Peak Performance | Strengthen Postural Muscles in the Upper Back

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, personal trainer and Mountaineer Courtenay Schurman shares several movements for postural muscles in the upper back.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
October 06, 2020
Peak Performance | Strengthen Postural Muscles in the Upper Back

In the last issue, we suggested home variations on the plank for developing the horizontal pushing muscles in our shoulders, chest, triceps and core. Below we offer several movements for the opposing muscle groups: the horizontal pulling muscles of the rhomboids and shoulders.

Even among mountaineers who tend to be more active than the general population, we often find climbers have fairly strong lats (from all the vertical pulling they do) but lack development in the rhomboids: muscles in the middle of the back that help bring the shoulder blades together. Some climbers develop abnormal posture. Forward-slouching shoulders, tight pectorals, and “belay-neck” (from constantly looking up at climbing partners) can all contribute to lower back pain.

To improve your posture and provide balance to your home workout, consider incorporating horizontal rowing movements that involve squeezing the shoulder blades together. Two great exercises are the Corner Reverse Pushup and Reverse Band Flyes.

Corner Reverse Pushup


Find a vacant corner anywhere in your house that allows you to snug into a corner (facing the room) with upper arms parallel to the floor. Position your heels 1.5 to three feet away from the corner, and hold your body straight from head to heels. Keep your elbows parallel to the floor, shoulders away from the ears, and hips away from the walls throughout the movement. You may need to adjust your elbows every few repetitions to prevent them from dropping below parallel.


Engage the muscles in your middle upper back to press both elbows into the wall. This will propel your entire body forward. Pause and hold for two seconds, then lower your torso into the corner. The farther out you position your feet and the longer you hold the end position, the harder the exercise becomes. Perform two sets of 10-20 repetitions, then drop your head forward and stretch clasped hands in front of you to stretch the rhomboids.

Band Reverse Fly

If you train outside or you are unable to find a vacant corner, consider working with a light to moderate resistance exercise band or surgical tubing.


Grip the band with palms facing down. Hold it directly in front of your chest, hands about 12-18 inches apart (less for a stretchy band, more for a tight band).


Pull your hands away from each other, concentrating on squeezing your shoulder blades together, almost as though you are trying to crack an egg between them. Keep both arms straight as you pull the band apart and back toward your chest. Perform two sets of 10-20 repetitions.

Both of these exercises are great movements for canoers and kayakers to add to their programs, and may help backpackers prepare to carry heavier packs. If your program focuses on vertical pulling, consider adding horizontal rowing and one or both of these exercises for program (and body) balance. An ounce of prevention today is worth a pound of rehabilitation in the future.

Courtenay Schurman is an NSCA-CSCS certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified Nutrition Supercoach, and co-owner of Body Results. She specializes in training outdoor athletes. For more how-to exercises or health and wellness tips, visit her website at or send a question to

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive.

lead Photo by Doug Schurman.

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