Friday, July 24, 2015

Check Your Ribs! 4 Exercises to Fix Your Rib Position

What's wrong with this picture?

Yes, this model has an incredibly impressive physique, but I'm referring specifically to her posture. Her ribs, in particular, are the first thing I notice.

Rib flaring is an extremely common postural fault. I mainly see this in women, but there are many men who are guilty of flaring ribs as well.

You might be thinking, "you can only see her ribs because she's so lean!" or " maybe that's just the way her ribs are!" No. Her ribcage sits that way because of core instability and a lack of thoracic awareness.

A forward ribcage usually goes hand in hand with other postural issues like lordosis and scapular winging. An unstable core results in dysfunction all up and down the kinetic chain. Ideally, we want to maintain our center of mass over our...well, center. There should be a straight line leading from the ear lobes all the way down to the ankles (lateral malleoli). Note the drawing on the right. This photo details the optimal posture: his weight is centered on his whole foot, his ribs sit directly over his pelvis, and his head does not jut forward like many sedentary, laptop-absorbed folks we see today.

If the ribcage protrudes in front of the hips, we cannot properly engage the rectus abdominis, and, thus, the function of the muscles around shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles will be compromised.

Additionally, the ribs will pull forward your center of gravity and affect your balance, along with your gait. Any movement will be altered, because your ribs are, quite literally, several steps ahead of you.

At the other end of the spectrum, take a look at Georges St. Pierre, a professional MMA fighter. You will notice that his core is rock solid and stable, unlike the bikini model in the above picture. Maybe that's why he's one of the most successful (and highest paid) fighters! Which of these individuals do you think has a stronger abdomen?

Someone's standing posture will tell you a lot about how their bodies will move during weighted exercises. Just imagine how both of these individuals will look once they press barbells overhead. The lifter with a flared ribcage will almost, 100% certainly, be hyperextended, while an individual with proper abdominal bracing can maintain a secure position.

Sometimes, a prominent ribcage will not be immediately visible while standing. In this case, I employ the wall slide test. If a client cannot bring their forearms to the wall without reaching their ribs forward, they fail the test. I now know that they have limitations in the shoulder, and I work from there.

This model does NOT pass the test...
9 times out of 10, telling someone to bring the "ribs down" is not enough to help them understand. I've realized that these people usually lack the kinesthetic awareness to do that--they don't know how to properly engage the musculature around the ribs.

When I see someone with ribs like the woman in the first photo, I immediately check their breathing. I am never surprised to see that these people abuse the muscles in their necks and chests to breathe rather than taking advantage of their diaphragms. Often, breathing alone will make a huge impact in the position of the ribs. Aside from doing breathing drills, I like to use the following exercises to teach my clients how to activate the muscles that retract the ribs:
  1. Barbell roll-outs or TRX fall-out
  2. Hollow holds
  3. Rib cage movement drill
  4. Deadbugs
Teaching proper joint alignment will allow for optimal posture and mechanics in all activities. Strive to employ better movement patterns. Don't lift weights you can't move without perfect technique. You may limit your risk of injury, and you will be much stronger in the long run. Keep your ribs down, and learn to utilize the core properly!


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  2. Really good article. I'm not a body builder but have a protruding rib cage and have been looking for ages for exercises to make them appear less prominent.

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful :)

  3. Really good article. I'm not a body builder but have a protruding rib cage and have been looking for ages for exercises to make them appear less prominent.

  4. thank you for this. i found it very useful. i have an asymmetrical rib cage, with only the left side protruding, and pulling on my thoracic spine, with consequential nauseating pain between my spine and my shoulder blade. do you have any further suggestions to more effectively target asymmetry? thank you!!

    1. Pilates sessions by a certified Pilates instructor can help you eradicate this issue

  5. thank you for this. i found it very useful. i have an asymmetrical rib cage, with only the left side protruding, and pulling on my thoracic spine, with consequential nauseating pain between my spine and my shoulder blade. do you have any further suggestions to more effectively target asymmetry? thank you!!

    1. Hi Barbara! Glad you found this post helpful. You won't need to train any differently. One thing you could do would be to focus on contracting the weaker side while you do these exercises.

    2. will do. thanks a bunch arianna!!!!

  6. Hi Arianna,

    This post is like an answered prayer. I been trying to figure out forever why I cannot correct my posture. This post lead me to discover, through rib position, that my constant shallow breathing has snarled my body over the years.

    Right now I can't seem to achieve a fix because I simply cannot get my ribs and therefore shoulders / scapula into place. I've concluded it's from an incredibly tight chest which I can't seem to stretch out sufficiently, no matter how hard I try (static and dynamic stretches, as well as lacrosse ball). Any recommendations for pecs and shoulders that seem to lock my ribs into flaring?

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed this post!

      Sometimes the inability to maintain a neutral rib position is due to weakness/lack of motor control in the abdominal musculature. I would suggest you work on hollow body progressions and see if that influences your ability to assume a better position.

      As for chest stretches, I like to have my clients do a thoracic spine stretch on a medicine ball or a foam roller! You can also do a pec stretch standing in a door frame with your arms out to either side and push your chest forward.

    2. I completely forgot I posted this. Landed back here again while searching for the same answers. Thank you for the response. I'll take that all or the gym with me.

  7. Hello the end of my rib sticks out of my abdominal area even when I'm standing up is there anything I can do?

  8. Does this work for my son? He's 11

    1. Yes! They would be safe for any age :)

  9. Hi Arianna
    Thank you so much for all the information. I inherited my dad's barrel chest (and narrow hips..boohoo). My ribs flare out, especially when I try to have good posture, despite knowing to not just stick my ribs out. I find it very difficult and awkward to bring down my ribs at the same time as straightening my back.

    How many sets and repetitions of the exercises should I do to see fairly quick improvement?

    1. Keep in minded that old habits die hard. You have to be patient and consistent with these movements, as our bodies are stubborn and don't like to forget familiar patterns. I would say, if possible, try to do 2 of these exercises 2-3 times per week for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions!

    2. Thank you for the quick reply :)
      For the barbell roll-outs, is it ok to use an ab roller instead? I don't have access to the gym.

    3. Yes, an ab roller will work just fine :)

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  16. Please help! This post has a lot of good info, but the only exercise I can utilize is the hollow body hold without (noticeably) making my rib injury worse. I am pretty sure I tore the cartilage in front of my 7th or 8th rib. I was giving someone a piggy back ride up the stairs and they leaned back and pulled my shoulder and twisted me, and we heard a pop and I felt a sharp searing/burning pain. I'm pretty sure too much scapular retraction and a little bit of rib flare put me at higher risk of this happening. It has been 7 months now and everything is very weak. Any advice?