How to Reverse a Caved-In Chest

Who Doesn't Want a Strong, Muscular Chest?
A strong chest isn't caved in due to poor posture and weak muscles. (Image: Chest)

If your goal is a strong, muscular chest, versus the caved-in variety you sport right now, then the bench press, push-ups and cable flyes should take front and center when it comes to a training program.

These exercises seem obvious because they work the chest, but they also protect the shoulder blades — which, when rounded forward, pronounce a caved-in chest. Couple that with the slumped-over posture that so many fell prey to each day, and you'll find that it's time to reverse your upper body.

The Culprit

When the muscles that pull the shoulder blades forward are tighter and stiffer than the muscles of the upper back, a caved-in chest occurs. To remedy the problem, you must lengthen the muscles that are short and strengthen the muscles that pull the shoulder blades back.

The primary muscles responsible for pulling the shoulder blades forward and tipping them down are the serratus anterior, pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

While many factors that lead to tight and stiff pec muscles — such as excessive benching, as well as other pushing exercises, a weak upper back and sitting and working at a desk for a large part of the day — the main goal to reverse the caved-in chest is to decrease the stiffness and lengthen these muscles first.

Man with impaired posture position defect scoliosis and ideal bearing.
Poor posture can lead to a caved-in chest. (Image: undrey/iStock/Getty Images)

The To-Do List

First on your to-do list is to lessen the stiffness of your chest's pectoral muscles. To do this, use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball or other round object to massage the muscle.

Take the ball and put it between a wall and the upper chest just to the inside of the shoulder. Lightly press your bodyweight into the ball and start to move the ball around rolling over the pectoral muscles. This will help to decrease the tension in the muscles.

From there, move onto the next item on your list: stretching the muscles. Using a doorway, place your forearm on the door jam with your elbow at shoulder height and your arm to the side of the body (the position of your arm should be as if you were making a “field goal” sign).

With your forearm on the doorway, slowly rotate your upper body away from your arm until you feel a slight stretch in the upper chest. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and switch sides.

Strengthening the Upper Back

Now that you've taken care of the front of your upper body, it's time to work on the back by completing the next task on your list, strength-training. The upper back — rhomboids, middle traps, lower traps — are responsible for pulling your shoulder blades back and tipping them back as well. When these are stronger and stiffer than the pectoral muscles, your shoulder blades will stay back and the caved in chest will be reversed.

Using pulling exercises, such as dumbbell rows, inverted rows, seated rows, cable rows, band pull-aparts, face pulls and prone Ts, will help to strengthen the upper-back muscles.

The main focus should be on feeling the shoulder blades move toward the spine and tip backward when completing these exercises — if you are simply pulling with the arms and not focusing on moving the shoulder blades, you will not reap the benefits of these exercises. Finish the exercises by contracting and holding the upper-back muscles while your shoulder blades are in a good back position.

Complete two pulling exercises for every one pushing exercise you do to fix your chest problem. Once you are balanced and the caved-in chest has been reversed, reduce it to one pulling exercise to every one pushing exercise.

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