The Benefits of Healthy Shoulder Posture and How to Achieve it Effortlessly
Dr. Edythe Heus
February 26, 2024

“Don’t slouch!”

You probably hear this in the voice of a well-meaning adult from your childhood whenever you find yourself slumping over your phone.

Aware that poor posture is bad for you, you straighten up for a moment. But then, you inevitably fall back into the flawed form your body has become accustomed to.

That’s because the techniques you’ve been taught—the book on top of the head, pulling the shoulder blades together—just don’t work.

The good news is there’s an effortless way to maintain optimal shoulder posture and reap all the benefits that come with it. Make sure to read until the end to find out!

Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder is a complex network of bones, muscles, and ligaments. Most people hardly ever take notice of it, but everything you do with your hands involves this body part.

Let’s dive deep into its anatomy to gain a better understanding of what a healthy shoulder posture is.

The Bones of the Shoulder

The shoulder girdle’s main function is to connect the upper arms to the torso. It has two bones—the scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle (collarbone).

The shoulder blade is a triangular bone sitting on the back of the rib cage. It anchors the collarbone and upper arms. It is so integral to the full function of the shoulder, that a change in its normal position can cause

  • difficulty in moving your arms, especially overhead;
  • shoulder weakness; and
  • injury and pain.

Meanwhile, the collarbone is the visible long and slender bone atop the rib cage. It acts as a strut that holds the shoulder blade in place and allows the upper arm to hang free.

The Joints of the Shoulder

Where the shoulder blade and collarbone meet is the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. The first half of its name comes from the acromion, which is the topmost part of the shoulder blade. You recruit this joint whenever you lift your arms above your shoulders.

The collarbone is connected to the sternum (breast bone) by the sternoclavicular (SC) joint. It is a ball-and-socket joint, meaning one bone has a rounded surface that fits into a hollow of another bone. This feature makes the SC joint more mobile, allowing you to shrug your shoulders and cross your arms.

Attaching the shoulder blade to the thorax (rib cage) is the scapulothoracic (ST) joint. The ST is not a true joint, as the surfaces of the rib cage and scapula are not actually attached to one another. In the middle of these bones are two muscles and the subscapular fascia. These facilitate the gliding movements of the shoulder blade.

We also have the glenohumeral joint, another ball-and-socket joint. It joins the humerus (upper arm) with the glenoid cavity of the shoulder blade. Because the head of the upper arm is bigger than the glenoid cavity, this joint is the most mobile in the human body. This mobility, however, comes at the cost of increased instability.

The Muscles and Fascia of the Shoulder

Since the shoulder girdle has two ball-and-socket joints, the soft tissues around it need to work overtime to keep it stable.

The rotator cuff muscles do the bulk of this work. These four muscles surround the shoulder like a cuff.

Several other muscles also help stabilize the shoulder girdle. These include the:

  • Deltoid
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Pectoralis major
  • Teres major

Each of these muscles are surrounded, protected, and held in place by fascia, a thin sheet of connective tissue. The fascia also helps prevent muscle strain and bone fractures in the shoulder during powerful movements.

What is the Optimal Shoulder Posture?

Good posture is the alignment that allows weight to be distributed evenly in the body. Good shoulder positioning is critical to achieving this alignment.

The shoulder should be vertically aligned with the rest of the body. That means, when viewed from the side, the center of your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles need to be in one line. Viewed from the front, your chest should appear broad and your shoulders level.

Your shoulder blades also need to be resting comfortably on your rib cage. Experts suggest that it should be two inches from the midline, between the second through seventh ribs.

A tell-tale sign that you have good shoulder posture is if your arms are able to swing freely when walking. It also shouldn’t be difficult or painful for you to reach a high shelf, reach into your back pocket, or comb your hair.

The Benefits of Healthy Shoulder Posture

Good posture makes you appear taller and more confident. Beyond that, great shoulder posture offers various advantages to your health and performance. Let’s go through them one by one:

Greater Respiratory Capacity

Breathing is such an automatic process that it tends to go unnoticed. But have you ever noticed how much easier it is to breathe when you’re not slouching?

Many researchers have looked into the correlation between posture and respiratory function. They confirm that individuals with an upright posture have a greater vital capacity and expiratory volume than those with rounded shoulders.

They explain that rounded shoulders, when maintained over time, shorten its surrounding muscles’ fibers over time. This process makes movement more difficult. Unfortunately, many of these muscles assist your body with respiration.

A slumped posture also compresses your chest, making it more difficult for your lungs and rib cage to expand as you breathe in.

Improved Digestion

The compression of your chest due to rounded shoulders not only affects your breathing, but also your digestion.

When you breathe well, the diaphragm moves down and up. This motion aids the gut’s normal function. Limited breathing capacity hampers this movement, disrupting your digestion.

Deep breathing also signals your parasympathetic nervous system to pump more blood into the stomach. Increased circulation in the digestive tract helps with digestion.

Resilience to Stress

Various studies have found that an upright posture brings out a improved mood and cognitive performance. You probably know (and have experienced) this by now.

But did you know that your posture also influences your resilience to stress?

Different trials have shown that adopting an upright posture—whether seated or walking—indeed changes the body’s response to stressors. In the face of stress, participants who maintained good alignment had

  • better self-esteem,
  • improved negative emotions, and
  • had a positive mood even in the face of stress.

Those who had good walking posture even had a significantly lower galvanic skin response, indicating that their emotions were less aroused by stress. They also had lower blood pressure and skin temperature than those who walked slumped.

Regulated Autonomic Function

Intricately linked with the first three points above is the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for ‘rest and digest’ functions, whereas the sympathetic nervous controls your ‘fight or flight’ response.

The parasympathetic nervous system is regulated by the vagus nerve. This cranial nerve can get compressed when you have a forward head posture, which often occurs with rounded shoulders.

When you have a slumped posture, your vagus nerve has a harder time countering your fight or flight tendencies. Thus, you tend to be more stressed and fatigued, and have poorer breathing and digestion.

Some of these effects has been observed by a pilot study tracking the effects of trunk posture on cardiovascular and autonomic nervous systems. They found that even a slight deviation from a neutral trunk position can have a negative effect on

  • systolic volume (the amount of blood pumped out by the heart),
  • heart rate variability (the difference in time between your heartbeats), and
  • sympathetic tone.

Improved Biomechanics

When you have posture, the force exerted by gravity on your body is offset by your joints and muscles. But when you slump down, your tissues are forced to carry more weight, leading to imbalances, injury, and disease.

Rounded shoulders, in particular, affect the many muscles, including the:

  • pectoralis minor and major,
  • serratus anterior,
  • upper trapezius,
  • lower trapezius, and
  • rhomboids.

The shortening and lengthening of these muscles alter the scapula and shoulder joint’s position, increasing the risk of neck, shoulder, and arm pain.

The consequences don’t end there. Remember how integral the scapula is to the movement of the entire arm? When it becomes misaligned, you experience decreased range of motion, strength, velocity, and accuracy.

How to Effortlessly Achieve a Healthy Shoulder Posture

Rather than rigidly disciplining yourself to broaden your chest and open your shoulders, there’s a better way to achieve a healthy shoulder posture:

The Rev6 Essentials.

These are the six building blocks of optimized movement. The great thing about these Essentials is how they all encourage and augment one another. The first five are as follows:

  1. Mind your feet,
  2. Hollow your abs,
  3. Lift your torso (lengthen the spine),
  4. Float your head, and
  5. Relax your back;

Once you master the first five Essentials, there is nothing left to do but allow your shoulders to fall into place. They will be naturally drawn back, dropped, and relaxed. Your shoulder blades will also rest more evenly on the rib cage. When these happen, you’ll notice your neck and arms become more free to move.

These will all translate to improved eye-hand coordination, upper body strength, gait, precision, and fluidity—consequently enhancing your athletic performance. Start practicing your Essentials today with our free foundation class!

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