Cute on a squirrel. Much less cute on a human.
We notice it in photographs. We notice it when we unexpectedly see our reflections as we walk past shop windows.
Our head is forward, our shoulders are forward. Our gut droops out and over.
Feeling disgusted, we immediately straighten up, determined never again to let our bodies fall into “the hunch.”
Except…as we continue to examine ourselves…it becomes evident that merely “standing up straight” had two effects.
- It made us look like tools. Like a peacock flaunting its feathers.
- It only made a 20% improvement (and that’s without calculating the detrimental impact of the first effect).
It’s almost not your fault that you look like Quasimodo.
To be fair, your boss probably requires that you spend most of your time sitting with your head and shoulders rolled forward as you read and type on a computer screen. Certainly you should be taking frequent breaks to stretch and reset throughout your work day.
But what about the other hours of your day? Do you go home and continue to work/play on a computer or phone? Do you read? Do you cook? Do you ride a bicycle? Do you drive?
Obviously, I would never advise against reading. Even more so, I would never advise against riding a bicycle! (Unless I’m a pedestrian at the same place and time. Or a driver. Or another cyclist who hadn’t planned on riding with you.)
Once you spend nearly your entire day with poor posture, you go to the gym. Ah, finally time to correct all of the ills of your ways!
After a few push-ups, you hop on the bench for 3 heavy sets of presses. Afterward, feeling like a champ, you head over to do some military presses. You are a beast. Your chest, akin to the peacock’s feathers, will be worth flaunting.
Doooooon’t Doooooo Iiiiiiiit!
“It” being pressing when what you really need to do is pull.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a purpose for pushing. There are many purposes for pushing. And it’s fun!
But most of us push far too much and pull far too little.
Even if you are well-balanced right now, I would recommend a workout regimen that slightly emphasizes pulling over pushing, simply due to functionality and general lifestyle predisposition to shortened frontal/pushing muscles.
Especially if you find yourself with “the hunch,” I recommend re-prioritizing your exercise selection so that your pulling intensity trumps your pushing intensity.
I’m asking you to bump the pecs off the pedestal. Replace it with the rhomboids.
You’ve got plenty of options for the upper-body pull, and most will beautifully target the rhomboids given these perimeters:
- You must emphasize the scapular retraction; initiate the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades.
- You must value slow, controlled reps; avoid using momentum.
The exercises below are your go-to moves to build upper-back pulling strength, which will fortify your rhomboids, and subsequently develop your athleticism and performance, reduce aches and pains from improper balance and alignment, help fix your posture, and thus make you appear younger and leaner.
These are literally the next best thing to a miracle.
- Pull-ups/Chin-ups: Performed with rings or a bar, bodyweight or with weight hanging from your waist, any variation will do!
- Horizontal Bodyweight Rows: Performed using a barbell or straps with handles, place your body at an angle that suits your strength.
- Bent-Over Rows: Performed using a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbells, stabilizing your core and creating movement from upper back–with or without using a bench as a prop.
- Chest-Supported Rows: Performed using kettlebells or dumbbells, using full range of motion; these include batwing rows, arguably the best for the job!
- Face Pulls: Performed as a bodyweight exercise using straps with handles or as a cable or resistance band exercise using handles or ropes, keep elbows straight out from sides throughout the motion.
- Standing Back Flyes: Performed using a cable machine or resistance band, focusing on initiating the movement through squeezing your shoulder blades and keeping the movement smooth.
*For exercises 1 through 3, you can mix it up: Sometimes go heavy for a few reps, sometimes go lighter for more reps. For exercises 4 through 6, focus more on form, and play around with using lighter resistance; rather than trying to jerk the heaviest weight you can possible heave, I recommend progressing intensity by slowing down the tempo and pausing at the top of the movement for a teeth-gritting squeeze.
“How much do you bench, bruh?”
“How long can you hold your 15-lb. dumbbell batwing row squeeze, bruh?”
Drop a comment below if you’d like clarification on any of the exercises presented above. In fact, I’m happy to do video demonstrations if there’s interest! Just let me know.
For now, here’s your 5-minute prescription (which has nothing to do with rows and everything to do with lunges because I just made a video (here) highlighting them):
30s alternating reverse lunge
30s alternating front lunge
30s alternating lateral [side] lunge
30s plyo lunges
Repeat 5x, with as little rest as possible, limited to in-between sets.
P.S. If you want well-balanced workouts, with plenty of variety of pulls and pushes, you might wish to have access to Pat’s Inner Circle. <–Click to subscribe!
P.P.S. If you want to improve your posture, focus on “shoulder blades back and down” rather than the awkward chest-protrusion, gut-suck most of us try.