Last updated on March 7th, 2023 at 09:56 am
If you’re someone who regularly pumps out hundreds of push ups I’m sure you’ve seen some pretty positive changes to your physique.
However, you may also have noticed that your shoulders have become more rounded.
In fact, your posture isn’t great and you spend a lot of time slouched forward at the shoulders.
So, are push ups to blame for your unwanted physical appearance?
Push ups themselves don’t cause rounded shoulders. In fact, the main cause of rounded shoulders is poor posture. This is compounded in the modern day and age by how much time we spend slouched in front of a computer, desk, or TV. With that being said, if your only upper body exercise is push ups then this may lead to poor posture too. You should aim to work your upper back and lats twice as much as the front of your torso. This will help to even out any imbalances.
Table of Contents
The Main Cause of Rounded Shoulders
Firstly, I will say that push ups themselves won’t cause rounded shoulders.
Okay, I’ll admit that there is a certain way of doing push ups that may contribute to this, and I’ll speak more on this in a moment.
However, in the main, rounded shoulders are typically caused by poor posture.
And unfortunately, this is now so much worse in the modern day and age.
In fact, you could say that poor posture and rounded shoulders have reached almost epidemic-like proportions.
Basically, so many of us spend hours and hours a day sitting at a desk, typically in front of a computer.
We also spend much of our day looking down at our phones, which has caused the latest phenomenon in poor posture, namely “texting neck”.
And to compound all of these things we’re probably the least active we’ve always been.
So, there is no way I want to lay the blame for rounded shoulders on a fitness activity like push ups.
In reality, the blame clearly lies in the fact that we spend many hours a day hunched over, crooked at the neck, and not being as active as we should.
In fact, poor posture and rounded shoulders could easily have been avoided if we made an effort to simply get up from our desks every 30 minutes or so.
But instead, we remain in the same position for hours on end, day-after-day.
With that being said, this article is specifically focused around whether push ups cause rounded shoulders.
And I’ve mentioned that there may be a case for this.
So, let’s get to it.
Are Push Ups Your Only Upper Body Exercise?
If push ups are literally your only form of exercise then there is potential for them to cause rounded shoulders.
I know for a fact that I have spent some time simply focusing on push ups and not much more.
For me, I was returning from a lower body injury, so after a month or so of no exercise whatsoever I turned to walking and push ups.
I viewed this as a way to ease myself back into being active again.
However, the body typically reacts best to more symmetrical training.
So, whereas push ups are a fantastic exercise, if they’re all that you do you’re likely to end up with a muscular imbalance.
Push ups mainly work the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.
So, in effect, the front of your torso is getting a great workout.
However, clearly there are many other muscles in the body, and by ignoring these muscles they will eventually become weaker.
This can also lead to a loss of muscle in the areas, especially the upper back and lats (more on this in a moment).
And it is this unevenness of training that can cause poor posture and rounded shoulders.
So, if your training is primarily focused on performing push ups, you should do something to even this out.
Fix Your Push Up Form
Something else that could potentially cause posture problems is how you perform push ups.
In fact, over the years I’m been dismayed at how I’ve seen people doing push ups.
Firstly, I think there’s an overeagerness to perform push ups too fast simply to get in as many reps as possible.
And unfortunately, through excessive speed push up form seems to go out of the window.
There are a number of form pointers that you should be aware of, and by adhering to these you can certainly keep rounded shoulders at bay.
First and foremost you should retract your shoulder blades as you get yourself into position.
This simply means that you’ll want to pull your shoulder blades back and down.
Plus, each time you come to the top position during a rep you’ll want to ensure you hit that shoulder retraction.
Most people typically don’t come far up enough at the top of a push up to get themselves into this position.
This is why I say there should be a deliberate down and up movement.
In effect, you’re pausing ever so slightly at both the bottom and the top of a push up.
Furthermore, hand placement plays a huge role, and I typically see many people with their hands placed too far forward.
Your hands should be placed at your side, more or less in line with your chest, and not somewhere near your head as I frequently see.
You’ll also want to contract your entire core, including your glutes.
Not only does this make push ups more of a full-body exercise, but it also ensures that you don’t suffer from the dreaded saggy midsection.
In fact, by keeping the entire body tight throughout each rep you’ll do so much more for helping your posture in the long run.
Focus on Pulling Twice as Much as Pushing
I have alluded to this above, especially when I was talking about push ups potentially being your only physical activity.
Unfortunately, there is so much focus on the front of the body, or the “show muscles”, that we often forget that most of the largest muscles in the body are located behind us.
However, most of us spend the vast majority of our time training the front of the body.
This will generally involve push ups, bench pressing, overhead pressing, bicep curls, etc.
And don’t even get me started on training the lower body.
With that being said, all this focused attention on the front of the body can definitely lead to rounded shoulders.
In fact, it is this neglect of the back of the body that causes poor posture in even the most active of people.
For me, I have always believed that you should train your pull muscles twice as much as your push muscles.
So, when it comes to performing push ups as an upper body exercise, I would personally like to even this out by also doing rows and pull ups for my back.
The other great thing about training the upper back and lats is that it provides a fantastic stable base for all your pushing exercises.
Therefore, believe it or not, training your back and lats more often will actually lead to you being stronger with push ups, bench press, overhead press, etc.
So, my advice would be to always focus more on the back of the body than the front.
You’ll be surprised at just how much your physique will change by doing so.
Practice Scapular Push Ups
A final thing to try if you have rounded shoulders is to perform scapular push ups.
Scapular push ups only go through a tiny range of motion, but they are the ideal way to learn proper shoulder retraction.
In truth, there are so many exercises that require proper shoulder retraction.
And by understanding how to do this perfectly, not only will you improve your exercise technique, but also how your body looks overall.
Scapular push ups require you to literally move no more than a couple of inches.
However, you’ll immediately learn how to retract your shoulder blades properly, as well as exactly what position you should be in at the top of a push up.
So, I hope you understand that in most cases push ups will not cause rounded shoulders.
The only time this may occur is if all the physical activity you do is merely push ups.
Then again, it may be due to you excessively working the front of the body.
In reality, you should be training your pull muscles twice as much as your push muscles.
This will help you to avoid muscle imbalances which typically lead to poor posture and rounded shoulders.
It’s also a great idea to regularly practice scapular push ups, which will teach how to retract the shoulder blades properly.
Next, discover more about how to stop your elbows from flaring out whenever you do push ups.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.