright pillar is needed, a door frame is perfect for this. You perform this stretch by standing side on to the door frame and placing your lower arm on the door frame (elbow to hand). Then keeping a side on stance to the door frame and not twisting the shoulders, slowly moving your torso forward, so your elbow is moving towards your back. Carry on until you feel the stretch in your chest muscle (pectoral). You should hold this stretch for at least 30 secs but I would recommend 1 minute to cause real change. This stretch can be performed with both arms on a either side of the door frame but personally I do not like it. I feel it puts stress on my shoulders and doesn’t give me the same control.
Strengthening the upper back
There are 2 main things we need to achieve here and that is straightening the upper spine and pulling back the shoulders.
I will start with the latter. The best exercise for this is a Row. There many ways to perform this exercise. Barbell, dumbbell, resistance bands and machines. They all are the same movement which involves pulling your hands from out in front of you to your stomach. If you’re new to exercising I would recommend using the resistance machine row first. You are supported and it’s the safest way to perform this exercise while still getting most of the benefits. A really important part of this exercise for pulling the shoulders back is to really concentrate on your form. Making sure you pull your arms back as far as you can really squeezing at end of the movement. I would then recommend moving onto cable row. The main thing that needs to be implemented here is a safe a neutral spine position before you lift the weight. If done incorrectly this could cause problems with your lower back in future. If you are used to the gym and understand how to perform these lifts correctly, dumbell and barbell row are also very useful lifts for this purpose.
Straightening the Upper Spine
For this I would recommend back-extension exercise. This can be performed on the floor with an exercise mat, bench or machines. The mat variation is best for beginners. To perform this, lie face down on the mat with hand by your sides. Then lift you head and upper back as high as you can. It most likely won’t be very far. Again concentrate on form and lift as high as you can, with a squeeze and hold at the top. This will require as many reps as is appropriate. A good start would be 10-20 reps. A bench is the next place to go. You’re supported and can move through a much larger RoM (range of movement) than on the floor. They are also good because once your bodyweight isn’t enough resistance, you can add additional weight (eg. dumbbell). Machines are very rare but still exist in gyms with very old equipment and will still be useful.
A foam roller can help straighten the upper back and can be very useful for regaining normal health posture
You also need to think about how you stand and hold yourself. A lot of posture is sub-conscious. To help fix this we must think about it. Shoulders back, chest pushed out and head up. This will be uncomfortable at first but the more you can do it and catch yourself falling back into your old bad posture, the faster you will cure it.