Three Exercises to Correct Upper Back Imbalances

Updated: Apr 3, 2019


Here is the follow-up post for Upper Back Imbalances for Polers and Aerialists. Basically we are going to look at some corrective exercises that can help work the underdeveloped muscles in the upper and middle back, i.e., the rhomboids and lower traps. As discussed in the first post, these muscle groups and the smaller shoulder girdle muscles tend to be underdeveloped while the lats and pecs tend to get overdeveloped. The upper traps may or may not get over developed as well. As stated, the lats and pecs are big muscles and want to take on the load, especially during any kind of lifting movement such as pull-up movements and inversions.

As most of us know, aerial and pole consist of fancy, pretty pull-ups that are done with control and style. It takes time to connect the mind and the body. It takes practice to consistently engage the rhomboids and upper back muscles while doing a pull-up movement. It is easy to rely on the lats and pecs and to forget to engage the smaller muscles.

These exercises are a meant for building strength in the rhomboids and lower traps. If you are training or taking pole or aerial classes multiple times a week, weightlifting should become part of your routine. Doing a combination of strengthening and corrective exercise is the best bet to prevent further imbalances and injury. There are a ton of other weight lifting exercises that aerialists and polers should be doing, but I could argue this set is one of the most important.


Fit Ball Weightless Squeeze

This corrective exercise is fantastic for developing the mind body connection needed to properly engage the body in a true scapular retraction with shoulder depression. Place the hips on a fit ball, you want to be able to curl the torso over the ball and make the fulcrum point of this move the hips. Place the toes on the floor for balance, or press the feet into a wall at a low spot. Lift and extend the spine into a back extension, using the low back and core to stabilize. Keep the arms out overhead in a goalpost position with the elbows bent. At the top of the extension, squeeze the elbows down and center toward the middle back. Engage by squeezing the shoulder blades together and activating the lower traps inward as well, this is the area right below the shoulder blades and on either side of the spine. Keep the shoulders down and away from the ears. Hold this position for a few seconds and release down over the fit ball. Try three sets of 10-12 reps.


Rows with a Band or Cable Pull Machine

Rows are the quintessential move in correcting the pain and underdevelopment of the upper back and low traps. Focus on form and take your time with all these exercises, but really work on the mind body connection during rows. It is very easy to forgot to activate the lower traps and to over activate the upper traps instead. Watch for shoulder elevation in a mirror. Begin with straight arms using the band or cable pull. Pull the shoulders together and down using the rhomboids, shoulder girdle and lower traps. It is all about the scapular retraction and shoulder depression. Begin with 3 sets of 10-12 reps.


Single Arm Row with External Rotation

This move is a combination of an external rotation at 90-degree abduction and a row. It's tricky to master and easy to screw-up. The external rotation is the first part of this move, keep the elbow at a 90-degree abduction and rotate from the shoulder (this strengthens all the small rotator cuff muscles). When the arm fully rotates to the up position, squeeze the shoulder blades together and down to activate the rhomboids and traps. Work on fluidity with the movement once you have mastered the to parts of the exercise. Begin with 3 sets of 10-12 on each side.


Consider adding these exercises into your weeking lifting routine or as supplimentary exercise after training or class. Listen to the body and what is working and what does not feel good.

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