Here is another series that can easily be done at work with no equipment. These exercises are all meant to reduce the upper body tension that comes with computer/office work. Alternate this upper body series with the lower body exercises from Part 1 to hit the whole body!
1) Head Ramping: Instead of the “forward head” position that creates compression of the cervical spine, gently slide the head back. Pay attention to your head position when you are looking at the computer screen and driving. Ramp the head as often as you remember.
2) Head Hang: Let the chin drop towards the chest to lengthen the back of the neck. Relieving tension in the neck improves circulation to the brain which can reduce headaches and brain fog. Hold for 1 minute, repeat several times a day.
3) Hand Stretching: Do you have “claw hands” from computer work? This tension in your hands may seem insignificant, but it can lead to things like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. With your palm face up and your elbow by your side, stretch each finger towards the floor.
4) Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips. (If you have learned about rib position, try to pull the ribs “up” instead of letting them slide towards the floor.) Hold for 1 minute.
5) Standing Crescent Stretch: Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall and your gluts against the wall. Keep the ribs down while you lift the arms over head. Arch your body towards the right, breathing into the right side of the rib cage. Hold for 1 min and repeat on the other side.
Want more for the shoulders? Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes) on your lunch break. For upper body work, I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.
I also recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.
1.) Constantly pulling your shoulders back (shoulder blades together) will make it worse. I know that this position is taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about the difference between posture and alignment.) 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 (retracting=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. When you retract your scapula it LOOKS GOOD, but it is only masking your shoulder tension, NOT FIXING IT. Trying to keep this “good posture” all the time is causing these muscles to become tighter and weaker, sabotaging your long term shoulder and spinal health.
2.) The tension in your hands is directly related to the tension in your shoulders. Before I started studying Restorative Exercise™, it never occurred to me to stretch my hands. I didn’t even realize there was tension in my hands. If you can relate to this, try these tests.
Test #1: Start on your hands and knees. (If you can’t get on your hands and knees, try bending over and placing your hands on a coffee table.) Place your hands on the floor so that the middle finger points straight ahead and the thumb and pointer finger make an “L” (a 90° angle). Then 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. Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending. In the photos below, there is a red dot on my elbow pit to help you see it.
Did your hands cup up away from the floor? Is it impossible to get the hand position and arm position at the same time? This shows you how the the shoulder, arm and hand tension is all related. We SHOULD be able to keep both the hands and the shoulders aligned at the same time, not one or the other.
Test #2: Reach your arm behind your back without letting your scapula “wing” (boney edges stick out). Keep the flat and wide across your back. If you can, reach your arm up towards your neck without winging the scapula.
Then flip your palm over so that the palm touches your back. You should be able to do this without the scapula winging. If you can’t, this shows you (again) how your shoulder and hand tension are related.
3.) Just because you don’t FEEL a stretch, doesn’t mean you don’t have tension. It’s pretty common to have one or more hyper mobile joints. When a joint is hyper mobile the ligaments are too lax, making it easy to move a joint without the muscular tension getting in the way. In this case, you may be able to move through a normal (or often excessive) range of motion without ever feeling a stretch. When you try to stretch, you don’t feel anything, so you assume your muscles aren’t tight. The tension is still there creating pain, tendonitis, numbness, tingling, etc only you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it. It is MUCH harder for someone with hyper lax ligaments in a certain area to access the muscular tension. It’s very complex to learn to stabilize your hyper mobile parts. If you suspect this is an issue for you, see suggestions 3 & 4 below.
What You Can Do About It:
1.) Stop pulling your shoulders back/together all the time. Let them relax wide.
2.) Practice Test #2. It’s a test, but it will also help mobilize the shoulder.
3.) Join me at Blooma Nashville for Upper Boday class. Come stretch and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, neck & upper back to create shoulders that are both strong AND mobile. This class will restore upper body alignment, relieve tension & pain, improve flow of blood, lymph & milk, and teach how to deal with hyper-mobility.
Every Thursday at 6:45pm
4.) Try Katy’s online Super Supple Shoulders webinar for an in depth shoulder workout and education. This class will help you learn to deal with hyper mobility and relieve tension.
5.) Try these Alignment Snacks (shorter 20 minute classes): Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck. Get Alignment Snacks HERE.
Have you ever been told to “stand up straight!”? This phrase has children everywhere grumbling as a well meaning adult lectures on the importance of good posture. In my opinion, it’s one of the most relevant examples of the difference between posture and alignment. The phrase has permeated the culture with its vague (subjective) recommendation for our spinal health and caused a lot of confusion. I have many clients who have spent years trying to get their back “straight” because of this misunderstanding and suffered greatly because of it. For all of you out there in the same boat, I hope this post helps you find some relief.
First of all, the spine isn’t supposed to be straight. It has curves like an “S”. I’m going to say it again: a healthy spine has curves. Specifically, notice the thoracic (mid back) curve. This is called kyphosis. The word kyphosis is often misused to mean “too much curve.” (Too much curve is called hyperkyphosis.) You want that kyphotic curve. It’s supposed to be there.
Most people translate “stand up straight” to equal “chest up, shoulders back.” This lifting of the chest/rib cage creates forces that distort the curve of the thoracic spine. If I asked you to stand up straight or show me your best posture, chances are it would look something like this:
(Again, ignore the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms. I’m just doing that so you can see the line that is coming up.)
Looks pretty good, right? In my last post, you learned how to align your pelvis. When you did this, you may have felt like you were going to fall over backwards or felt some discomfort in your back. If so, learning where your ribs belong will help. Let’s revisit the super awesome grid app.
The vertical line is lined up with the bottom of my rib cage. See how that line falls out in front of my pelvis? My “good posture” is lifting my rib cage and pushing it forward. Look at any skeleton in an anatomy text book, and you will see that the rib cage is supposed to be right over the pelvis. Put your finger tips on the most inferior, anterior part (the part that is lowest and towards the front) of your rib cage. Can you feel the pointy edges of your ribs sticking out? Now exaggerate your best posture. Are your ribs sticking out even more? Now relax and let the ribs drop down ALL THE WAY. (If you feel like you are slouching, you’re on the right track.) At this point you shouldn’t be able to feel any boney edges sticking out. They will be directly over your Anterior Superior Illiac Spine (ASIS: boney protrusions on the front of each side of your pelvis). If this description is confusing, or you have a hard time finding these boney markers, see how to test for rib thrusting against a wall.
I have one finger on my ASIS and one on my bottom rib, so you can see where they are. Now the rib cage is right over the pelvis, where it belongs.
Take a look at these side by side. On the left: Ribs are aligned, restoring thoracic kyphosis. (What you want.) On the right: Ribs are lifted and thrusted forward, distorting the thoracic curve. (A recipe for pain and degeneration.) Can you see the difference?
I know these two positions look similar, but the physiological effects of these two positions are very different. Remember, “good posture” looks good but is not necessarily healthy. The rib thrusting/chest lifted position distorts your spinal curves and puts excessive compression on the one or two vertebra that you are displacing. The vertebra that make up the spine stack on top of one another forming a protective housing for the spinal cord. When we lose or distort our spinal curves, the integrity of this protective structure is compromised, and the spinal cord and nerves that branch off are at risk for damage. Displacing the ribs also compromises the abdominals’ ability to do their jobs. One of these jobs is to properly support the spine and decompress the discs. Many people find huge relief from back pain when they stop thrusting their ribs. Another job of the abdominal muscles is to support the weight of a growing baby when you are pregnant. When these muscles are compromised, it can lead to diastasis recti (excessive spreading/separating of the abdominal wall).
When you get your ribs down (ALL THE WAY DOWN) you might (read: almost certainly will) find that you have hyperkyphosis and your head and shoulders are too far forward. Like this:
Don’t panic! I know, it’s alarming when you see how far forward your head is. The good news is you can make changes with some hard work. Resist the urge to lift your chest/ribs to “fix” this problem! It will look better in the short term but will not solve the problem. When the ribs are down in their aligned position, it reveals all the tension in the upper body that we typically hide by lifting the chest/ribs. Instead of hiding the problem, use the two exercises below to start correcting it.
First, elevate your head and shoulders and relax here until your ribs start to relax down towards the floor. You can let your arms rest on the ground by your sides. This helps relax a muscle called the psoas.
Next: After several minutes, add SLOW arm motions like you are making a snow angel without letting the ribs pop back up towards the ceiling. Rotate the arms so that your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies. This will stretch the chest and shoulders.