Training Your Shoulder Girdle for Good Posture and a Better Mood by Tina Jo Orban
The elephant in the room won’t be missed: The Covid-19 pandemic. I am sure many of you are outdoors, hiking, running, walking for your cardio, and the best of you are working out your anxiety and frustration on weights— perhaps indoors in your home-gym. Good for you! But let us not lose our focus. Training sure is a mental help, as it improves mood and mental clarity. You already know that! But what you might not know a strong stable shoulder girdle can help you carry the worries of the world a little better. Well, nearly. What I am talking about is a strong stable shoulder girdle and proper posture with a head held high is an actual mood booster! In fact, studies of depressed individuals shows that people with depressed posture; that of slouching shoulders, rolled inward toward the chest and head down when queried about self-reflection had greater negative responses about themselves! Furthermore, over the long-term this posture leads to kyphosis. Of course, we could say which came first? The chicken or the egg? Is depression making you have depressed posture or is depressed posture making you more depressed? But the truth of the matter is holding your head high and erect posture improves self-reflection and mood. Your head weighs a lot. Indeed, the average adult male head weighs 11 pounds, and a female? THE SAME! Were you expecting less? Anyhow, your head in a forward position serves as a weight (as gravity pulls it toward earth) that puts a great deal of strain and tension on your neck and shoulders and even your low back. Proper head posture is one with your head back and directly over your shoulders. Shoulders should be pulled back; however not exaggeratedly (See link for image) . When it comes to rolled forward shoulders, one other thing to consider is tight pectoralis muscles (overly-trained or hypertonic) pectorals pull your shoulders forward. That is bad. Stretching your pecs may help.
Keeping mindful of your head position, Dr Ben Bjerke recommends chin tucks.  Now that you are aware that head forward and shoulders rolled forward are no-no’s— What else CAN YOU DO to correct your posture, prevent neck, shoulder and back pain and apparently improve your opinion of yourself? You can create strong shoulder girdles that pull your shoulder blades back into the correct posture and a more natural position. So, let’s talk shoulder girdle. When we say shoulder-girdle we mean the scapula and clavicle bones and the musculature that moves and supports the joints of these bones. The joints are the Acromioclavicular (which is an athroidial joint) not a lot of movement here and the Scapulothoracic “joint” which has a whole lot of powerful movements. There is in fact is no real bony attachment of the anterior surface of your scapula to the posterior surface of your rib cage. At the Scapulothoracic “joint” we get abduction and adduction, upward and downward rotation, elevation and depression. This “joint” is amazing as it is solely and dynamically supported by muscles of the back. These are the muscles we are talking about in correcting posture (along with good head position back and directly over your shoulders). There are five scapular sling muscles critical for a strong shoulder girdle and good posture.
The fabulous five (and I don’t mean the Jacksons or that reggae band) are Pectoralis minor Serratus anterior, Trapezius, Rhomboids and Levator Scapulae (plural of scapula— hopefully you have two!) You probably already figured out rows and shrugs will work your shoulder girdle muscles. They do. Listed below are exercises that hit all of the scapular sling. Not a lot of people focus exclusively on pec minor but just know that when you do bench press or dips (resisted depression works pec minor). Lastly, I know for a fact most people do not specifically train the serratus anterior. But you may have seen this fascinating muscle in a bodybuilding show… when competitors are super ripped, it is that feather-like little ‘serrated-edge’ (like a steak-knife) looking little muscle under the axillary area anterior to the lats. A credit to T Nation for this incredible image of Arnold’s ripped serratus (no last name needed or annunciated). How to train it? Well when you do pull ups and rows it gets worked. Therefore, most rowing and pulling movements train shoulder girdle musculature. Let’s talk about your scapulae: They can elevate and depress, (shrug and return) they can abduct and adduct move away from the spine and back toward). A more difficult abstraction is they can upward rotate and downward rotate (the inferior angle moves upward and outward towards side of body and returns) downward rotation. With all these movements, just know elevation as in dumbbell shrugs, Lat-pulls and pull ups (against weights and bodyweight against gravity) and Rows train all these muscles! And dips and bench-presses work it too, due to the fact pectoralis minor originates on ribs 3 4 and 5 anterior surface and inserts on coracoid process of the scapula. This makes pectoralis minor part of what anatomist call the scapular sling. And what I call muscles of the shoulder girdle needed to be strengthened and toned to pull your shoulders back! This will make you look and feel better. Here are the exercises:
Seated Cable Rows:
8-10 Reps (at a weight that is tough but doable with good form).
Three or Four Sets.
2-minute Rest period. (Works Traps mid fibers, lats, Rhomboids, Serratus ancillary biceps and brachialis).
Three or Four Sets.
2-minute Rest period. (Works Traps, Levator, Erectors (not part of the sling) and other neck muscles as well as flexors of the forearms isometrically).
As many as you can do to fatigue!
Rest 2 minutes repeat at least four sets.
Cable ‘Lat-Pulls’ 10-12 Reps.
Three or Four Sets.
1-2-minute Rest period.
Surprisingly the pectoralis minor is also worked and so is the serratus when you do “Lat” pulls. So, to recap keep your head back, maybe practice chin tucks. Keep your pecs from rounding your shoulders by stretching your chest muscles. Keep the muscles of your shoulder girdle strong and trained with exercises such as rows, shrugs and pull-ups. This new strong confident posture just may make you feel better. Even if you are training at your home alone in your PJ’s.
 Sitting Posture Makes a Difference—Embodiment Effects on Depressive Memory Bias Mihalak Johannes, Mischnat Judith, Teisman Tobias. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Volume 21, Issue 6 27 February 2014
 Kyphosis is an excessive outward curvature of the thoracic spine, causing hunching of the back. Webster’s Dictionary. 2020.
 How to build a bigger and Straighter Upper Back Bony to Beastly. By Marco Walker-Ng, BHSc, PTS | March 1, 2020.
 “Chintucks” Video < https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/easy-chin-tucks-neck-pain>
 Photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger <https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-train-the-serratus>