I addressed this topic already a few years back (as you can tell from this video of my younger self). We always seem to be in this rounded or hunched position all day and sometimes it seems we live our lives this way. It is really important to strengthen the muscles in the backs of our shoulders. If our muscles aren’t working for us, a simple reminder to sit up straight just won’t be enough! However, if the muscles are strong, they do the work to pull us back and open. The Thera band is great for this.
You also want shoulder stability for doing push-ups, lifting heavy things, throwing balls or dinner plates, cleaning your floors excessively, shoveling snow seasonally, or practicing your handstand you're going to want more stability in your shoulder joint.
I use a Franklin Band, which is extremely long. You don't need yours to be this long; it's fine if it's half the length.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Press your upper arms against the sides of your ribcage. Imagine (or actually do it) holding a rolled towel between your biceps and the side of your ribcage.
- Bend your elbows to right angles with your palms facing up. Hold the band between each thumb and index finger or make a fist. INHALE to prepare.
- On the EXHALE, pull your hands apart, moving slowly. Make sure your elbows are not moving away from the body! Keep those upper arms against the (imaginary) towel. You should rotate around your upper arms, not lifting your arms away from the torso.
- You can help yourself by thinking that your elbows move inward as your hands move outward.
- On the INHALE, slowly release the forearms back to center, until they are parallel to each other. Exhale to pull apart once more. Continue like this.
It’s important that you don't squeeze your shoulder blades together and push your chest forward in order to pull your hands apart. Keep the front of your ribs down and together, then move your hands apart. It is just your hands and forearms moving as your upper arms rotate in their sockets.
Here are some common mistakes:
- It hurts your shoulders or elbows, or
- You cannot keep your upper arms connected with the ribcage, or
- You're squeezing the shoulder blades together to perform the movement
All of the above are signs that your rotator cuff is weak and you need to modify. Just give yourself more band! Start with your hands farther apart so you don't require as much strength to perform the movement correctly. If you don't feel anything at all, bring your hands closer together to start. This way you'll have more resistance.
But please remember, more resistance does not equal better results.
More is not better. Better is better.
When You Are Ready For More
- Lower the band in front of you and hold it a little more than hip-width apart.
- Turn your hands so your palms face back.
- On the INHALE lift your arms up to the sky keeping your elbows straight.
- On the EXHALATION pull the band apart and lower it down behind you slowly and with control. Don't bend your elbows.
- Continue by inhaling to lift the arms up overhead and exhaling to pull the band down to you. Keep the elbows straight! If you can’t keep your arms straight, then give yourself more band so that it's not quite as hard.
Your form is always more important than a lot of resistance.
Notice if you are rolling over one shoulder before the other one. It's another common mistake. Instead, roll both shoulders back at the same time.
- Hold the band behind you, just like you did in the previous exercise only rotate your palms around so they are now facing behind you/away from you.
- Loop the band around each hand and make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart.
- Reach your fingers down and draw your ribs down and in.
- Then reach your arms and fingers backward, towards the back of your mat or where the wall meets the floor behind you.
- Exhale and release the arms back toward the body.
- With the arms down, drop the band and relax your shoulders.
Choose reaching long over lifting high.
In this last movement, make sure to think of reaching your arms far back instead of up, because this would cause your shoulders to elevate. We don't want that. Think more about reaching away and down.
You might not be able to get your arms very far back and that's ok! Just be sure that to keep your rib cage back (don't push your chest forward.)
Your ribs go down as your arms go up. How are you and your upper back feeling? The muscles are now doing all the work of opening the back and shoulders. Do you feel taller? Do you feel you are having to put less effort into standing tall because your muscles are doing this for you?
Shoulder stability can be extremely effective in improving posture. When we improve our posture and stand tall with an open chest, we appear more confident and in charge. If we change our physiology, our psychology will adapt to that. It’s sort of the “fake it till you make it” principle. Our mind influences our body and our body influences our mind.
Here is another way to open the chest, and strengthen your shoulders:
Inside the Pilates Encyclopedia membership, you'll find a list of exercises that lengthen the pectoral muscles and strengthen the back of the shoulders. You'll even get videos and detailed instructions for each exercise!