You are going to love this! These are some of my favorite exercises for relieving shoulder and upper back tension that accumulates during the day. We do so many things with our arms: computer work, driving, studying, carrying babies, breastfeeding, yard work…. add misalignment, old injuries, weak muscles and stress to the mix and you have a recipe for serious discomfort. If you experience shoulder & upper back pain and/or tension, you will love this routine. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll feel great! (See additional resources at the bottom of this post as well.)
Minute 1: Rhomboid Push Up
The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retraction=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. I know that this position is often taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about posture vs. alignment.) When you retract your scapula it looks good, but holding this position habitually is sabotaging your shoulder girdle and spinal health. These muscles help hold the spine upright, and when they are tight and weak, they can’t do their job, resulting in hyperkyphosis.
To restore the length of these muscles, try this. Start on your hands and knees. Roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger (see picture). Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending.
Let the chest drop towards the floor and feel the scapula come together (retraction) WITHOUT BENDING YOUR ELBOWS ANYMORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. Then press the hands into the floor and push the shoulders blades wide (protraction). Keep the pelvis untucked. This is a VERY difficult motion to learn, so it may take some time to master. WATCH THIS VIDEO of my friend Susan demonstrating the rhomboid push up.
Minute 2: Floor Angels
First bolster you head and shoulders with some pillows or folded blankets. To stretch the chest and shoulders, move the arms slowly overhead like you are making a snow angel. Rotate the arms so that your palms face up towards the ceiling and your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies. The hand will start out touching the floor, but will lift away from the floor as you move the arm overhead.
Keep the ribs relaxed down. Try not to let them pop up towards the ceiling like this:
Minutes 3-5: Tennis Ball “Reverse” Rhomboid Push Up
I got this AWESOME move from Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up. Take two tennis balls or balls of similar size & density (I’m using yoga tune up balls here) and put them in a sock. Tie a knot in the sock to keep the balls in place. Lay on your back with the balls underneath your upper back, one on either side of the spine. Start at the top of your scapula.
Reach your arms up to the ceiling feeling the scapula spread wide, them relax and let them fall towards the floor. It’s the same motion as the rhomboid push up, just upside down. Do this for 1 minute, moving slowly. Then roll the balls down an inch or two, and repeat this motion for 1 minute. Repeat this process one more time. (We are doing 3 different positions here, but you can always do more.)
If you want more pressure, you can experiment with pressing your feet into the floor to lift your pelvis up into a small bridge.
Minutes 6-8: Tennis Ball Floor Angels
Move the balls back up to the first spot they were in (on either side of the spine near the top of the scapula). Repeat the same “snow angel” motion with your arms that you did in the Floor Angels for 1 minute. Roll the balls down an inch or two and repeat 1 minute. Roll the balls down again and repeat.
If you love this stuff as much as I do, you will want to check out Jill Miller’s new book The Roll Model. My husband gave it to me for Christmas this year, and I’m slowly working my way through it. She shows you how to roll away tension from head to toe. SO GOOD!
Minute 9: Rhomboid Push Up
Repeat slowly for 1 minute.
Minute 10: Floor Angels
Repeat slowly for 1 minute.
Want more for your shoulders?
1.) Read 3 things you need to know about your shoulder tension.
2.) Drop in for Upper Body Stretch & Strengthen class at Blooma Nashville.
3.) Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes). For upper body I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.