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Big Chest, Weak Back

The woes of Scapular Winging and weak upper backs




Hi there! Thank you for checking my new content. This article focuses on abolishing some gym myths and also helping you to form a correct and safe means of progression, whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter or Cross-fitter (is that even a word?)

Talk to anybody who goes to the gym and at some point you will be told “Yeah, my bench is so and so” reflecting the numbers people push on that ‘King of Exercises’  (single quotes are there for a reason, chaps, more on that later)

I remember what got me to the gym.

I had some serious flab on me. I was tall, so the fat was spread out and but underneath my T shirt or jumper, there was no denied my moobs (or man boobs as people call them). Obviously, teen years are hard enough without having to face the pointing fingers and laughs of friends and strangers alike regarding your now almost feminine bust size and shape.

That first time I stepped into a gym was magical. It was in Tunisia during summer, I was there for a long holiday, I remember seeing this ripped huge guy with the ideal Pecs and thinking “That’s gonna be me one day”. So, naturally what did I do? I went to the Bench Press. I started with the bar and some 5Kg plates on either side – I could bang out 10 reps, but just about. I also think the bar was not even an Olympic bar so I must have been pushing some paltry weight, however, the pump felt good.

Development over the years:

So around age 16 I was pretty much ONLY doing bench press, machine flys and tricep extensions with maybe some biceps and menial back work using machines once a week.

I swim quite a lot so naturally my Pec focused workouts combined with swimming (breast stroke is my forte) I began to get a defined and toned chest.

Over the years, I kept working on my bench press because, hey, that’s the most important lift right?

Wrong. Only once I actually began lifting 100kg + in bench press did I begin experiencing other issues. Now, don’t get me wrong. By 25 I was doing deadlifts, bent over rows, squatting etc so my workout regimen was a full body one, done over a split 4 days a week. I experimented with Stronglift’s 5x5 for a while too which is always good to go back to when looking to add strength.

I probably never did shrugs ever until about 28, when I began noticing that aesthetically, my upper back as not nice/strong. But I was not consistent with the upper back work and this came to bite me in the behind at age 30.

The Problems Begin:

Now I must begin with saying, I have functional scoliosis (website name anyone?). I know, I know I am stating the obvious but I just felt I need to clarify. My right hip is higher than my left which causes a compensatory curve on my right side, not too accentuated but enough to cause problems with how my upper back muscles and shoulders fire up doing exercises.

I also broke my right collarbone in a biking accident a while back when I was 21 and the bone fused shorter, which added to the problems on my right upper body. I never felt too much pain and rectified my functional scoliosis imbalances via a targeted bodybuilding routine as per my other articles.

By this time, I had been lifting for a few years. I had developed some good and lots of bad habits. Chest dominant (hey, got to have a strong bench no?) focusing on compound movements and assuming that the upper back will just get built doing deadlifts and shoulder presses.

What I didn’t know was that all those rotator cuff, seated rows and shrugs you see people doing (the correct ones where your chest is up and arms by side, scapula engaged not the weird rounding movement many seem to do) were not only good warm up exercises, but served to strengthen very important stabilising muscles.

To cut a long story short, I had pains in my right scapular region due to winging and rounding trying to compensate for a lack of engagement of my right Trap muscle, a very small rhomboid muscle on the right side as well as under developed right Latissimus Dorsi (or just Lat for those who don’t know the latin name)

Road to recovery:

Physiotherapists are your friends. A good physiotherapist helped diagnose my scapular nerve impingement and deemed it a common sight in those who push heavy weights, shoulders rounded, chest dominant leading to aggravation of the AC Joint as well as the Scapular Nerve.


Scapula nerve impingment



The best exercises that work wonders are unilateral/isometric movements that allow you to focus on targeting the upper back region are

SERRATUS ANTERIOR – Exercise sitting on side, elbow in, lifting light dumbbell in rotator action.


Seated rows

Face pulls


To summarise, the below contribute to scapular nerve impingement and other strains in the shoulder area:

Ignoring the upper back – gym culture

Posture in daily activities, sitting down in front of a PC for long hours at a time


Rounding shoulders, AC joint strain, scapular winging


Rear Lateral raise, seated lat raise, seated rows, 110% ROM push ups, Shrug work, Rhomboid work.