Strengthening upper back

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    With the amount of practicing/playing I’ve been doing in college, my upper back has been very sore and tired. What exercises/physical activities have you all found helpful in either strengthening your upper back (it seems like that is the one area of muscles I don’t use when playing)? Or any other general advice?

    Thank you!

    Angela Biggs

    It’s counter-intuitive, but when I’ve been playing a lot, I find that doing a few reps of upper-arm and shoulder exercises with some light weights after I’m done with a session helps get the blood flowing and reduces soreness later on:
    1. Holding your arms out at your sides, shoulder height, move your arms in small forward circles several times. Stop and reverse. You can do this with or without weights.
    2. Tricep curls
    3. Arm lifts, both with the arms positioned in front of you and then at your sides. Never lift above shoulder height.
    4. With your arms at shoulder-height and out at your sides, bend your elbows so that your hands land in front of your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
    I purchased my 3-lb weights at Walmart, so they didn’t cost very much. You don’t need anything fancy for this.

    In “How the Body Works”, Suzanne Balderston recommends that you get a massaging shower head (perhaps not possible if you’re living in a dorm). She also suggests sitting against a wall with a tennis ball held between the wall and a sore spot on your back. Lean into the ball and move your back so that the ball moves around. Do this for several seconds, stop, and do it again.

    Good luck! I hope you find something that works for you!

    Gretchen Cover

    I go to yoga twice a week. I also stretch for a couple minutes after I practice. One of the best stretches is to stand in a doorway, hold on to the sides about shoulder height, and lean forward.

    I would also suggest you make an appointment with a physical therapist to come up with a stretching/strengthening routine that is manageable for you.Perhaps you could have a physical therapist conduct a seminar for harp students at your college.

    Get started now on a good routine to prevent back and/or shoulder injury later on.


    Thank you both!


    If you can, swimming is a great low-impact exercise that can really help strengthen your upper back! Its also good for relaxing the muscles 🙂 Highly recommended!


    Yoga and Bellydance, help me out a great deal, in helping me with the upper back. With Bellydance there are ribcage lifts that help you stay upright. Shoulder rolls are wonderful in easing the tension not only in the shoulders but also the upper back. Undulations also are wonderful. You can check out Magical Motion by Atea or Neena and Veena for Basic Moves.


    Yoga is amazing as it both strengthens and stretches. It’s especially important for us pedal harpists who balance 70-80lbs. on one shoulder for hours on end! A teacher once recommended to me to stretch about 20 mins for every 1 hour of practice to prevent soreness and tightness- a habit that really works.
    One of my favorites for relieving shoulder/ upper back tension is to stand in a doorway, arms out to the sides and hands holding on to the door frame, and then leaning forward until you feel the stretch in your chest and the relaxing in your shoulders.
    I also heartily agree with the above comment on swimming!
    Best wishes for happy harping!

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