For the longest time, I thought I had really short arms.
It turns out I have really tight shoulders!
So many of us spend time hunched over computers and cell phones, toting heavy bags, knapsacks and babies and driving cars, bikes, (motorcycles maybe??) and pushing strollers. All those activities pull our shoulders forward, tighten our necks and limit the mobility that we are actually able to use in our upper bodies.
Part of the problem with shoulder tension is that we try to avoid it in ways that can actually cause issues of their own!
Turns into this…
What we really wanted…
But wait! I have a solution…
Yes, I am about to suggest you help your forward, hunchy computer-driven self by putting you in a hunchy, rounded forward shape.
I love this exercise because it allows our tight tissues to get some action in the places where they are most responsive AND it gives an opportunity to strengthen your scapular stabilisers AND you get to unwind some of the tension in your forearms that helps to pull your shoulders forward. Sweet!
(If you prefer video to pictures you can find a short tutorial of this shoulder mobility exercise here! Also, please note that I have a lot of mobility and a lot of control of my shoulder blades. If your body doesn’t look like this, it’s all good! This isn’t a goal, it’s just how my body moves.)
In this starting position, place your hand behind the opposite hip.
No need to take your hand too high, even if you can.
Then feel for the poking out border of your shoulder blade.
Now for the Quasimodo part: roll your arm and shoulder forward (and maybe up a bit, too) until your scapula (shoulder blade) is as snuggled onto the curve of your rib cage as it is can be.
It may not be entirely flat, and that’s totally ok! Give it time.
Hang out there for a minute and then rotate your forearm so that your hand goes flat towards your back, then return to your starting position.
Repeat that rotation for about a minute. You may feel your scapula start to wing again, and that’s ok too.
We are trying to undo some of the tension that spirals up the arm and has an effect on the shoulder, so it’s all going to settle down eventually!
If you have a mirror, check out your arm length now.. is the arm you just did longer than the other???
Ok, do the other side.
Go back to the first side, and see how it feels this time to fold your arm back. Easier? Cool. No difference? Also cool! There are no rules here!
This time, instead of rolling your arm and shoulder forward, you are going to picture the bottom tip of your scapula, the part that is probably poking out the most, tipping IN towards your rib cage. It may also rotate slightly laterally (towards the outside of your ribcage). This is NOT a pulling down, a straining or a pushing of your arm or neck. It is a small, subtle and very effective activation of the deep muscles of your scapular stability group. It isn’t easy, so be patient with yourself! We aren’t trying to lock in, so flow gently between the tip snuggling down and then releasing it again.
You may find that as you cuddle the tip of the shoulder blade in towards the ribs, your upper arm bone and shoulder also slide back or widen. This is because your shoulder blade, your arm bone and your collarbone are all connected!
What I love about this series is the contradiction. You just hung out for a few minutes with your pectoral muscles pulling forwards (in their active range, so a good place to make change). You pulled your shoulder blades really wide. You hunched up like a snail. But do you now see your shoulders as wider instead of being pulled back? Try doing this series every day this week, and see if your shoulders feel different, look wider, function better.
Let me know how it goes in the comments below!
I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.