Changing upper back posture and correcting a pot belly appearance (notes on rib flare)

Posted on May 29, 2017

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This is our periodic reminder posture, movement, these things can change, and it doesn’t usually take long. Here is Jason, before and after a couple months.

Improving his low shoulder:

Jason S shoulder height beforeJason S shoulder height after

-> Why improving a drooping shoulder is important.

Before then after:

Next, his spine:

improving thoracic kyphosis posture

Going from ok to better:

improving upper body posture shoulder rounded forward

His upper back is straighter, as is his lower. Now the goal isn’t a completely straight spine. It’s natural and healthy to have some curvature. He doesn’t need to straighten his out any more than above.

You can see how much flatter his stomach looks in the right image as well. That’s from lessening the amount the mid and lower spine is pushing forward. Spine pushes forward => stomach pushes out.

This is why those obsessing over rib flare almost never need be. Odds are the spine is also compensating, and there is more bang for your buck in going after the spine than the ribs. Change the spine and

1) you’ll probably change the ribs

-> Absolutes are rare in human movement: some have stated anterior pelvic tilt and rib flare are the same thing. Not true. You can anteriorly tilt the pelvis with zero rib movement. The ribs are connected to the spine, but not at all segments.

2) people get issues at their spine way more often than issues at their ribs (rib pain ain’t common / change what’s painful)

3) you want mobile ribs, such as when you’re trying to lift the arms overhead (which this person was having trouble doing)

Try lifting your hands overhead while locking your ribs down. Doesn’t work well!

Most who’ve gone after rib flare have tricked themselves. They happened to notice a lot of people who had issues with their overhead mobility flared their ribs, but that flaring is because the mid to lower spine is excessively extending. That is, these people compensate for a lack of overhead mobility by leaning backwards at the mid to lower back. When you can’t extend your upper back effectively, you go down the spine to get that extension elsewhere.

Notice this person’s overhead motion:

cause of rib flare raising arms

Their arms look overhead, but actually they’re leaning back to get that motion:

lack of overhead mobility compensation at lower back

Where their arms are not above their torso. They’re still in front!

lack of overhead mobility compensation pattern

And we happen to see the ribs flare as we hinge back. We push in at the lower back, causing something (the ribs / stomach) to get pushed out:

lack of overhead mobility rib flare

And telling the person above to “pull your ribs down” in no way guarantees that leaning backwards will diminish. In part because we’re talking someone with limited overhead mobility -limited shoulder flexion / thoracic extension- yet who is trying to get their arms overhead. Since they can’t get it from the shoulders, they are going to lean back one way or another, ribs pulled down or not.

-> This is why I often put people against walls, where it’s easier to avoid this type of compensation.

Nor can you simply categorize this as “the overextended athlete.” Overextended where? So far, certainly not at the upper back. It’s not extending enough!

In fact, pulling the ribs down would make a person’s upper back more rounded!

Neck and upper back chest GIF FULl

As the ribs move down the upper back flexes.

This is why so many of us have gone away from doing crunches, as a crunch pulls the ribs towards the pelvis, which we all do plenty when we sit hunched in a chair for hours on end. (So the last thing we need is exercise which reiterates the motion.) Yet suddenly the last few years so many of us now want to be more crunched??? We changed the population that quickly!?

There are instances where someone is extending their upper back excessively. These tend to be very specific populations. Think gymnasts or someone who has been trained to stand as erect as possible, like the military. In the everyday population, these people barely exist.

Because again, most are worried about rounding over a desk too much. It’s hard to be an overextended athlete when you spend most of your day not doing something athletic, like sitting in a desk or playing video games. Or even sitting on the bench! All where spine flexion is more likely because athletes are taller than the average person. (When you’re taller, you look down more often.)

The true overextenders may benefit in having a focus on their ribs, because that will hopefully help diminish how erect they are. I’d still argue this is playing with fire, as we’re still not going after root cause. Is a person overextended because they aren’t contracting the muscles which pull their ribs down enough, or are they overextended because they’re sticking their chest out too much? Because they’ve been cued to extend too much on a deadlift? Because they’re excessively worried about flexing their spine?

One reason some of the population has changed so quickly is because much internet writing was aimed at telling people to EXTEND EXTEND EXTEND!!! Now, some genuinely are extending too much. Really, what those people needed to hear was “Don’t let your back round.” Avoiding a movement is not the same as generating a movement. Many of the most prominent internet authors were telling people to generate a movement where all the people needed to do was avoid one.

This is where we risk repeating history. Those who went from harping on back extension during something like a squat have noticed people might extend too much. So they are now telling them to pull their ribs down. What are the odds in five years we see a flurry of people rounding their spines too much? There will always the group who hears these cues and thinks more is better, extending / flexing / pulling as hard as they possibly can.

I’ve found ~95% of cueing should be aimed at avoiding movement. My most common cue is “Never let X happen.” Using Jason as another example, a cue for him raising his arms might be “Lower back never moves.” Opposed to “Extend your upper back.” Or “Pull your stomach in.”

-> With the pull the stomach in cue, some have probably seen how that can piss your back off. Because you end up squeezing so hard you compress the spine.

In conclusion,

Mobile Low or Mid Spine + Stiff Upper Spine = Ribs Are Irrelevant

Where,

Stiff Lower Spine + Mobile Upper Spine + Mobile Ribs =

Holla.

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