How to Fix Rounded Shoulders (Best Exercises)

What are Rounded shoulders?

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

rounded shoulders

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

retraction uneven 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

depression uneven shoulders

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

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:

profile picture

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

  1. Hi Mark,
    Excellent information & relevant photos to go a long with it. Well done!

    My question is, I was recently found (CT arthrogram w/Contrast) to have a labrum tear: “Labrum: There is a tear identified across the entirety of the posterior labrum. Tiny para labral cysts noted immediately posterior to the tear.” I am a strength athlete (powerlifting/strongman) and am trying to avoid going the surgery route and subsequent 6+ month rehab. I have stopped all pressing movements and drastically decreased the weight I do for other upper body movements. My posture is junk and will be implementing some of your suggestions above, anything else you may offer for rehab work? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hey Kyle,

      To give your shoulder the best opportunity to avoid surgery:

      – Reduce exposure to any exercise/position/activity that will make your labral tear worse
      – Progressively increase your range of motion without inducing significant amounts of pain
      – Get your shoulder internal and external rotation back as soon as possible. (esp in the shoulder abduction 90/90 position)
      – Regain your control and strength in your vulnerable positions.
      – Address your posture eg. rounded shoulders, thoracic spine issues etc

      Those are some general points to start you off.

      For more specific exercises, you might be best to get an assessment to see where you need to prioritise.

      All the best!

      Mark

      Reply
  2. Hey, Mark. I’m a 53 y/o man, and I’ve managed to stay thin and athletically active. However, my upper vertebrae (C-4- C7?) stick way out. It’s a Dowager’s Hump without any fatty tissue, just my spine. Can any of these exercises actually cause my vertebrae to sink back in (for want of the technical term) to form a more graceful, natural spinal curve?

    Reply
    • Hey TJ,

      If your joints in the C4-7 are not fused together, then it is possible for you to improve the alignment.

      In conjunction to doing exercises for your Rounded shoulders, I would also recommend doing the exercises for the Dowager’s hump.

      Mark

      Reply
  3. Hey Mark,

    This seems to be working extremely well! I lift a lot of weights and have always found it difficult to engage my chest, I’m assuming this is because of my rounded shoulders and inability to pin them back when working out.

    If I did these everyday, how long would it take to begin seeing some solid results?

    Also, I still feel my lower back is exceptionally tight, as I have an anterior pelvic tilt. I find it difficult to engage my abs during ab workouts and feel pain in my lower back. Any advice?

    Reply
  4. Hi Mark,

    My right shoulder gets lengthy than left. Filling uneasiness due to this but no pain. Due to this my right hip bones also get wide. Please suggest what to do… really in trouble..

    Reply
  5. Hi, i usually tend to sleep on my sides and recently began to try sleeping on my back. Does that help in any way with rounded shoulders and back posture in general?

    Reply
    • Hi Dennis,

      Yes – side sleeping is what I refer to as Horizontal Slouching.

      If you get the average 6-8 hours a sleep a night, that means you are technically in a slouched position all that time.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Hey Mark,

        I sleep on my side as well and I have extremely tight shoulders/back issues. I’m also busty and am told I need to work on strengthening my muscles etc. I notice that when I wake up in the morning my muscles feel super tight again. So it makes sense what you mentioned about side slouching. My issue though is that I absolutely can’t sleep on my back. I’ve tried. I end up laying there half asleep but not fully asleep. Is there any side position that doesn’t involve slouching? Or any recommendations on figuring out how to sleep on ones back? (I assume that’s the best position?)

        Reply
        • Hey Kelly,

          Sleeping posture is a bit tricky.

          Once you are asleep, there’s not too much you can do to ensure that you stay in the one position.

          If you can’t sleep on your back, you will need to make sure that your neck and upper arm are well supported with pillows.

          Try to keep your chin ever so slightly towards your upper chest. Keep the back of your neck as elongated as possible. Maintain neutral spine in the neck.

          For more info, check out this post:

          Sleeping posture.

          Mark

          Reply
  6. Hi Mark,
    I’ve been having progressive neck and upper back tension over the past two years. Have been working on stretches some that you have illustrated. Been seeing a message therapist during this time and confirm much muscle tension in neck and upper back. Always wondered about my forward shoulder roll and how stretching and strengthening certain muscles go together,
    What a great post you have here!
    My question is over the past year I have been experiencing light but noticable familial “no no tremers” and am 61 years old. Could the shoulder roll posture be causing contributing to this or have you ever seen this condition with stiff neck forward shoulder roll?
    I’ve tried a back posture correction support the last couple of weeks and it has helped a lot but I know it’s not the fix. Great work appreciate your comments and video will start implementing it all makes so much sense addressing the stretch and strengthening muscles.

    Reply
  7. Hi mark! I wonder if it is good to train at the same time as I am doing those correction exercises. I am a soccer player and I do a full body workout when i go to gym for an example dumbbell press, dumbbell row, single leg deadlift and more. Or should I stop until I have a good posture again?

    Reply
  8. hey,
    i want to keep fix all my problems in one routine of 30 minutes a day max or preferably 10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day.
    I have scoliosis, rounded shoulders, forward head posture and maybe hunchback posture.
    how do you recommend to do this?

    Reply
    • Hi,

      It is hard to answer this without assessing you. If you are unsure, it is best to see a health professional who can help you combine exercises together.

      That being said, these blog posts will offer almost everything that you need to know to fix your postural issues.

      The best way is to do all of the exercises to begin with, stick to the ones that benefits you the most , take out whatever doesn’t seem to make a difference, and go from there.

      Mark

      Reply
  9. Mark,

    First off thank you so much for providing such an amazing resource online to help people. I have recommended this site to others over the past year of trying to fix my own posture.

    I am in currently in a precarious situation with my rolled shoulders and forward head posture. After doing these exercises for about 2 weeks I had a ton of daily relief followed by a breakthrough. I would do them prior to the gym 3 days weekly and 10 days ago while doing incline bench press when I heard some “good crackling” followed by a crunching sound and then an ahhhhh as my left shoulder and entire left side of my back moved into proper position. The right shoulder moved some, but did not release. So now my shoulder is higher and forward on my right side while my left is in a position it hasn’t been in for years. The result is a 1/2 success. My the right side back is extremely tight from top to bottom with soreness under my scapula and in the lower back and getting tighter daily.

    The exercises that were working for me relied on using both sides to pull on each other and I can’t get the same tension now due to imbalance. Much of the muscle tension left that I can’t get to let go is in the right pec and the right upper trap. I’m rolling the trap against the wall and continuing the exercises that provide some relief daily with no results.

    If I could get the right shoulder to do the same I can’t imagine how much more comfortable I’d be and on my way to good posture for the first time in my life. It feels like it needs to be both simultaneously relaxed while having force exerted on it to “pop” back into place.

    Do you have any suggestions on how this could be accomplished either at home or with gym equipment or do you expect that continuing with the current program will provide results eventually?

    Reply
    • Hi Jeremy,

      It sounds like you just need to continue with the current program. If it worked for the left, it should also work for the right.

      Other areas that might help addressing are:
      Scoliosis
      – Rotated torso

      These areas can influence the position of your shoulders.

      Mark

      Reply
  10. Hey mark,

    Thanks for the great and comprehensive article. Is there a minimal set of releases/shoulder stretches/shoulder mobilization/shoulder strengthening that would be most effective? ex. if I had to pick only 4-5 exercises/stretches to do on this page, what would you recommend?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      It’s hard to say!

      I would recommend trying all of them first, and over time, see which exercises your body responds to the most.

      From here, stick to those 4-5 until you feel you have got the most of out of them… and then pick another 5 :)

      Mark

      Reply

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