Does your head or neck hurt after you've sat in front of your computer for a long period of time? Are you noticing that your shoulders are starting to round? Do you find that your trapezius muscle (upper shoulder) is tighter than ever?

You are one of thousands of people who lack strength in their upper/mid back region. Would you believe that stretching and certain strengthening exercises could help?

Day to day, people are practically glued in front of their computers, sitting in front of their desk for hours, not noticing their "poor" posture. Without proper attention to certain muscles, the body does actually change its form.

Hunching over for long periods of time will eventually take its toll.

  • The posterior deltoids (upper back of shoulders) become rounded.
  • The latissimus dorsi ("lats" - the V-shape muscle that sweep from your underarms across your back) tightens and starts to round, a bit like the world-famous hunchback Quasimodo (well, maybe not that extreme).
  • Your low back starts to bother you with stiffness and aches.
  • Legs become tight and numb, and so on...

With proper exercises and stretches, you can alleviate some tension in the back and strengthen it for day-to-day activities. Let's begin with targeting one of the largest muscles in the body, the latissimus dorsi.

Exercise: cable lat pull down (on a lat pull down exercise machine)

Target muscles: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius, levator scapulae, and bicep group.

How to perform a cable lat pull down
  • Grip the bar wider than shoulder width, allowing the upper arms to be parallel to the floor.
  • Anchor your knees under the pads and lean back 15 to 45 degrees.
  • Mind your position: keep your torso erect (chest out, shoulder blades down and together), and keep a natural arch in the lower back.
  • Tilt your head slightly back, then begin to pull arms out and down, allowing the bar to slightly pass your chin (arms are about parallel to the floor). Breathing: exhale on the contraction phase (pulling down).
  • Hold and contract the lats.
  • Let arms back up slowly to original starting position, keeping tension in the lats. Breathing: inhale on the eccentric phase (returning motion).
  • Repeat in sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Troubleshooting
  • A light warm-up and stretch is important to avoid any possible injuries.
  • Avoid rotating the shoulder during the exercise - rotating the shoulder increases the possibility of injuries.
  • Keep the arms relaxed and focus on pulling with the back muscles.
  • Avoid any swinging and jerking motion from the upper extremities - this will prevent you from targeting the intended muscles through its full range of motion.
  • Keep shoulder blades down, torso erect, head and neck in a neutral position.
  • Start with a light to moderate weight until you are comfortable performing the exercise.
  • Be extra careful while performing this exercise if you have a history of shoulder problems.

This is one of many back exercises that you can start with to improve your posture! I'll have more to come, with easy stretches for you to do at your workplace.

 
Junior Mulingtapang of Endorphin Junkies, 
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team