How to Fix Rounded Shoulders (Best Exercises)

What are Rounded shoulders?

rounded shoulders

Having Rounded shoulders is when the resting shoulder position is in front of the mid line of the torso. (see picture above)

It generally involves the scapula being in a position of Protraction:

  • Lateral glide
  • Anterior tilt
  • Internal rotation

The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information: Medical disclaimer.


What muscles cause Rounded Shoulders?

The hunched postures you continually adopt throughout the day disrupts the normal balance of muscular activity in your shoulders.

In Rounded Shoulders, there is an imbalance of tension between the muscles that pull the shoulder blades forwards and the muscles that pull the shoulder blades backwards.

Think about it this way: There’s a tug-of-war battle between the muscles at the front and back of the shoulders (… And the muscles at the front are winning!).


a) Tight and/or Overactive muscles:

These muscles are PULLING the shoulder blades into the forward position.

(We need to Stretch/Release these muscles!)

  • Pec Major/Minor
  • Subclavius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Upper Trapezius
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Anterior Deltoid

b) Weak and/or Inhibited muscles:

The following muscles ARE NOT PULLING the shoulder blades backwards into a neutral position.

(We need to Activate/Strengthen these muscles!)

  • Mid/lower trapezius
  • Rhomboids

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Symptoms

rounded shoulders symptoms

Having hunched shoulders will essentially place more pressure on the whole back!

This can lead to painful areas as shown in the above picture.

It may also predispose your shoulder blade to make clicking noises as you move it.

how to tell if you have Rounded shoulders

a) Position of palm

rounded shoulders test

Instructions:

  • Stand up right with your normal posture.
  • Have a quick glance at the position of your hands.
  • … Which way are your palms facing?

Results: If your palms are facing behind you, then it is likely that you have Rounded Shoulders.


b) Shoulder position when lying down

test for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Lie down with your back flat against the floor and arms by your side.
  • Do the back of your shoulders naturally rest on the floor? Or do they sit in a forward position?
  • (DON’T CHEAT! Make sure that you are not over arching your lower back!)

Results: If the back of the shoulders do not come in contact with the floor, then it is likely that you have Rounded Shoulders.


c) Side profile:

rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Get someone to take a photo of your posture in side profile.
  • Draw a vertical line along the mid line of your torso.
  • Draw a vertical line along the mid line of your shoulder.
  • Compare these 2 lines.

ResultsIf the shoulder line is in front of the torso line, then it is likely that have Rounded Shoulders.


d) Only one shoulder is rounded

one shoulder is more forward

If you have a twisted spine, it can give the appearance of having one shoulder rolled forwards.

For example – if your left shoulder is rounded forwards, it could be due to the fact that your torso is twisted towards the right side.

Exercises for Rounded shoulders

Mark Wong

Recommendation: Perform the following exercises 2-3/week to gain a sense of what each exercise feels like.
Over time –  see how your body responds and adjust frequency accordingly.

1. Releases

Tight muscles will lock the shoulders in the forward position.

It is important to release these muscle first as to enable the shoulders to be re-positioned correctly.

Release technique:

  • Locate the targets areas. (mentioned below)
  • Place the massage ball directly under these muscles.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the ball.
    • If it’s tight…. it’s going to be tender!
  • Perform a gentle circular motion over these areas.
  • Do NOT hold your breath.
    • Ease off the pressure if you are tensing up.
  • Make sure you cover the entire muscle.
  • Duration: 1-2 minutes

(Note: If you are not familiar with where the following muscles are located, it will be a good idea to Google them!)

a) Chest release

chest release for rounded shoulders

Target muscles:

  • Pec Major
  • Pec Minor
  • Subclavius
  • Anterior Deltoid

b) Side release

latissimus dorsi release

Target muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Serratus Anterior

c) Upper Trapezius

upper trapezius release

Target muscles:

  • Upper Trapezius

2. Rounded Shoulders Stretches

Make sure that you are getting into the correct position so that you can feel the stretch.


a) Chest stretch

rounded shoulders stretches

Instructions:

  • Place both hands on the door frame. (see above)
  • Pull your shoulders back.
    • “Open up your chest”
  • Lunge forwards.
  • Do not arch your lower back.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in the chest region.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Lateral (side) stretch

stretches for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Assume the position above.
  • Whilst holding onto the door frame, let your upper arm take the weight of your body.
    • “Let your body hang”
  • Whilst anchoring your legs as shown, aim to bend your mid section as much as possible.
    • Use your body weight to sink into the stretch
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your torso.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

c) Upper trapezius

upper trapezius stretch

Instructions:

  • Pull your shoulders back and down.
  • Tilt your head to the side.
  • Using your hand, pull your head further into the tilt.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

3. Improve shoulder internal rotation

If you lack shoulder internal rotation, the shoulder can compensate by hitching upwards/forwards in certain arm positions.


a) Stretch the back of shoulder

posterior capsule stretch

Instructions:

  • Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout this stretch.
  • Bring your arm across the body towards the opposite shoulder.
  • Pull the arm further across the body.
  • Aim to feel a stretch behind the shoulder region.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Internal rotation

hand behind back stretch

Instructions:

  • Place both hands behind your back. (see above)
  • Hold onto your hand/wrist.
  • Lift your elbows towards the backwards direction.
  • Gentle pull your should blades together.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Improve shoulder extension

If you lack full shoulder extension, the scapula will sit in the dumped forwards position (Anterior tilt of the Scapula) and lead to slumped shoulders.


a) Stretch front of shoulder

stretch for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Sit on a chair.
  • Place both hands on side the of the chair.
  • Pull your shoulders BACK and tip them BACKWARDS.
    • (Lock this position in throughout the stretch!)
  • Keep your elbows pointing backwards.
  • Slowly sink your body backwards. Your elbows should start to bend.
    • (Do NOT let those shoulders tip forwards!)
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the front of the shoulders.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

b) Practice pure extension

shoulder extension

Instructions:

  • Pull your shoulders BACK and tip them BACKWARDS.
    • (Lock this position in throughout the exercise!)
  • Without allowing the shoulder blade to tip forwards, bring your arm as far backwards as possible.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 30 times.

5. Control your Scapula

When fixing Rounded Shoulders: It is VITAL to know how to perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt.

These scapula movements will help get the shoulder into a more neutral position.

(Note: You will need to know how to do these movements correctly before proceeding to the strengthening exercises.)


a) Scapula Retraction

exercises for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Maintain wide and long shoulders.
  • Perform Scapular Retraction: (see above)
    • “Pull your shoulder blades together”
  • FEEL the contraction between the shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Scapula Posterior Tilt

rounded shoulder exercises

Instructions:

  • Maintain wide and long shoulders.
  • Perform Scapular Posterior tilt: (see above)
    • “Rotate the shoulder blade BACKWARDS.”
    • Imagine the bottom of your shoulder blade digging into your ribs.
  • Aim to FEEL the muscles contract at the base of the scapula.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

6. Strengthening

If you have completed all of the above exercises, your shoulders should be feeling much more flexible.

(… but this is only half of the journey!)

Having the flexibility in your shoulder merely allows the potential to have them in a better position.

You will need to strengthen the muscles to maintain the Rounded Shoulders correction.


a) Elbows flares

strengthening exercises for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Place both hands (with elbows forward) on the sides of your head. (see Start position)
  • Bring your elbows all the back. (see End position)
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt whilst pulling elbows backwards.
  • Feel the contraction between the shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

b) Wall press and squeeze

rhomboid squeeze

Instructions:

  • Place both hands high up on a wall in front of you.
  • Lean firmly into your hands.
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt.
  • Lift your hands off the wall without moving your torso.
  • Aim to feel the muscular contraction between your shoulder blades.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.

c) Prone arm circles

arm circles

Instructions:

  • Support your chest on a stool.
    • (Keep your torso parallel with the floor)
  • Place your hands out to the side. (see above)
  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior tilt throughout the exercise.
  • Draw small circles in a backwards direction.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Continue for 30-60 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

d) Prone angel

rounded shoulders exercises

Instructions:

  • Support your chest on a stool.
    • (Keep your torso parallel with the floor)
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Perform and maintain Scapula Retraction and Posterior tilt throughout the exercise.
  • Transition to the arms over head position.
  • Keep your hands higher than your elbows.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Repeat 10 times.

e) Wall angel

best exercise for rounded shoulders

Instructions:

  • Stand with your back to a wall.
  • Keep your back and arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall at all times.
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Transition to the arms over head position.
  • Remember to perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior Tilt throughout all movements.
  • Aim to feel the muscles between your shoulder blades activate.
  • Repeat 10 times.

7. Strengthen your chest muscles

Once you have achieved a more neutral shoulder position with the mentioned exercises for Rounded Shoulders, the next step is to eccentrically strengthen your chest muscles.

Eccentric training is where you strengthen the muscle as it is lengthening.

(… This will help stretch your chest muscles even more!)


The Eccentric push up

eccentric strengthening of the chest muscles

Instructions:

  • Assume a push up position against a door frame.
  • Lean your weight into your hands.
  • Keep your shoulders pulled back throughout the exercise.
    • Maintain the Scapular Posterior Tilt and Retraction!
  • Slowly lower your chest down towards the wall as you bend your elbows.
  • Do not let your elbows flare outwards.
  • Aim to go as deep as possible so that you feel a deep stretch in the chest muscles.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Progression:
    • Go deeper into the movement.
    • Perform on the floor.
    • Bench press or dumbbell chest press.

8. Tape your posture

Taping your shoulder in the correct position will help remind you to maintain your good shoulder posture.

Instructions:

  • Perform Scapula Retraction and Posterior tilt.
    • “Pull your shoulder blades together”
    • “Rotate the shoulder blade BACKWARDS.”
  • Place the tape starting from above collar bone and pull back and down to the middle of your thoracic spine.  (as above)
  • Make sure you place firm downward pressure when applying the tape.
  • Do both sides.
  • Depending on your skin irritability, you can leave the tape on for up to ~2 days.

9. Brace for Rounded shoulders

Wearing a brace to prevent your shoulders from rolling forward can be helpful in this initial stages of fixing your posture.

My only warning is that you DO NOT become reliant on it!

10. What is the correct shoulder position?

This is a quick and easy way to reset your shoulders into a more neutral position.

If you ever forget where your shoulder should be, do this:


correct shoulder position

Instructions:

  • Reach and stretch out your hands as far to opposite sides as possible. (see above)
  • Retraction: Slightly bring your arms backwards.
    • Make sure you can feel a gentle contraction between your shoulder blades
  • Posterior Tilt: Turn your palms towards the back as far as you can so that your thumbs are almost pointing towards the floor.
  • Take note of your shoulder position. Keep this position! And gently lower your arms by your side.
  • Think: “Wide and long shoulders”. 
  • Do NOT over squeeze your shoulders back together.

11. Other areas to consider

When fixing Rounded Shoulders, it is strongly recommended that you also address the following postural deviations:


a) Address Hunchback Posture

hunchback posture and rounded shoulders

A thoracic spine (upper back) that is hunched forwards will force the shoulders to round forwards.

For more information: How to fix HunchBack Posture

Here’s a quick exercise you can do for it:

Thoracic extension with foam roller

Instructions:

  • Place a foam roller underneath the most curved point in your thoracic spine. (see above)
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight onto the foam roller.
  • Lean backwards.
    • … but do not let your lower rib cage flare outwards.
  • Aim to feel the foam roller pushing into your back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Address Forward Head posture

forward head posture and rounded shoulders

A Forward Head Posture is where the position of the head is in front of the mid line of the torso.

If the head is forwards, it is likely that the shoulders are rounded forwards as well.

For more information: How to fix Forward Head Posture

12. Common Questions

a) Does sleeping on your side cause Rounded Shoulders?

Although sleeping on the side encourages the forward rounding of the shoulders, it is not likely the only cause!

If your side sleeping is significantly contributing to your rounded shoulders, I would encourage you to sleep on your back.

In this position, gravity will actually assist in pushing your shoulders back into a more ideal position.

How to sleep to fix Rounded Shoulders:

How to sleep to fix Rounded Shoulders

Note: If sleeping on your back is uncomfortable on the shoulders, consider placing a pillow under the shoulder and arms. (see above)

b) How long does it take to fix Rounded Shoulders?

This is a very common question that I receive… but also a very difficult one to answer!

There are many factors that contribute to the shoulder position. As a result, time frame to recovery will vary from person to person.

Generally speaking – I would suggest that you persist with the exercises for at least 3 months.

If there has been a lack of noticeable improvement, it is likely that other areas of your posture will need to be addressed as well. (see section 11)

c) What are some exercises to avoid with Rounded Shoulders?

You do not necessarily have to avoid any exercises.

The main thing is to avoid performing exercises with the shoulders in the rounded forwards position.

If you are involved with a sport which requires for your shoulder to be in hunched position (eg. Boxing, Cycling, Swimming butterfly stroke, Rock climbing), then make sure you are following up with your corrective exercises!


Conclusion:

To fix your Rounded Shoulders, you will need to:

  • Release and Stretch the tight muscles that are holding your shoulders in the forwards position.
  • Activate and Strengthen the weak muscles that are responsible for pulling your shoulders into the ideal position.
  • Learn how to control your shoulder blades. (especially with posterior tilt and retraction)
  • Be aware of your posture throughout the day and aim to maintain a good shoulder position.
  • Address other aspects of your posture.

I wish you all the best!


What to do next:

1. Any questions?… Leave me a comment down below.

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!


About Mark Wong:

Mark is a Physiotherapist who has been helping his patients fix their posture for the past 11 years. He created the Posture Direct blog in 2015 with the goal of helping as many people fix their own posture.

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605 thoughts on “How to Fix Rounded Shoulders (Best Exercises)”

  1. Hi mark wondering if you could helper with this problem I’ve developed over the 4 years I been weight training my left shoulder is sitting higher but my problem is my left bicep has shortened and I feel like my arm is internally rotated and when I do curls or any left arm work it feels like my bicep isn’t working properly and my forearm is doing most the work and now I’m getting real bad upper back and neck pain so I’ve had to stop working out any idea on what could be happening?

    Reply
    • Hey Jason,

      Have you tried doing bicep curls with your wrist in extension? This might help take some forearms out if the equation which forces more bicep involvement. (Keep in mind – you will likely need to go lighter on the weights)

      Uneven shoulders may also affect how your biceps are functioning as well. Check out this post: Uneven shoulders.

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hi Mark,
    thank you for your site, it’s a great help for understand and try to solve my posture issues.
    Can you explain me the ex 3. b), with the hands behind the back.
    It looks to me that is an external rotation exercise, am I doing it wrong?
    Can I do all the exercises every day or at least the stretch ones? Is it too much?
    Thanks for the help
    Claudio

    Reply
    • Hey Claudio,

      This exercise is designed to stretch the back of your shoulder. Tightness in the back of the shoulder can limit your shoulder internal rotation. As your hand is behind your back, this places the shoulder into a deep internal rotation.

      You can do the exercises every day if the body can tolerate it. Otherwise – you might need to start at a frequency of 2-3 a week and see how the body responds to the exercises From here – you can increase the frequency as appropriate.

      Mark

      Reply
  3. Hi Mark,
    I have forward head posture, rounded shoulders, hunchback, anterior pelvic tilt, and difficulty breathing. I know that breathing is very important so which part of my body should I work on that will directly promote better breathing??
    Regards

    Reply
  4. Hi Mark,
    I have Rounded Shoulders, forward head posture, hunchback posture, as well as anterior pelvic tilt (almost my whole body). I think that it’s best to focus on just one part of my body at a time but which one?? I tried to focus on forward head posture but then I realized my hunchback and rounded shoulders and anterior pelvic tilt virtually force me to have forward head posture again, or they got in the way during certain exercise, and vice versa. Which part of my body do you suggest me to focus on first?? (btw, i do have difficulty breathing because of all of this…which does make it more difficult).

    Reply
    • Hi Daniel,

      I would work on addressing the hunchback posture.

      It is often the hardest to change but helps also in the area that when addressed, will help improve the other said areas !

      Mark

      Reply
  5. 1. Your left scapula, shoulder and/or forearm could be internally rotated…
    Hey mark I was wondering How do I fix that mark?

    Reply
  6. Hey Mark
    Regarding your answer below….

    Hey Adam

    A loss of lordosis (curve) of the cervical spine accompanies a forward head posture.

    For more info: Forward head posture exercises

    If you are not able to get your wrists back onto the wall with the Wall angel exercises, it is likely you may have:
    – Thoracic kyphosis
    – Lack of external rotation on the shoulder joint
    – ROunded shoulders

    MArk

    How do i improve my ‘lack of external rotation on the shoulder joint’?

    Many Thanks
    Adam

    Reply
    • Hey Adam,

      Release and/or stretch latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major and subscapularis.

      Follow this up with external rotations with a stick to help over pressure the end range of motion.

      And finish up with strengthening external rotation at end range in the side lie position.

      (Might need to youtube these!)

      Mark

      Reply
  7. Hi Mark

    I have been to my chiropractor and had a spine xray. My neck has lost its natural C curve – it’s straight, but i don’t have any pain, but my traps are really tight, which i notice when i use a massage ball on them.

    Any suggestions for this straight neck. i do chin tucks already. what about a cervical pillow?

    also, when i do wall angels, i cannot get my wrists or forearms to touch the wall, my hands are ‘bent back’ in order to touch the wall with my fingers. is this a problem with my shoulder external rotators? should i exercise them?

    Thanks
    Adam

    Reply
  8. Dear Mark,

    My right scapula is stuck in protraction and I can’t retract it at all. This causes me lower back pain as my shoulder is forward and rounded. My left shoulder is slightly rounded, but it may just be following the right. My left scapula does move far more freely and retracts

    My PT and massage therapist seem sure it’s not tight pec min, lats, serratus anterior, upper traps. But can’t work out why it won’t retract. I do have relatively week rhomboids,but once again they don’t think this is the root of my problem.

    As my back has gotten worse it has coincided with another issue. I seem to have lost the ability the fully supinate my forearms. I notice this when curling.

    My biceps, especially short head are chronically tight and I have tightness in my brachialis and pain on the inside outer forearm. The lower part of my bicep is very tender.
    I am guessing my arms/shoulders are internally rotated. The right bicep feels far tighter and has more pain.

    For many years I used to do lots of preacher and concentration curls, which haven’t helped.

    My massage therapist says my anterior deltoids are quite tight as well.

    I do have slight FHP but not sure if this is because my shoulder(s) are rounded?

    My question is, could tight biceps, if strong enough cause internal rotation of the arm/ shoulder?

    And could they also have enough strength to keep the scapula protracted?

    I am a big guy at 6’4″ and 270lbs with 18″ biceps and 50″ chest, so things may be exaggerated in terms of force.

    Any advice would be greatly relieved

    David

    Reply
    • Hey David,

      Tight biceps (and anterior deltoids) can tilt the scapula forwards especially if you tend to naturally have your elbows more bent backwards (think of a cow boy reaching for his guns on the sides of his belt).

      Forward tilt of scapula can orientate the whole arm in an internal rotation position which may encourage tightness in the forearm pronators.

      Tightness in the anterior deltoid and biceps should not limit your scapula retraction unless you are pinning your arms backwards and retracting the shoulder blade at the same time.

      Mark

      I

      Reply
  9. Hi Mark, I really enjoy your site. However, I think functionally it is quite difficult to navigate on your website though because the page is very long (no anchor tags, no collapsible panels) and bookmark to a specific part (i.e. I am forced to scroll thru the first part of every page every time I come to the bookmarked page for the exercise — it’s always hard to find the specific part. Much better if I can bookmark to specific part rather than top of the page).

    Do you want some FREE help to add anchor tags, collapsible panels, etc. to make it 10x more usable (from a UX/UI perspective)? Looks like your site is wordpress/php. Shouldn’t be too hard to fix — especially if you have a git repo already setup for someone to push code to.

    Anyways, I’ll make the changes for you if you wish. Email me mlin08[dot]mit[at]gmail[dot]com if interested.

    Reply
  10. Hi mark I wasn’t sure what blog to post in but My problem is I’ve got super tight lats, traps and chest and front neck muscles it’s like there constantly activated and I don’t no how to reverse it

    Reply
    • Hi mark I’m suffering with upper back pain atm with the test your saying with the palms facing backwards means I have rounded shoulders… with me when I test myself I have my left palm that faces backwards and my right palm faces my body any idea on what going on by that?

      Reply

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