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Recently I had some neck and shoulder pain and my physiotherapist said it is because my monkey-like posture developed from using laptop for too long. Among other things he recommended some exercises to strengthen the lower part of my trapezius muscle. The problem with his exercise is that it is horribly boring (consists of lying on the floor on my front and lifting my arms in a specific way). I have to do gzillion series to actually feel the muscle.

So I am looking for

  1. A better exercise I could do in the gym for the lower trapezius (I read somewhere that rowing would be good - is it correct?)
  2. A general set of exercises to tackle the monkey posture issue

My current fitness level is rather low because of very young children not leaving me time for training. I am planning to get back to it though!

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2 Answers

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I will preface my answer with a disclaimer that I don't know if my suggestions will be appropriate for your neck and shoulder condition, so I'd recommend that you clear them with your therapist.

  • Specificity - The exercise your therapist gave you may be boring, but it speciically targets the lower trapezius in a shortenend range. Your rounded "monkey" posture protracts the scapula (shoulder blades) pulling them up and out, farther away from the spine which lengthens and therefore weakens the lower traps. When you lie prone and raise your arm overhead, having a picture in your mind of the lower trapezius pulling the tip of the shoulder blade down and back in toward the spine will give you a better muscle contraction.

  • Postural Strengthening - If you aren't fatiquing the muscle then you are probably ready to add light weights to the exercise(s). There are several exercises that strengthen the upper back and improve posture, such as rows, lat pulldowns and reverse flys (but they will not necessarily isolate the lower trap).

    Resistance bands are a good way to strengthen your postural muscles. Rows, reverse flys and shoulder rotations can be done sitting at your desk with a band.

    You also want to address your back extensors and core or abdominal muscles to give you good postural muscle support. Yoga is also a good exercise regime for improving your overall posture.

  • Stretching - In addition to strengthening the back and scapular muscles, you want to stretch your shortened muscles in the front of your body (pecs, abs and hip flexors). There are a couple of ways to specifically stretch the different fibers of the pecs using a doorway, and lying on a foam roller that opens the chest.

  • Breathing - With a "monkey posture" the lower rib cage tends to get depressed. Using diaphragmatic breathing allows your lower rib cage to lift and expand which can help to release that downward pull.

As your alignments improve, you'll have less strain on the neck and shoulders. Just remember my disclaimer to clear any resistance training with your physio.

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If you added some hand weights to the floor exercise he suggested that would change the difficulty quickly. Trap muscle are weird, in that may times you have to try to squeeze them intentionally. Some gyms have little pictures on the machinery to indicate which muscles group should be activated by using that machine. That's a start if you really want to be out of your home when doing these exercises. (Workout at home are so tough to do consistently). In the process of strengthening the traps you will also help your posture I think, because I can't think of 1 exercises that uses the traps where you do not need to properly sit and arch your back (versus hunch). As for the laptop thing, maybe a USB mouse to keep you from needing to hunch towards the trackpad.

Silly me, started thinking about LATS, not TRAPS. I'll leave my previous post intact, but as a revision, go to this site for targeted exercises with pictures for tons of muscles and muscle groups.

http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/finder/lookup/filter/muscle/id/11/muscle/traps

It even has filters!

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Sadly my gym doesn't have the pictures, so I couldn't just check myself. I tried to find them on the web, but failed as well. –  Grzenio May 11 '12 at 10:29
    
@Grzenio. You know what. For some reason halfway I started thinking about lats when doing this post. Horrible. I think it's because you mentioned Rowgin, and that Arm exercise. I found you a good place to get targeted exercises though: bodybuilding.com/fun/traps.htm –  VISQL May 14 '12 at 15:28
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