After reading Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, you’ve probably come to grips with the fact that you have a greater resemblance to Cro-Magnon man than you previously thought. Now, what are you going to do about it?
The program outlined below is designed to keep your current strength levels intact while correcting the muscle imbalances holding back your strength and physique. We have two primary goals:
- Hit the global muscles hard and heavy with a four-day per week program.
- Hit the local muscles daily (or at the very least on off days) to take advantage of the motor learning effects produced by frequent, low-intensity training.
What are “global” and “local” muscles? Local muscles (also known as the deep muscular system) are extremely important when we’re discussing posture improvements. The primary roles of the deep muscular system are motor control, segmental stabilization, and fine-tuning of movements.
On the flip side, you have the global (or superficial) muscle system. The primary role of the superficial muscle system is to produce movement, power, and torque. As a general rule, when you have significant postural issues, your global or superficial system is overactive and the deeper system is inhibited or weak.
Hitting the Iron
We’ll give you the fun stuff first. However, before we do, it’s important we emphasize that this is a PRE-habilitation program; it isn’t meant to be a corrective protocol for someone after they’ve suffered the consequences of chronic poor posture. In other words, if you have primary subacromial impingement or a herniated L5-S1 disk, for example, lots of these exercises are contraindicated for you (you’d be better off with a true physical therapy program).
You’ll notice that the actual number of exercises is fairly low. The purpose of these workouts isn’t for you to see huge, immediate gains in your strength or physique (although some of you will!), but rather to balance out your body and relearn proper recruitment patterns in preparation for more optimal training efficiency in the next training phase.
Always keep in mind that your body is smarter than you are! Think about it like this: if you’re always training chest and you never work your back, eventually your posture is going to go down the drain; that’s just a given. Beyond that, however, your body is also going to halt any further progress with regards to your chest training until you bring up the muscle imbalance.
In Achieving Structural Balance, Charles Poliquin talked about how an elite hockey player put 51 pounds on his bench press in six weeks simply by adding in training for the external rotators! What makes this fact even more amazing is that Coach Poliquin didn’t even have this guy bench pressing for that entire time! (1) Now we’re not saying just by correcting your posture you’ll put 60 pounds on your bench, but the fact of the matter is that by attempting to correct the imbalances in your body, you’re improving the future level at which you can train.
You’ll also notice the sequence of the exercises in this program is probably very different from what you’re currently doing. Squats and benches are put at the end of the training week, and have a fairly low total volume. Now we’re all for developing strength in the major muscles groups, but all too often these exercises are always at the beginning of the training week, promoting muscle imbalances and increasing the risk of injury by not giving priority to their antagonist muscle groups/exercises.
If you follow Ian King’s work for preventing injury and developing balance within the body, he’d bury the most-often trained exercises at the end of the week and at the end of the workout, but our goals are slightly different here. We want to try and correct our muscle imbalances on the fly, without losing much (if any) of our hard-earned strength in the process.
Now, we’re giving you a program geared to meet your needs in the gym, but that still leaves roughly 23 hours per day for you to screw up with your posture! No matter how diligently you follow this protocol, you won’t get optimal results unless you keep a close eye on your posture throughout the day. So, unless you want to remain a caveman, sit up straight! And put down the club, too; it’s such an office faux pas. You can, however, continue to scratch yourself and grill dead animal flesh at your cubicle. In fact, we encourage it.
One of our main goals is to make these workouts time effective, but we also want to derive the most benefit from the exercises. Many of the exercises in the program will be coupled with stretches for the antagonist muscle groups. Not only will this allow for a stronger contraction by inhibiting the antagonist, but it’ll also save time in the process!
Note: After we lay out the program, we’ll provide descriptions and pics of the exercises at the end of the article.
Precede this session with a dynamic warm-up emphasizing ballistic stretches for the hip flexors, hamstrings, erectors spinae, and IT band. If you have access to mini bands, perform side-steps with them around your ankles to activate the hip abductors.
|A1||Supine Bridge (squeeze at the top for a count of one)||3||15||1011||45 sec.|
|A2||Warrior Lunge Stretch *||3||15 sec.||None|
|B1||Snatch Grip Deadlift||6||6-8||20X0||2 min.|
|B2||IT Band Stretch *||6||15 sec.||None|
|C||Barbell Step-Up * (squeeze the glutes at the top)||4||10-12||20X1||1 min.|
|D1||Dead Bug Twist||3||15||1010||None|
|D2||Side Hip Thrust *||3||15||1010||None|
* per side
Precede this session with a dynamic warm-up emphasizing ballistic stretches for the lats, chest, and anterior delts.
|A1||Pronated, Medium Grip Row (retract the scapulae for a count of one)||6||10||30X1||2 min.|
|A2||Pec Stretch||6||15 sec.||None|
|B1||Face Pull||3||10-12||3010||1 min.|
|B2||Decline Barbell Extension||3||10-12||30X0||1 min.|
|C1||Rear Delt Fly||3||10||1010||None|
|Ideally, this will be performed on a rear delt machine to prevent cheating with the upper traps. If you don’t have access to such a machine, perform bent-over lateral raises with the head supported. Be strict and don’t shrug the weight up!|
|C2||Low Pulley External Rotation||3||12||1010||None|
|C3||Dip Shrug||3||15||1010||1 min.|
|D||High-to-Low Cable Woodchop *||3||10||20X0||15 sec.|
* per side
Precede this session with a dynamic warm-up emphasizing ballistic stretches for the hip flexors, hamstrings, erectors spinae, and IT band. Again, if you have access to mini bands, perform side-steps with them around your ankles to activate the hip abductors.
|A1||Heels Elevated, Rock Bottom Front Squat||6||3/2/1/3/2/1||20X0||3 min.|
|A2||Warrior Lunge Stretch *||6||5 sec.||None|
|B1||Walking Lunge * *||3||6-10||2 min.|
|B2||IT Band Stretch||3||15 sec.||None|
|C||Dumbbell Split Squat Isometric Hold *||1||1 min.||1 min.|
|E1||Dumbbell Dorsiflexion (hold at the top for a count of 1)||2||20||1011||1 min.|
|E2||Calf Stretch *||2||15 sec.||None|
* per side
* * Walking Lunges – Just worry about controlling the descent.
Precede this session with a dynamic warm-up emphasizing ballistic stretches for the lats, chest, and anterior delts.
|A1||Decline Close Grip Bench||6||3/2/1/3/2/1||20X0||90 sec.|
|A2||Chest Supported T-Bar Row||6||6||20X2||90 sec.|
|Hold at the top for a count of two. If you don’t have access to a T-Bar machine, do these with dumbbells and a pronated grip. Retract the scapulae at the top.|
|A3||SCM/Upper Trap and Suboccipital/Levator Scapulae Stretch||3||15 sec.||None|
|B1||Single Arm Low Pulley Cable Row to Abdomen *||3||10||20X2||30 sec.|
|Retract the scapulae for a count of two, this time with thoracic rotation.|
|B2||Pec Stretch||3||15 sec.||None|
|C1||Dumbbell External Rotation elbow supported at 90 degrees||3||10-12||2010||None|
|C2||One-Arm Prone Lower Trap Raise||3||10-12||2011||30 sec.|
|Squeeze at the top for a count of one. As you may have inferred, you’ll be performing these exercises in succession one arm at a time. In other words, do C1 with your right arm, and then C2 with your right arm. Then, repeat the superset with the left arm.|
|D||Saxon Side Bend *||4||6||1 min.|
|Don’t sweat it. These are killers; just worry about controlling the movement and surviving!|
* per side
Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday: Postural GPP (To be done at home)
|B||Theraband External Rotation||2 / arm||25|
|C||Prone Cobra||1 – 10 & 2
1 – 9 & 3
|D||Single Leg Knee-to-Chest on Foam Roller||2 / leg||15|
|F||Prone Bridge||1||1 min.|
|G||Side Bridge||1 / side||30 sec.|
Applicable Stretches. Those included in program along with the good morning and lat stretches (pictured below).
Lie on your back with your legs bent to approximately 90 degrees and the feet flat on the floor. From the starting position, squeeze the glutes like you’re trying to pinch a quarter and raise your vertebrae off the ground one at a time. Hold and squeeze at the top, then return under control to the starting position. Added bonus: Do this rapidly to music and girls may stick dollars in your shorts!
Warrior Lunge Stretch
Go into a lunge with the arms outstretched overhead. Keeping the head and chest up, let the hips sink down and shift your weight forward so you get a stretch in the front of the hip on the “down” side. Don’t place your hands on your knee or lean too far forward or arch the back to increase the stretch; just let the hips sink and shift forward. Hold for 15 seconds, and then switch sides. Repeat as necessary.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
The emphasis on this exercise isn’t using maximal weights, but making sure you perform the exercise properly. Assume a shoulder-width stance and take a snatch grip; the weight should be on the mid-foot or shifted slightly toward the heels.
Now here’s the most important part. Really work to lift the chest and retract/depress the scapulae. You should work to keep this position throughout the movement, and there should really be no movement around the upper torso after you’re locked in.
From the starting position, shift the weight to the heels and think of simultaneously pushing your heels through the floor and pushing the knees back. Not only will this really tax your upper back, but it’ll also roast your hammies if you’re pushing the knees back properly.
IT Band/Tensor Fascia Latae Stretch
Lie supine with the knees flexed to 90°. To stretch the right side, cross the right leg over the left so that the lateral aspect of the right ankle is in contact with the left quadriceps. Next, reach through (with the right hand) and around (with the left hand) to grasp the left hamstring. Pull the left leg toward your face, thus applying pressure on your right ankle to move in the same direction (don’t let the knee move, though; you can actually push away on it). You should feel a stretch along the lateral aspect of the right thigh, particularly where the glutes begin. Perform the opposite steps to stretch the left ITB and TFL.
Most of you probably already know how to do step-ups; we just want to offer a few reminders:
- Keep the chest high, head up, and scapulae retracted throughout the movement.
- Position your foot so that the heel is on the step or bench, and the back leg is on the floor with the toes dorsiflexed (pulled up, like an elf shoe). Positioning your trailing leg toes like this will prevent you from pushing off with the back leg.
- Drive the heel of the lead leg into the bench as you would with initiating the deadlift, and forcefully contract the hamstrings and glutes to pull yourself up onto the bench. Don’t worry about going out of your way to consciously fire the quads; they’ll come along for the ride, we promise!
- As you reach maximum height, squeeze the glutes. Step back with the trailing leg and repeat for reps. Don’t alternate legs; do all your reps on one leg, rest, and then move on to the other side.
Dead Bug Twist
Lie supine with your legs bent to approximately 90 degrees and extend your arms as shown. Draw your navel towards your spine, pressing your low back into the ground. While keeping the stomach tight and back flat, rotate your torso slightly from one side to the other.
Another note: If at any point during the movement the back comes off the floor, stop the movement and return to the starting position.
Side Hip Thrust
Position yourself so that your body is sideways and perpendicular to bench. Rest the bottom elbow on the bench and the feet stacked on top of one another on the floor. Keeping your body in a straight line and the head facing straight forward, thrust the hip toward the ceiling. Hold for a count of one, descend to the bottom position, and reverse the movement. Once you’ve completed your reps, flip over and work the other side.
Pronated, Medium Grip Seated Row
This is just a normal seated row, but we want you to use a wide-grip lat pulldown attachment and an overhand grip (this grip reduces involvement of the subscapularis). Keep your chest high and don’t round over; focus on initiating the movement by retracting the scapulae. Your arms should just “come along for the ride” as you bring the bar to the lower abs.
Using a doorway, post, etc., firmly grab with one hand at about shoulder level. With a “soft” elbow, twist from the hips away from the arm until you get a mild stretch in the chest and shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and then repeat with opposite arm.
Face a lat pulldown or low pulley machine and grab the rope with an overhand grip. Pulling through the elbows, take the middle of the rope in a straight line towards the bridge of your nose, forehead, or throat (the higher you pull, the higher on your back you’ll target). The key is to make sure you fully retract the shoulder blades at the midpoint, squeeze, and then return to the starting position.
Rear Delt Fly
Get on a rear-delt fly machine (to prevent cheating) and use a neutral grip. Keep your chest against the pad throughout the movement. If you can’t understand the directions on the machine, give up on postural correction training and go play in traffic.
Alternate Exercise: Bent-over Lateral
Bend over at the waist, placing the weight on the heels and keeping the chest up. From the starting position, squeeze the posterior deltoids and raise the dumbbells to a point parallel to the ground. Squeeze at the midpoint and then return slowly to the starting position. Don’t use the upper traps; this isn’t a shrug!
Low Pulley External Rotation
Set the handle on a low pulley at slightly above knee height and stand with your non-working side toward the weight stack. Grasp the handle with your working arm and pull it across your body until it’s at upper thigh level on the opposite side. This is the starting position. The elbow should be flexed to approximately 90° with the upper arm held as close to the side as possible. To execute the concentric portion of the movement, externally rotate the humerus (all the motion should be at the shoulder) while keeping the elbow close to the starting position. A good trick is to pin a towel in between your elbow and side to prevent cheating; if the towel drops, you’re abducting, which indicates recruitment of the supraspinatus and deltoid (not the external rotators).
Set yourself up as if you had just completed a dip with bodyweight; keep the body as vertical as possible (minimizing forward lean). With the elbows locked, shrug your shoulders so that all the movement occurs at the scapulae. It’s very important that you attempt to keep your scapulae held tight against the rib cage throughout the movement; do not let them wing! If you don’t have access to a dip stand, you can do these off a bench (as shown below).
High-to-Low Cable Woodchop
With the knees slightly flexed, stand with one side facing a cable set-up with a D-handle attachment set above your hairline. Reach across your body and grip the handle with only a slight bend in the elbow.
Using the core musculature (especially the internal and external obliques), forcefully rotate your upper body to pull the cable across your body to a point below the opposite hip. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for reps. Try to avoid excessive hip flexion by focusing on keeping the chest high. You should also get some activation of the hip abductors with the body weight shifting that occurs throughout the exercise.
Walking Dumbbell Lunge
You’ve probably done these before, so there’s no need for an elaborate description. Make sure to keep your chest high and scapulae retracted; don’t round over!
Dumbbell Split Squat Isometric Hold
Position yourself as if you’re going to do a dumbbell split squat with the back leg elevated. However, instead of descending all the way to the bottom, we want you to hold at a position where the front leg is slightly below the 90 degrees knee flexion position.
Drive your front heel into the floor and squeeze the glutes and vastus medialis hard, keeping the chest high and scapulae retracted. Since the loading is pretty significant, you should fatigue, relaxing into a stretch for the hip flexors on the back leg. All in all, you’ll want to hold the position for one minute before moving to the other side. You may find it helpful to find some way to “fix” your back foot. The point between the back pad and seat on an incline bench works well, as do benches with built-in gaps (for switching from flat to incline). Or, you could just have someone hold your foot.
Position yourself with your back to a low pulley with a rope attached. Reach back between your legs and grab the rope with a neutral (palms facing each other) grip; be sure to take a step forward to ensure that the weight stack doesn’t touch down on the eccentric portion of the lift. With a slight knee-bend, keep a tight arch in your lower back, the chest high, and the head up. Drive your heels into the floor (as in a deadlift or good morning) and fire your hips forward. Focus on contracting the glutes as you pull through.
Facing away from a lat pulldown machine, pull a rope attachment down behind your neck. From the starting position, flex the abs down until you can’t contract them anymore.
Note: Make sure you only use your abs, not your hip flexors! Come up under control to the starting position. Think of rolling your shoulders over onto your lower abs instead of your entire torso going to your knees.
Sit on a bench with the legs close together and the ankles and feet dangling off the end of the bench with a dumbbell held between the feet. With the knees locked to prevent the quadriceps from assisting with the movement, raise your toes toward your face (dorsiflexion). Hold for a count at the top, and then lower the toes and repeat for reps.
Note: If you have access to a dynamic axial resistance device (DARD), use that instead.
This one isn’t rocket science. Either do this on the edge of a step, or from a semi-pushup position.
Chest Supported T-Bar Row
This is a normal T-Bar row; we just don’t want you to cheat it up with hip extension! Be sure to retract the scapulae to initiate the movement and hold the retraction for a count at the top. Use a pronated (overhand) grip and be sure to keep the chin tucked.
Alternate Exercise: Prone, Pronated Grip, 45° Incline Dumbbell Row
This is just a makeshift T-Bar row. Follow the same guidelines as before: scapulae retraction and tucked chin.
SCM/Upper Trapezius Stretch
In a seated position with good erect posture, place your right hand on the bottom of the chair and your left arm on the opposite side of your head. Gently pull on the right side of your head with your left hand to assist the stretch; hold for 15 seconds. Reverse all these steps to stretch the left side.
Suboccipital/Levator Scapulae Stretch
From the same starting position as the SCM stretch, tuck the chin in and bring it towards the chest. Place the left hand on top of the head to assist the stretch and hold for 15 seconds.
Single Arm Low Pulley Cable Row to Abdomen
Set the pulley at mid-shin and face the weight stack with a shoulder-width stance, knees slightly bent, and lower back slightly arched. Hold the handle with a neutral grip (thumbs facing up), and initiate the rowing movement by retracting your scapula on the same side as the handle. Then, bring the handle to alongside the hip. Think of this as a seated row/one arm row hybrid.
Dumbbell External Rotation, elbow supported at 90°
Sit sideways on a preacher bench and support your elbow while holding a dumbbell. In the starting position, there will be 90º angles at both the shoulder and elbow joint; in other words, it’ll look like you’re waving to someone with your elbow propped up.
From this position, lower the dumbbell forward (internally rotating the humerus) so that your palm faces toward the floor while maintaining the 90º/90º shoulder/elbow angles. Once the dumbbell has reached the pad, reverse directions by externally rotating the shoulder to return to the starting position. Keep the chest high and chin tucked throughout the movement.
One-Arm Prone Lower Trap Raise
Ideally, this exercise is performed face-down with your chest-supported on an elevated flat bench (i.e. longer legs, so that you’re higher off the ground). However, if you don’t have access to such a bench, you can do it bent-over; just make sure that your upper body remains parallel to the floor at all times (no cheating!)
Hold a dumbbell in one hand with a supinated group (the thumb points up at the top of the movement). Begin with the arm dangling below you on the bench. Horizontally adduct (think reverse fly) your arm while maintaining the thumb-up position. At the top, your arm should be at the 9 (left) or 3 (right) positions, and the upper arm and torso should form a 90-degree angle. Throughout the movement, concentrate on retracting the scapulae while keeping it tight to the rib cage (no winging).
Saxon Side Bend
Suffice it to say that we love and hate Coach John Davies for popularizing this movement; it’s extremely effective, but hurts like hell (in a good way, of course)! Stand with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell held in each hand and the arms directly overhead and together. Laterally flex (bend) to one side, with the motion coming at the waist, not the shoulder girdle and arms. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the opposite side. Be sure to keep the dumbbells close together throughout the movement.
Lie supine with the head flat on the floor. From the starting position, tuck the chin towards the chest, but keep the head on the ground (e.g. don’t let the suboccipitals and SCM take over the movement!) Hold, relax, and then repeat as necessary.
Theraband External Rotations
These are performed exactly the same as the low pulley external rotations, but with a theraband instead.
9 & 3 — 10 & 2
Lie face down on the floor with your arms lying next to your torso with the thumbs up. Initiate the movement by squeezing the shoulder blades together and raising your upper chest a few inches off the floor.
A key point: as you come up, externally rotate your arms so at the midpoint your palms are facing down. Hold and squeeze at the top, then lower under control to the starting position. You’ll be doing a set of these at two positions: 9 and 3 (arms directly out to the sides) and 10 and 2 (arms slightly forward of the previous position?kind of like Superman).
This exercise is also known as a “Pushup Plus.” Basically, it’s a pushup without any movement at the glenohumeral or elbow joints. Get set up as if you were going to do a pushup, and then just allow your shoulder blades to retract without bending your elbows. You should drop about two inches toward the floor.
To reverse the motion, protract the scapulae until you’re back in the starting position. This exercise activates and strengthens the serratus anterior, a muscle that is crucial in holding the scapulae tight to the rib cage, thus preventing scapular winging.
Single Leg Knee to Chest on Foam Roller
Lie supine with a foam roller positioned directly underneath your spine (parallel to it) between your back and the floor. Posteriorly tilt the pelvis utilizing abdominal hollowing; this should flatten out the lower back (neutral spine) and allow you to maintain contact with the roller with your lumbar spine.
Raise one knee to the chest while maintaining the flat back position. For most individuals, the actual movement approximates 90-135 degrees of hip flexion. A good trick is to place your hand on your abdomen during the movement to develop a better awareness of abdominal firing (as opposed to hip flexor firing).
Note: If you don’t have access to a foam roller, you can pick up one of those pool noodles children use in swimming pools to stay afloat. You’ll probably have to cut it in half, but it’s important to have one of these items in place for sensory feedback.
Prone Bridge and Side Bridge
For the prone bridge, bend the elbow so your upper and lower arms make 90-degree angles, and make sure the elbows are placed directly underneath the shoulder. Brace your entire core area and keep your hips up and in-line with your legs and torso. For the side bridge, you’ll only be bracing with one arm at a time. “Stack” the feet and keep your body in a straight line.
To be performed daily.
Again, using a doorway or post, keep the hands just above hip level. Keeping the chest up and your back flat, push the butt back until you feel a stretch along the sides of your back. Hold for 15 seconds.
Good Morning Stretch
This is an excellent technique that focuses the stretch on the hamstrings rather than the low back. Stand up straight with the chest held high and the hands on the hips. From the starting position, push the butt back until you feel a mild stretch in the hamstrings. Remember to keep an arch in your back throughout the stretch! Hold for 15 seconds and repeat as necessary.
Seated Side Bend (Quadratus Lumborum) Stretch
From an upright, seated position place the fingertips behind the head. From this position, try to let the left shoulder/elbow lower down to the hip. Don’t twist the spine! Make sure the trunk is erect for the entire duration of the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds, and then repeat on the opposite side.
We designed this program for the average Joe Weightlifter to iron out imbalances; there’s nothing particularly fancy-schmancy, sport-specific, or “functional” about it. As such, the core exercises included at low volumes may not be applicable for everyone’s goals. Some of you may need Olympic lifts, for example.
That said, you may wish to modify some of the exercises utilized. Just make sure the overall integrity of the program remains virtually the same in order to “undo” the damage that’s accumulated from years of unbalanced training approaches and poor daily posture. If you do choose to modify the program and aren’t sure if you’ve done so appropriately, feel free to post your version of our program on the T-Forum [link] and we’ll do our best to stop by and offer critiques and suggestions for improvement.
You’ll want to follow this program for four weeks, dropping the overall in-gym volume for the fourth week. Rather than going overboard to calculate a 38.9756% reduction in volume, simply drop a set off of each exercise in the program. Start up the following week with the program we’ll outline soon in Part V!
- Poliquin, C. Question of Strength. Testosterone Magazine. 14 May 1999.