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Pilates Exercise Tip: Chest Release for Pain-Free Arms & Shoulders on Overhead Arm Exercises

Posted Sep 28 2011 11:08pm

A Quick & Easy Pilates Exercise Tip for Improving ROM for the Arms & Shoulders

Do you or your Pilates clients ever struggle with shoulder pain or limited range of motion to lift the arms overhead?  Is it a challenge to keep the back or ribs from popping up off the mat when the arms go overhead on exercises like Ribcage Arms, or the Roll Up in Pilates Matwork?  Are you interested in discovering an amazingly simple cue/secret to help reduce shoulder pain and increase your range of motion to more easily lift the arms overhead? 

I know the video demonstration of this Pec Release concept says I discovered this great tip a couple of weeks ago…but it was actually March – and I’m just now getting around to editing my video footage!  I’ve  been practicing and applying this Pec Release concept to my own workouts as well as with my Pilates Mat class and Personal Training clients for about 7 months.  So far, everyone that has learned to release their Pecs during overhead arm lifting exercises has found this Pilates exercise tip a great asset to their functional shoulder movement and exercise technique.  I can’t wait to hear what you think, and for my fellow Pilates teachers out there – what kind of results your clients achieve by adding this thought for Abs and Back work with Pec release to your arm & shoulder workouts!

Click here to view the embedded video.

When lying on your back to lift the arms overhead for the Pilates Mat exercise the Roll Up, (or just a prep exercise like Ribcage Arms) IF the back arches off the mat and the ribs pop out there’s a really good chance that you’re holding your chest muscles too tightly while trying to take the arms overhead.  A tight Pec muscle will hold the arm forward in front of the body – the only way the arm can continue overhead when the chest muscles are engaged is to arch the back, because the relationship angle of the arm to the body isn’t going to change until the Pec releases.

  • Lay on your back, legs together & straight.
  • Begin with the arms by your sides reaching down to your legs
  • Inhale and lift the arms to the ceiling
  • Exhale, pull the Abs in, Shoulders down, Release the Pecs and move the arms overhead
  • ONLY TAKE THE ARMS AS FAR AS YOU CAN GO IN A PAIN-FREE RANGE OF MOTION.
  • If you feel the back start to arch off the mat…hold your arms where they’re at, take another inhale, exhale and pull your abs in more to help press the back to the mat, then strive to release the chest even more and feel the back work to lift the upper arms overhead towards the floor.
  • Inhale to lift the arms up to the ceiling / Exhale to pull the abs in, shoulders down, and lower the arms back to the starting position along the sides of your legs.
  • Repeat 5-10 times, and/or incorporate this into any other exercise that involves lifting the arms overhead.

To freely move the arms all the way to the floor overhead with the back stabilized on the mat, and return them to the starting position – maintaining core support, using your back to move the arms, and keeping the chest / Pecs more relaxed while moving the arms.

  • Improves Core Support
  • Improves Stability of the Spine & Ribcage
  • Frees the Arm & Shoulder for Increased Flexibility
  • Enhances Efficient Shoulder Mechanics
  • Improves Shoulder Strength
  • Reduces Shoulder Pain / Impingement Issues
  • Increases Body Awareness for Work & Release of Opposing Muscles (Chest / Upper Back)

Since I discovered how beneficial cueing the Pec release is to my clients on an overhead arm lift, I’ve incorporated this concept into multiple other exercises with great results!

Give this Pec Release cue a little thought the next time you’re doing your Pilates Matwork.  Play with the concept of releasing the Pecs to lift the arms, and let me know what you think.  How does it feel when you do it right vs. holding the chest tight and trying to move the arms? 

If you find this little cue of value to improve your Pilates exercise technique for stronger, freer arms and shoulders please tell a friend – and drop me a comment to share how this has benefited your workout program.  I’m looking forward to hearing how the Pec Release is benefiting YOU!

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