What do your average desk jockey and gym rat have in common?
At first glance, not much. They eat differently, they train differently and they live differently. But for all these differences, there’s one distinguishing trait that often unites the couch potato and the meathead—bad posture.
It’s amazing how often lifters develop downright dysfunctional posture despite weight training. If anything, their routine often exacerbates postural problems. You’d think guys carrying a gym card would automatically stand tall like Superman thanks to all the hours spent on improving their bodies. But in reality, many of them walk around hunched over, just like their pencil-pushing colleague who hasn’t seen the inside of a weight room since that failed New Year’s resolution back in 1993.
A big part of the problem is that the average gym rat largely focuses on the mirror muscles rather than the muscles on the back of their body, and they also spend many of their hours outside of the gym hunched over a laptop, smart phone or steering wheel (just like pretty much every modern human). Bad posture has truly become an epidemic, and one that even affects “young” and “active” people.
If you lift weights to build muscle, it makes sense to develop both the front and back side of your frame. It’s called bodybuilding for a reason. The goal is to improve muscular strength and size all over your body, not just the muscles you see in the mirror. How do you do that?
For starters, you should balance chest and arm work with horizontal pulling movements such as Seated Cable Rows and One-Arm Dumbbell Rows. Still, there’s a good chance your lats take over in these exercises. This isn’t inherently bad, but it often leaves the rhomboids (muscles located in the mid-upper back) underdeveloped. Why should that matter?
Because the rhomboids are responsible for upper-back, neck and head posture. They play a key role in shoulder longevity, as they pull your shoulders back instead of letting them slouch forward. In addition, a strong upper back helps you maintain a strong position when moving heavy weight on big lifts like the Bench Press.
To increase your mid-upper-back development and get on the path to better posture, check out this Face Pull variation I picked up from the late Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. It’s “easy” in that it utilizes a very common piece of equipment and isn’t overly technical, but it will definitely smoke your rhomboids!
The Pull for Better Posture
- Choose a light weight. Something you can normally do for at least 20 reps.
- Use a pronated (overhand) grip. With your back upright and using zero momentum, pull the center of the rope slightly up toward your face.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. Shrugging the shoulders up is a common compensation pattern in lifters with weak rhomboids, so focus on contracting the rhomboids while you keep your shoulders down. You don’t want your upper traps to take over.
- Full range of motion is essential here. Pull the rope until the angle between your biceps and forearm closes. Your wrists should be approximately in line with your ears when viewed from the side.
- Hold this position for 6 seconds while engaging your rhomboids. Lower under control.
- Build up to 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. Your rhomboids will be burning like never before by that final set!
You’ve probably seen Face Pulls before. So what makes this variation so much better for improving posture? A lot of times, athletes turn the Standing Rope Face Pull into an ego lift by using momentum generated by their hips and legs to move ever-increasing loads. This beats the purpose, since Face Pulls are an accessory exercise designed to correct muscular imbalances through higher volumes and a prolonged time under tension.
That said, I can’t stress enough the importance of strict form on Seated Face Pulls. Don’t pile on the weights in the cable stack, and refrain from using body momentum to heave the weight up. When in doubt, go lighter. Focus on a strong mind-muscle connection. That’s how you will bring your rhomboids up to snuff and fix your bad posture.
Photo Credit: undrey/iStock