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Fix Your Posture to Improve Your Performance

These 3 muscles are affecting your posture, performance, and function of your nervous system.

Improving posture for performance

Poor posture is a modern-day issue that develops as a result of spending too much time rounded forward in front of computers and looking down at smartphones.

But people’s posture isn’t magically “fixed” once they step away from their device or even with a simple cue in the gym. Because they’ve spent so much time with forward head posture, their muscles remain tense and continue to hold them in this position.

Muscle tension around the head, neck and shoulders can limit range of motion, alter movement patterns, reduce breathing efficiency, increase stress and lead to pain. If you’re a trainer, you probably have clients with postural issues, giving you a unique opportunity to share knowledge and create better routines that set them up for long-term success.

The 3 Muscles That Matter Most

Some muscles are more important than others when trying to improve posture and alignment in the upper body. They get at the root cause of the issue instead of focusing on the symptoms. Addressing muscle tension in each of these 3 areas will allow you to achieve the most benefit with your clients in the least amount of time.


The suboccipital muscles connect the base of the skull to the C1 and C2 vertebrae, where they support several important functions. These bones account for more than 50% of neck flexion and rotation, support the weight of the head, and protect the spinal cord at the bottom of the brain.

Tension in the suboccipitals inhibits the neck flexor muscles, which engage to bring the head and neck back into a better posture. This tightness restricts normal range of motion of the neck, contributes to headaches, and may impact how well the nervous system functions and the body’s response to stress.

Pec Minor

The pec minor muscles are primarily responsible for the rounding forward of the shoulders. Tension in the pec minor can impact expansion of the rib cage when breathing and also scapulohumeral rhythm when moving the arm, which increases the potential for shoulder impingement and rotator cuff issues.

Upper Traps

When there is tension in the suboccipitals and pec minor pulling the body forward, the upper traps must work harder to stabilize the head and neck and they become tight, too. Trigger points in the upper traps restrict motion and strength of the neck and shoulders and can also cause headaches.

Resolving Muscle Tension for Good

Common methods like stretching and strengthening aren’t enough by themselves to relieve tension and improve posture.

Stretching, even when performed consistently, simply increases the stretch tolerance of a muscle to get into a larger range of motion, but does not have any impact on resting muscle stiffness. Stretching addresses motion tightness, not muscle tension.

Strengthening muscles like the neck flexors, serratus anterior, rhomboids, lats, etc. that are commonly used to address postural imbalances are less effective due to the inability to fully recruit them in exercises when there is muscle tension in the opposing muscles.

Studies confirm that techniques applying direct and precise pressure are effective at reducing muscle tension. When seeing a practitioner for treatment isn’t an option, a tool like the Nuckle is a great solution for applying pressure to release tension in your neck, pecs and traps yourself. Each needs to be individually released for the system to be fully restored.

Relaxing these key areas is an important first step before performing other forms of exercise to strengthen and lengthen the previously tight, contracted and weakened muscles. Skipping this step will make the other stretches and exercises less effective and the results will be short-term.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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