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Pilates Exercise Tips for Strong and Healthy Shoulders

Posted Jan 19 2011 4:32pm
  • Have you ever injured your arms and shoulders?

  • Do carry stress and tension in your neck, upper back?

  • Do you ever notice your shoulders hiked up around your ears?

It’s not surprising that so many people these days experience one, or all of these shoulder issues.  To maintain our erect human posture we have two options – good core support, or overuse of our arms and shoulders to try and hold us up!

Think of it this way…  You are either like a coat on a hook (shoulders up), or a circus tent with a tall pole up the center and the edges sloping down (core support & shoulders down).  Being like a coat on a hook means lots of neck and shoulder tension.  You might experience more headaches, or be prone to shoulder injuries and rotator cuff problems.  The good news, things can change quickly with the right body awareness, exercises, and improving your posture.

So the first important tip for strong healthy shoulders is to strengthen your core.

The stronger your abs and back are to help keep you sitting and standing with tall posture (like a circus tent) the more your shoulders can relax.

But just relaxing your shoulders may not be enough.  Some active work to pull them down away from your ears may be necessary.  One of my favorite cues for strengthening the lower trapezius muscles (the muscles that help to pull the shoulders down) is “Diamond Down.”

The Trapezius muscle is a broad diamond shaped muscle that has fibers running in three different directions.   The upper fibers elevate the shoulders.  Middle fibers assist in pulling the shoulder blades together, and the lower fibers draw the shoulder blades down.

Generally speaking, the weakest and most important action for shoulder support and stability is the downward action of the Trapezius, thus my cue of “Diamond Down” when preparing to do any exercise that involves using the shoulders and arms.

What Are the Benefits of Strengthening the Lower Trapezius Muscle with “Diamond Down?”

  • It places the shoulder joint in a more optimal place for movement of the shoulder and arm during exercise.  Better movement improves strength and flexibility and reduces risk of injury.
  • It provides the counter-leverage  necessary to lengthen and open joint space for the upper thoracic spine, neck and head, which means improved posture and upper spine mobility.

Tips for Practicing “Diamond Down”

  1. Start Standing with good posture and core support.  The upper spine should be slightly curved in its natural position so that the shoulder blades can lay flat on the back.  Just let the arms hang by your sides.
  2. Inhale breathing into the back to lift the ribcage and lengthen the spine, Exhale and from the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and draw the “Diamond Down” gently pulling the shoulder blades down towards the back of your waist.
  3. Repeat this three times,  lifting the spine higher, and deepening the “Diamond Down” contraction. Then release.  Repeat your “Diamond Down” exercise 3-5 times as a warm-up exercise before any other Pilates or gym exercises.  Or do it as a stand-alone exercise a couple of times throughout your day to remind you to keep your shoulders away from your ears!

What to Watch For

  • Be sure as the shoulder blades only pull down, that they don’t pinch together, but stay flat on the ribcage.
  • Watch your posture, allow the blades to move, and keep the rest of the body still.
  • Make sure the lower abdominals are lifting for core support and remain lifted while you draw your “Diamond” down.

Get More Core

Good Pilates exercise techniques makes a healthy body.  If you have a weak core, chances are your shoulders like to be hiked up around your ears.  With a strong center it’s much easier to improve shoulder mechanics, reduce joint pain, and maximize your Pilates workouts.  Doing the right exercises to strengthen your abdominals and back, along with practicing your “Diamond” down shoulder blade cue and you’ll be off to a great start for developing strong and healthy arms and shoulders with any and all of the exercises you do.

*****

Be on the lookout on my blog for more great exercises to help improve shoulder mechanics.  Enjoy efficient movement and quickly increase the strength and flexibility of your arms and shoulders with these effective exercises for whole-body health. More soon!

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