I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to stabilize shoulders so that they can best serve you at your desk.
The rolled-forward posture that typically accompanies desk work leads to pain between the shoulder blades, sore necks, headaches, and other afflictions. Tucking your shoulders back and getting them to lie down on your torso is a first step to undoing this pattern and relieving your pain.
Forward-shoulder posture rotates the scapula forward and pulls the whole shoulder girdle up over the front of your torso. This stresses the muscles on your back, especially the muscles between and below the shoulder blades (primarily the rhomboids and the middle and lower parts of the trapezius).
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about how to undo this pattern. One of the most important steps you can take is to strengthen and engage your trapezius muscle and improve your awareness of it. Listed below are a few ways to get started with this toning and awareness.
Snow Angels in Your Office
Matt Talley, a fantastic personal trainer at the Allstar Fitness gym in downtown Seattle, showed me a simple exercise that you can do almost anywhere to engage and strengthen the lower trapezius. All you need is a flat wall to lean against with enough room to move your arms up and down and out to the side.
- Stand with your back to a flat wall with your feet about 15 inches from the wall.
- Lean back so that your butt, shoulder blades, and head all contact the wall, and keep them there throughout this exercise.
- Rotate your hands so that they face the wall.
- Then roll your arms upward so that the back of your hands end up touching the wall and your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your butt, shoulder blades, and head glued to the wall, move your arms along the wall (don’t let them come away from the wall – you are sliding along the wall throughout) sort of like you’re making a snow angel.
- Focus on the sensation of your shoulder blades coming closer together as you move your arms up and down
If/when I can free up some time in my schedule I’ll try to get Matt to do this on video for you.
Focus on the Lower Trapezius
Back before I started researching this, I thought that perhaps I had made up an exercise. It turns out that this exercise is old hat to folks like the UW strength coach I described this exercise to.
Using a lat pull-down machine, don’t pull your elbows down toward your torso (thus engaging the lats). Instead, let the weight keep your arms pulled up over your head and then pull your shoulder blades down and together. Again, focus on the sensation of your shoulder blades coming closer together as you move your arms up and down. Use a light enough weight that lets you do the movement in a slow, controlled manner both as you pull down and as you slowly let the weight pull your shoulders back up.
The guy in this video has pretty bad form (the weight is way too heavy and the angle that he’s pulling at isn’t vertical enough to fully engage the lower trap, and his movements are too jerky; still I like the way the musculature of the lower and middle traps pops out as he’s working.
Get the Middle Trap and Rhomboids, Too
This video shows an exercise that focuses on the middle traps and rhomboids. Note 1) the pillow under the chest, 2) that the shoulder lifts up and toward the midline first, and 3) that the arm is elevated after the shoulder has been retracted.
Develop Your Awareness of Your Shoulder Position
Finally, try to visualize your shoulder girdle in relation to your torso, and then (this is the tricky part) try to hang on to this awareness throughout your work day. Here are some steps you can take to cultivate this awareness.
- Realize that your shoulder girdle is just a bunch of muscles and bones hanging over the top of your torso, sort of like a cloak. It is the relative development of opposing sets of muscles that determine the front-to-back, side-to-side, and other positioning of your shoulders.
- Roll your shoulders in a front to back motion several times and then just leave them in the backward part of the movement. No need to pull them back like a military posture; just leave them easily and relaxed in the back part of the roll.
- Picture a pair of straps attached to your sternum going over the top of your shoulders and attaching in our mid-back, pulling your torso upright and gently lifting your shoulders up and over the top of your torso.
- Play with the up and down, in and out, front and back movements of your shoulders. Try to find the balanced middle place that places your shoulder girdle right over the midline of your torso.
This is just some info to get you started thinking about shoulder stabilization. Much more to come on this.