We all know that hips are the center of the body and carry the most weight, but they are also designed to. Shoulders are a lot trickier; shoulder joints are really only half-sockets and it’s the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that hold the arm in place.
Since time is money I’ll give you a run-down of the most important stretches and exercises to counteract day-to-day tension.
Target areas: Pectoral muscles, Rhomboids, and Neck.
(rhomboids-#11 and #12)
Pectoral Muscles are your chest muscles. This is the large group that brings your arms forward—which is where most of your day to day work will be conducted. These muscles are shortened from computer work, carrying young children, bad posture, driving… you get the point. It is also a favorite area to work at the gym. My suggestion: STRETCH!!! These muscles need to be thoroughly stretched to counteract your usual positioning and any exercise you do with them. Stand sideways next to a wall, close enough that you can rest your outstretched hand on it. Plant your feet a comfortable shoulder’s width apart, anchor your hand on the wall and slowly turn your torso away from the wall. This isolates your pectorals and stretches them. You can experiment with placing your hands at different heights to stretch different fibers of the muscle.
Rhomboids are the muscles in between your shoulder blades and your spine. That is a big area where people complain they feel pain. The pain is very seldom caused by the muscles being too tight. If anything; they are being stretched and not strong enough to counteract the pull of the pectorals and lats. These muscles need STRENGTHENING!!! Exercise them by using a rowing machine or any equipment that makes you pull your elbows back and in. Try and bring those shoulder blades together behind you! If you don’t go to the gym try standing with your back to the wall about an inch away from touching it. Then bring your elbows back against the wall and try to push yourself away while stabilizing yourself with your toes. (Generally your legs will be stronger and prevent you from falling forward, if not please step and catch yourself.)
Neck muscles are absolutely amazing and complex—but simple in how I want you to address them. Think of your neck as being divided into the front and back. The front (anterior) muscles very simply need stretching out, the back (posterior) need strengthening. Stretching can be done by leaning your head back on a chair if the back is the right height. If your chair is the wrong height a yoga ball or a roller can be used- and is often a better choice if you have them handy!
If you have a large yoga ball sit on the floor with your back to the ball, position it so you can rest your upper shoulders against it comfortably. Then gently stretch your head away from your body as you lean it back onto the ball. This helps to stretch the neck so you don’t end up with an acute bend anywhere in the vertebrae. If you let your arms fall out to the sides palm up this helps to stretch both the anterior neck and Pectorals giving you a 2 for 1 stretch! Hold this position for at least 2 minutes to give your body time to adjust and relax. If you have a roller a great resting stretch is to place the roller on the floor and lay your spine along it with the end of it just at the notch where your head and neck meet. Your head should not be falling backward, the roll should be supporting your neck and head so you look at the ceiling. Again, you can let your arms go palm up to stretch your Pectorals.
To strengthen and straighten the back of your neck there is a simple and amazing exercise that just requires you and a wall. Stand with your back to the wall–make sure your heels touch the wall and you stretch your head up so it’s right along the wall and not pulled forward. From this position simply push your head back and attempt to pull your shoulders, back, and butt away from the wall. Holding this position for a full minute should actually adjust your posture and for some people make them feel like they’re standing taller.
Now- for all you gym-goers:
If you find that your traps are rock-hard and your rhomboids are sore PLEASE lay off the push-ups and lat pulls! Work your triceps, work your rhomboids, and remember to stretch. Your shoulder blades are being pulled and rotated, the lower corners are actually starting to creep around the sides of the ribcage! Deep massage on your traps may feel good, but if you aren’t going to rest your pects and lats, you’ll end up right back in pain! Find a knowledgable trainer, LMT, or PT—work with them, listen to your body, and make your work-outs work with your body, not against it!