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I have very tense muscles in my back (mainly my traps) and I am having trouble relaxing them.

Physios have told me that my lower traps and rhomboids are weak and I should be trying to strengthen them.

The problem is that different health professionals have advocated for and against strength training while the muscles are tense. But the muscles are tense partly because of muscle imbalance (I work as a programmer and my shoudlers have rounded and my head pokes forward a little bit).

The other reason they are tense is because I experience a lot of anxiety which manifests in the neck/shoulder/back region

My current approach to solving this problem is :

  1. Psychologist and meditation for anxiety (root cause), and progressive muscle relaxation
  2. Static stretches from the physio (traps, pecs, seratus anterior, lats)
  3. Pilates once a week
  4. 15mins Yoga daily
  5. Swimming 30mins (mainly breaststroke and backstroke) 3x a week, with cycling for 30mins as a change. Sauna after swim.

I don't seem to be getting any results. The stretches don't seem to have a big impact, the yoga and pilates feel good, but I'm not sure I do enough of them, and the swimming doesn't seem to build strength.

Do I have to relax my back muscles before building strength? Does swimming build body strength? Would weights be an option? How can I get an objective measure of how these things are helping (either in building strength or flexibility)? Any ideas on other approaches.

I'm thinking about self-administered trigger point therapy and using a bio-feedback device to learn not to tense my shoulders.

I'm asking here because different Physio's have advocated completely different approaches.

Thanks for any help!

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You say our physio has you doing stretches. Do they also have you doing exercises to strengthen the lower traps and rhomboids that you say are weak? You may find some posture info here, but it is best to go by what your physio says. –  BackInShapeBuddy Jun 30 '13 at 3:37
    
Thanks for the great info. Yeah I've been given push ups against a wall. Its too early to tell with those yet. I've just been a bit uncertain about what I'm doing with the differing opinions that each different physio has had. –  user6171 Jun 30 '13 at 21:35
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2 Answers

In the personal training studio where I work, we have several clients who come in for either weight loss or strength gain along with bad postures.

Our approach to this problem is to include corrective exercises in their warm ups and then have them do regular workouts which are geared towards their goals.

One of the corrective exercises which we use in the warm ups is called wall slides. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReigOk7Krzc

This is a great exercise which targets the traps and is a great way to help your traps keep your shoulders from rolling forward.

Additionally, Deadlifts are a great strength training exercise which also help strengthen the traps. When lifting up the heavy weights the shoulders tend to want to roll forward, and the traps stabilize them and keep them in place, and as a result they get stronger. Stronger traps means straighter shoulders which means better posture. Now I do realize that the deadlift is an advanced move, but I am pointing out that strength training can have some very positive affects for you in your position.

You also mentioned that your muscles are tense due to a lot of anxiety you feel. Typically lifting heavy weights and having a good effective workout is a great way to release stress.

To sum it all up, should you include some strength training? In one word: YES!

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Strength exercises to pull the shoulders backwards have helped me with programmer's hunch. Pull-ups and deadlifts are particularly useful, as well as back squats.

Strength training is OK almost no matter what: it's making sure that the strength training is working to solve your problems rather than exacerbate them. For instance, I would go easy with push-ups, dips, and bench press for the moment, and focus on mobility exercises (such as wall slides) until you feel more comfortable with those pushing movements.

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