You know that stiff-armed look that Zombies have? When you think about how much time we spend with our arms out in front of our bodies, most of us are Zombies in the making, minus the dead eyes and flesh-eating tendencies. Well, I'll speak for myself.
I hadn't realized how much time I spend with my arms in front of my body until I thought about all the activities I do that require this position: typing, driving, cooking, texting or talking on the phone, carrying kids or other heavy objects... If you ride a bike, do any kind of crafty or artistic activity, tend to stand with your arms crossed on your chest, or have a weird habit of washing your hair, then you can add those to the list as well. ;-)
All this time with our arms in front of us results in very tight, internally rotated shoulders. The more frequently we assume these Zombie poses, the more the muscles on the front of our chest adapt to being in a shortened position until that becomes our "new normal." Sadly, our muscles don't magically lengthen when we get home after 8 hours typing in front of a screen. But don't lose hope! There are many simple things you can do gently lengthen and stretch your chest and shoulders (namely, your pectoralis, teres major, and subscapularis for those of you who want to name names).
This is one of my favorites to do several times a day as a break from the computer, after driving, or even during a walk. It can be done using a door frame, post, tree, or grabbing onto a friend (after asking his or her permission) - get inventive.
In this stretch, we turn the the crease in the elbow (I refer to it as the "elbow pit" here) toward the sky or ceiling in order to externally rotate the shoulder. As with many stretches used in Restorative Exercise (TM), once you do this a few times, you'll become more aware of when your body is holding tension in that area, which serves as a reminder to take a break and move your body. The best thing you can do for yourself is LISTEN to those reminders! That's your body reminding you that YOU ARE NOT A ZOMBIE (yet)!
As an added bonus: While you're doing this stretch, look out a window or at an object far away and you'll avoid the dead-eye Zombie look as well as freaky Zombie arms. Enjoy!
P.S. I shot this video on my porch, which is (as one would say in my home state of Rhode Island), "wicked crooked". Hopefully the crookedness and low light are not too problematic! xoxo
My tip for today is inspired by a fantastic post by my fellow Restorative Exercise Specialist and yoga teacher, Jenni Rawlings: "Is the Cue 'Pull Your Shoulders Back' Helpful?" I love Jenny's blog and this topic is one of my favorites.
Breaking the "shoulders back" habit put an END to the upper back pain I experienced for years and helped me finally begin to make progress healing the diastasis recti (overly separated abdominal muscles) I dealt with after my daughter was born.
It's time to bust some Posture Myths!
Do you have a habit of pulling your shoulders back in an effort to have "good posture"? This cue is so common in our culture that we don't often think about whether it actually carries any anatomical benefit. I know that I diligently did this for years without realizing that it was far more harmful to my body than helpful!
When we pull our shoulders back, we typically compress our lumbar spine, flare our ribcage, inhibit our breath, and create a LOT of tension between our shoulder blades.Habitually pulling the shoulders back also increases the risk of developing diastasis recti, or overly separated abdominal (six-pack) muscles, especially if you are pregnant or postpartum.
Today, instead of pulling your shoulders back, just allow them to relax. You may notice how much less discomfort you feel in your back, and how much more full your breath is.
If your shoulders feel "slumpy" or rounded in this relaxed position, no worries! It's just a signal that you (aka EVERYONE) could benefit from some gentle stretching of the muscles on the front of your chest - particularly your pectoralis. We do so much with arms out in front of us that these muscles become very tight.
More on what you can do to create more fluidity and range of motion in your shoulders next time!