14 In Back Strengthening Exercises/ Blog

Upper back exercises to reduce shoulder, neck and back pain

Hey guys!

Back on the blog this week with another postural therapy post. This time I want to write about how the upper body posture can have a big impact on your lower body (hips and low back) –  the body is an interconnected system. I will then show you few upper back exercises that will help you tremendously restore proper alignment.

UPDATE: This blog post has been updated with a walkthrough video as so many readers have requested it 🙂 so there you go. Keep scrolling to find the video below!

When you first get diagnosed with a condition (sciatica, herniated disc, piriformis syndrome, SI joint pain, etc.), you probably do most of the work in that one area of the body and completely ignore the rest.  I did this too. I would foam rolling my hips every day and stretching every half an hour.   I completely ignored everything else. In fact, I even forgot that some areas of my body existed I was just too focused on my low back.

The issue is, if your upper body posture is not aligned, your hips are also not gonna be aligned. You can’t possibly have a straight posture if your shoulders are rounded forward, your chest is tight and your head is always looking down.

One of the areas that get mostly stiff and tight is the chest and shoulders area (pectoral and deltoids).  If you are spending most of your day sitting, driving or looking at your phone in that forward-head-shoulder position, your pectoral minor (a muscle that runs from your shoulder-blade to your sternum (breastbone)) is very likely to get really tight.

The problem with this is, your arms will internally rotate to stabilize the shoulder and this will lead to chronic tightness and shoulder pain. Just know this, you will be surprised at how much time you spend looking at your phone and sitting down.  It was a huge awakening moment for me.

In this post, I want to show you a few on-the-go exercises that you can do in a few minutes to release your chest tightness and restore proper posture. These exercises will also help you fix shoulder pain and neck pain from sitting too much on your computer.

You can do this in your office, at home or anywhere.

You will need:

A Foam Massage Ball

A Resistance Band or a Loop resistance band

In each exercise you will complete X amount of reps:  I’m not a fan of having an ‘exact’ number of repetition when it comes to resistance training. You should always complete each rep with proper form until failure.  That could mean 3 or 15, depending on your strength level.


pectoral muscle massage ball chest release

Pectoral wall release and wall stretch: Place the Foam Massage Ball (or a tennis ball) between your chest and a wall. Try to keep your hand (my left as illustrated) behind your back. Press against the wall to apply pressure. Use your body to spin the ball away from the chest/shoulder. You will feel the tightness in that area so make sure you do this slowly to increase the pressure and explore that whole area.  I even lift my hand and rotate it up and down.

After you do this, move to the wall stretch.  You can do this exercise against the edge of a wall or door frame. Make sure your shoulder is down and both your hand and elbows are touching the wall. Rotate slightly (to the right as illustrated) as you move forward. Hold for few seconds, release and repeat

Now, get your resistance band and let’s work on strengthening the back muscles (postural muscles).


Scroll below to see the exercises if you can’t watch the video now. But it’s important to watch it at some point so you know exactly how to do them.


Resistance band shoulder stabilisation

Hold the Resistance Band and pull out to create some resistance. Shoulders down, move the band up and keep the same resistance throughout the movement. Maintain a neutral posture as you move your arms up.  Remember not to overstretch the band at the top. Repeat this movement X times, rest and repeat 2 more times.

Shoulder Pull apart: Shoulders down. Pull the Resistance Band apart as you keep your wrists straight. Your body will touch the resistance band but keep your posture neutral. Your upper-mid back muscles should be working.  Think about your mid-back muscles doing the pull (imagine you are trying to bring your shoulder blades to touch each other). Control the movement back to the starting position.  Complete 3 sets of X controlled reps.

Modification: if you are not familiar with the shoulder pull apart or can’t do the exercise properly, you can start by holding one end of the band with one hand, and pull with the other hand. You can also attach one end to a handle and pull with the other arm.

Rotator cuff strengthener: Hold the resistance band between your hands. Point your hands outwards for external rotation. Pull the band outwards as you externally rotate your arms in a comfortable range of motion. This is a small yet important exercise. Complete 3 sets of  X controlled reps. Rest for 40 seconds in between sets.

Low impact row: Start in a standing position. Anchor the band between your foot. Make sure both ends are equal in length and contract your shoulder blades and pull up. You will feel this exercise in your traps as well. Complete 10 controlled reps for 2 sets.

Standing band row: anchor the resistance band around a bar or a table leg (if stable enough). Step backward to create resistance. Core engaged and neutral posture, pull the band and hold for a second and return to starting position in a controlled movement. Complete 2 sets of 10 reps.

You can complete the upper body exercises either back to back as a circuit, or just pick a couple exercises and do them with a minute rest in between.   The important thing here is good quality repetitions, controlled movement, and proper breathing.  Your back muscles will help maintain that good posture as you work on strengthening them.

I hope this post was helpful to you 🙂 Please let me know if any questions or comments. Oh, and the products on this post are affiliate links, so it just means I get a small commission from Amazon if you decide to buy any. Obviously, I use them myself and wouldn’t recommend anything I don’t trust.

PS: don’t forget to grab your back pain kit!

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  • Thank you so much for this! I have terrible posture but I try to make it a point every time I’m out to straighten my back and roll my shoulders back.

  • Hello Sofia, I always love the workouts. The exercises which you have described I really liked that. This will help to get rid of back pain. Thanks for sharing your blog with us.

  • patty says:

    I really need to strengthen my back between my shoulder blades. I work at a computer all day and do a lot of card making and quilting. I am having to slow down due to my back hurting. I know the muscles are just not strong enough and get overworked. These look great since it is something you can do in your home with a band.

    I am just a bit confused. Not sure if the first and second images are two separate exercises. The first shows the band pulled out while arms are overhead yet it says to lift the arms. Are you supposed to pull the band out as in the second image and while pulled out to the sides lift overhead?

    • Coach Sofia says:

      Hi Patty,

      Really glad you found this post, I do these exercises every second day to strengthen my upper back, and also open up my chest (sitting to much can have that effect on the shoulders, they get rounded). Definitely do it at home when you get a chance. I’m gonna have to make a video version of this post because it’s very popular 🙂

      And so sorry about the confusion. No, the first and second images are two separate exercises, I guess I forgot to separate them. So in the first exercise, you start by creating some resistance in the band, and then you lift your arms up while focusing on bringing he shoulder blades together, then back down as you keep that resistance. A good trick is to pretend someone is placing their hands on your shoulder blades and you are trying to bring the left arm to touch the right arm.

      The second image is the shoulder pull apart, and in this one you actually pull apart the band, and then back to starting position. Of course make sure you are pulling using your shoulder blades and not with your forearms. So Keep your arms straight as you pull.

      Another thing is, as you strengthen the back muscles, you should also release/stretch the chest. It gets too tight from slouching all day and working on computer. You can either use a massage ball or tennis ball or to stretch it against the wall as well.

      I hope this helps, let me know if this isn’t clear enough 🙂

  • Lori says:

    Great exercises! I train individual afflicted by Parkinson’s disease. Posture & core exercises are a huge part of preventing the progression of their stooped posture.



    thank you
    [email protected]

  • Judi Selset says:

    Hi Sophia
    I just found your site while looking for a site to help me with my tight shoulders/neck and back issues. I don’t know if this is relevant to the issue but in April I “blew out” my bicep. I exercised through PT but didn’t really help a lot. I’ve been using small weights 2-3# to try to get back some strength. I’m 76 and I know if I don’t use it and strengthen it.. then down the road I might be in real trouble for lifting anything including my arm up. Do you have any suggestions or videos for this issue and for seniors to strengthen their bodies. I have a pacemaker so any extreme cardio or lifting heavy weights will probably be to much for me. Thank you for your time😊

    • Coach Sofia says:

      Hi Judi,
      You definitely don’t have to place a load on your muscles or engage in extreme cardio or weight lifting to strengthen your body. There are workable solutions for everything. I use resistance bands in this video and they are extremely low impact. If you’re using the right back muscles to pull the band you shouldn’t feel it in your biceps at all.the movement should initiate from the shoulder joint. I also think that simply maintaining proper posture when sitting and standing will help you avoid muscle imbalances and keep you away from pain. I love egoscue potural exercises because they are low impact, simple to do and help you maintain proper alignment and proper muscle tone. I hope you check it out.

  • Laura Martinez says:

    Hi Sofia,
    Just found your post about posture exercises. I have upper back pain because of poor posture. Thank you for the exercises. I’ve been going to physical therapy and do some of the resistance band exercises. I will add a few more that you suggested.
    Thanks again.

    • Coach Sofia says:

      You’re so welcome Laura! yes posture will help you avoid upper back pain. Make sure you’re sleep position is also aligned so you’re not hunched over when you’re sleeping on the side. All the best 🙂

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