Building the right muscles can do a ton for your posture.
When you spend a ton of time sitting—especially if you’re hunched over a screen—your head, neck, and shoulders tend to pull forward, leading to that rounded posture, as SELF reported. That improper posture can cause uncomfortable tightness.
One way to help fight this tendency to slump is by devoting time to working the muscles in your posterior chain, or the back of your body, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. These include your rhomboids (an upper back muscle that connects your shoulder blades to your rib cage), mid to lower trapezius (the muscles across the back of your neck and upper back), and your rear deltoids (the back of your shoulders).
“The muscles associated with good posture are the ones that retract the shoulder blades, depress the shoulder blades, and put the shoulder blades in a good position in order to help keep you upright,” she says.
Working these muscles, as well as other muscles in the back of your body, like your latissimus dorsi (the large, triangular muscles that span the width of your lower back), help counteract that forward slouch and work to build more balanced, total-body strength. Many people tend to neglect the muscles in their backs in favor of movements that work front-of-the-body muscles, like presses, front raises, and lateral raises, says Fagan.
That’s why many trainers recommend you work your back muscles in a two-to-one ratio to your pushing muscles, says Fagan—that means for every one set of push-ups you do, for instance, you should do two sets of an exercise that targets your posterior chain.
This workout is a great way to really hone in on those back-of-the body muscles, while giving your arms some extra TLC too. Although your biceps are firing in any pulling movement, adding in some isolated biceps work—which this back and biceps workout incorporates as a finisher—can help you gain serious strength in your arms.
The best part? This workout will give you a complete back-of-the-body burn in just over 20 minutes.
Banded shoulder external rotation
Side-lying rear delt raise
Cross-body bicep curl
For Superset 1, complete 8 reps on each side of the row and then, without resting, perform 12–15 reps of the shoulder external rotation. Rest for 1–2 minutes. Complete 3 rounds total.
For Superset 2, complete 10 reps of the pullover and then, without resting, perform 12 reps on each side of the rear delt raise. Rest for 1–2 minutes. Complete 3 rounds total.
For the finisher, complete 12–15 reps of the bicep curl on each side. Rest for 30–60 seconds. Complete 3 sets total.
Demoing the moves below are Nathalie Huerta (GIFs 1 and 3), coach at the Queer Gym in Oakland, California; Hejira Nitoto (GIF 2), a mom of six and a certified personal trainer and fitness-apparel-line owner based in Los Angeles; and Erica Gibbons (GIFs 4 and 5), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a weight in your right hand with your arm at your side. Step forward with your left foot and rest your left hand on your left quad. This is the starting position.
- With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back, and bend your left knee, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)
- Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position.
- Pull the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blade for two seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbow should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.
- Slowly lower the weight by extending your arms toward the floor. That’s 1 rep. Complete 8 reps on one side, then switch sides.
Rows are a great exercise to target the muscles in between your shoulder blades, which play a huge role in posture, says Fagan.
Banded Shoulder External Rotation
- Hold a looped resistance band in your hands, palms facing up. Bend your elbows so your forearms are in a straight line. This is starting position.
- Keeping your elbows tight at your sides, move your palms away from each other, then bring them back to starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 12–15 reps.
The shoulder external rotation works your rotator cuff muscles and your rear delts, helping to strengthen the back of your body, says Fagan.
- Lie on your side on a mat with a dumbbell in front of you. Grab the weight with both hands, hold it to your chest, and turn flat on your back. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
- Grip the dumbbell securely at each side with each hand. Lift it into the air directly above your shoulders, keeping your arms straight.
- Slowly bring the dumbbell over your head and gently touch it to the floor.
- Bring the weight back to starting position, engaging your core as you move the weight. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 10 reps.
The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise to work your lats when you can’t make it to a gym—think of it as the at-home version of a lat pull-down, says Fagan.
Side-Lying Rear Delt Raise
- Lie on a mat on your right side, holding a light dumbbell in your left hand. Support your head with your right hand for comfort. Keep your body in a straight line, bending your knees for stability.
- Bring the weight straight up in the air over your shoulder. Slowly lower the weight straight down so it hovers a few inches above the floor. In a controlled motion, bring the weight back up to starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Complete 12 reps, then switch sides.
While your rear deltoids are part of your shoulder, they can also be considered part of your body’s posterior chain, since they are in the back of your body, says Fagan. Many shoulder exercises work the front or medial parts of your shoulder, leaving the rear delts underworked.
Cross-Body Bicep Curl
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in.
- Curl one dumbbell up across your body toward your opposite shoulder, keeping your palms facing in. Squeeze your bicep when you reach the top.
- Slowly return your arm to starting position, then switch sides.
- Continuing alternating sides for 12–15 reps each.
Pulling movements like rows work your biceps, but isolated arms exercises like this one give an extra stimulus to your upper-arm muscles to help you get stronger and build muscle, says Fagan.
Author: Christa Sgobba