Whether it is severe or mild, poor posture is in our everyday lives. Prolonged forward flexion of the spine leads to lengthened and weakened back muscles. To solve this problem, there are tons of web information teaching exercises to enhance/ strengthen back muscles. Exercises such as bent over rows, barbell rows, pull ups and lateral arm raises are highly discussed in articles.
The question is, are those exercises really what you need to improve hunch back posture?
Know about your back muscles first before exercising
The most significant back muscles on human body are the trapezius muscle, latissimus dorsi muscle(many call it lats for short) and erector spinae muscle. We should get a better understanding of these muscles before arranging exercises to improve hunch back posture.
Now, let’s take a look at the anatomic and functional differences between the three.
Anatomy: The muscle is located at the upper back region where it wraps around the scapula. It originates from the spine and occiput, inserts at the scapula.
Function: The major function of this muscle is stabilizing the scapula during upper extremity movements. The muscle has three proportions and can produce different force directions to the shoulder girdle.
This muscle plays a critical roll in overhead sports, such as baseball, badminton, volleyball.
Latissimus dorsi muscle
Location: This fan-shaped muscle originates from the spine, passes through the thoracic-lumbar fascia and ends at the humeral head (the back of the shoulder joint).
- Produce shoulder extension and internal rotation forces.
- Provide trunk extension, rotation and side bending torque. (The force mainly connects the upper and lower extremity to complete a movement.)
If you wish to increase throwing, swinging or swimming speed, the muscle is worth training.
Erector spinae muscle group
The iliocostalis, longissimus and spinalis muscles work as a team to form the erector spinae.
Location：In rough, the muscle group originates from the occiput, crosses through the whole spine and ribs, ends up on the tail bone.
Function: The function is obvious because of the name of this muscle group: to erect the spine. It uprights the trunk at every spine segment and collaborates with other core muscles (eg. transverse abdominus, diaphragm) to maintain a balanced muscle tone.
The erector spinae is a member of core muscles and can help enhance trunk stability during all kinds of activities.
You can check out my previous article on how to train your core muscles.
From the informations above, you should know by now that, training the erector spinae is a better solution to improve hunch back/slouching.
What exercises are for the erector spinae muscle?
According to previous electromyogram researches, the following exercises can put the erector spinae into maximal work.
Here are some exercise examples that are suitable to be done at home. You can use equipments at the gym to increase load and make more variations.
The erector spinae muscle group is activated while lifting the arm and legs.
Advantage: This is an exercise for core, the diaphragm and abdominal muscles can be activated along with erector spinae.
Disadvantage: It takes some flexibility in the wrist to complete this exercise. If you feel discomfort during the motion, add a yoga brick under your hands may do the trick.
This exercise aims to put the trunk and the thighs into a straight line. The erector spinae, hamstrings and gluteal muscles are highly activated during this exercise.
Advantage: This exercise is great for beginners. You can add loading or bridge with single leg to increase exercise intensity.
Disadvantage: Because this exercise is done in a supine position, there may be less activation of the neck part of erector spinae.
The erector spinae is activated by loading the upper extremity. Previous studies show that the erector spinae muscle group does more work than the glutes during this exercise.
Advantage: This is a highly efficient exercise for erector spinae, which the muscle power can go up to 90% 1RM.
Disadvantage: This exercise needs more control of the body. Be sure to have someone professional around you when you are new to this exercise.
The movement pattern is similar to deadlift, which requires much of erector spinae and posterior thigh muscle strength.
Advantage: The erector spinae strength training is incorporated with other muscle groups during training. You can change exercise intensity by carrying different loads or changing swing speed.
Disadvantage: The exercise requires explosive strength and movement rhythm, which is not suitable for beginners.
You can see from above exercise examples that a controlled and straight trunk is required during exercise.This is because of the origin and insertion of the muscle group is vertical.
In contrast, rowing exercise is a form of extending the shoulder joint and bringing the scapulas together for maximum trapezius/ latissimus dorsi muscle contraction. The direction of muscle pull is more horizontal and activates less of the erector spinae.
So, next time if you would like to exercise to straighten your back, you will know what to do!
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Jeno SH, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan.
Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLoS One 2020 Feb 27;15(2):e0229507.
Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jun; 17(12): 4306.
Helen J. Hislop. Daniels and Worthingham’s Muscle Testing: techniques of manual examination.