Consider this fact:
The average human head weighs 8 pounds. And if your chin moves forward just 3 inches—as it tends to when you work at a computer—the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and upper back must support the equivalent of 11 pounds. That's a weight-bearing increase of 38 percent—often for hours at a time. Left untreated, the effect of chronic desk slump results in a postural dysfunction that physical therapists call upper-cross syndrome; you know it as rounded shoulders.
The consequences aren't simply a vanity concern; this little-known condition is a common cause of weight-lifting plateaus, as well as pain and injuries. And, chances are, if you work a desk job or lift weights, you already suffer—or soon will—from this sinister syndrome. Your risk is even higher if you do both.
Use the self-test that follows to determine whether you're an upper-cross victim. Then reevaluate your workout and your job posture with our problem-solving guide. It'll show you how to repair the damage if you've already fallen prey, and provide you with a preemptive battle plan for fending it off in the future. The bonus: Your shoulders will be bigger, stronger, and healthier than ever.
The Self-Test: Are You Crossed Up?
Place two fingers at the top of your right shoulder and feel for a bony notch that pro- -trudes from it. That's your acromion. Now grab a ruler and lie on your back on the floor, your right arm resting alongside your body. With your left hand, measure the distance from your right acromion to the floor, being careful not to raise or lower your right shoulder as you do so. If the distance is more than 1 inch, you have upper-cross syndrome.
Want a second opinion? Ask a friend to take a digital picture of you—shirtless—from the side. Stand tall, but in a relaxed position, the way you would if you weren't thinking about your posture. Check to see if the middle of your ear is in line with the middle of your shoulder, hip, and ankle. If you can't draw a straight line through these points, then you've just been diagnosed—again.
Problem #1: Your Workout
The shoulder is the most complex and unstable joint in the human body. For it to function properly, you need to train all the muscles that help stabilize it. Trouble is, to the average guy, the shoulder muscles are the deltoids, the rounded muscles that cap the upper arms. Period. "Men suffer from an—If I can't see it, why train it?' mentality," says Micheal Clark, D.P.T., president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
And that means they'll do plenty of overhead presses and lateral raises—exercises that target the front and middle portions of the deltoid—but neglect the smaller, less visible muscles at the back of the shoulder joint. The result: a strength imbalance, which makes the shoulder less stable.
Poor stability not only increases your risk of injury—think dislocations and rotator-cuff tears—but also reduces your strength in almost every upper-body lift. That's because you can lift only as much weight as your shoulders can support. In fact, weak shoulder joints are the most common cause of longtime lifting plateaus.
Another workout issue: bench presses and lat pulldowns, two of the most popular exercises in any gym (except Curves). The first move emphasizes your pectoralis major—the primary muscle of your chest—and the second targets your latissimus dorsi, the largest muscles of your back.