Dowager’s hump will likely develop if you sit at a desk all day, have long hair, large breasts, wear high-heeled shoes or if you train your pectoral muscles more than your back muscles. This hunched-back condition may also develop if your chest muscles are tight and your back muscles are elongated, as in the case of many swimmers. Incorporating exercises to strengthen your spinal extensor and shoulder blade muscles will help you avoid dowager’s hump.
Neck and Upper Back Muscle Deviations
Staring at a screen for hours a day with your arms in front of you stretches your shoulder blade muscles and shortens your chest and deltoid muscles; this causes your shoulders to round forward, eventually leading to dowager’s hump. Though the weight of long hair and large breasts may seem minimal, over time this extra weight forces the spinal extensors of your neck to work harder to keep your ears over your shoulders. Eventually, these muscles become fatigued and lengthened, contributing to a hunched back. High-heeled shoes forces your upper back to curve posteriorly, adding to dowager’s hump.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
One-arm dumbbell rows strongly engage your rhomboid muscles and the lower half of your trapezius muscle. These are the primary muscles that draw your shoulder blades together, preventing dowager’s hump. Do this exercise by holding a dumbbell in your right hand then positioning your left knee and left hand about 2 feet apart on a flat bench. Sticking your buttocks out ensures your back and neck are in a straight line. Contract your shoulder blade muscles to pull the dumbbell toward you, raising your elbow slightly past your rib cage. Lower the dumbbell using a 2 second count to return to the start position.
Seated Cable Machine Rows
Seated cable rows enable you to work your back muscles on both sides of your spinal column. This exercise also strengthens your rhomboid and trapezius muscles. The height of the seat must be adjusted so that when you pull the row bars toward you, your hands are near your underarms. Perform this exercise by grabbing the handle bars and sitting on the chair with your arms straight in front of you. Contract your back muscles to pull the bars toward you and hold for 2 seconds. Return to the start position using a 2 second count and repeat.
Incorporate these two exercises into your upper body training program. If you are just beginning to workout, perform three sets of 15 repetitions per exercise. Gradually increase the resistance you are using to do four to six sets of six to 12 repetitions per set. Include variations of these exercises such as one-arm cable rows instead of one-arm dumbbell rows and prone T-bar rows instead of seated cable rows. Furthermore, consider stretching after your chest and shoulder workouts to reduce the pull of these muscles on your back and neck muscles, avoiding dowager’s hump.
- “Examination of Musculoskeletal Injuries”; Sandra Shultz, Ph.D., Peggy Houglum, Ph.D., and David Perrin, Ph.D.; 2005
- “Therapeutic Exercise for Musculoskeletal Injuries”; Peggy Houglum, Ph.D.; 2005
- “Personal Trainer Manual”; American Council on Exercise; 1997