Here's a favorite shoulder move of mine. Use it as part of your dynamic warm up before lifting, after a long day at the computer or do a few whenever you pass through your bedroom doorway.
Keep your elbow straight. Move from your armpit. Upwardly rotate your and posteriorly tilt your shoulder blade. As always, keep your rib cage and pelvis in a neutral relationship.
WHY DO THIS MOVE?
Teaches the up and down, piston-like action of the pelvis and hips that should occur in a healthy gait pattern.
Improves lateral hip stability, which can in turn improve single leg balance.
Takes pressure off knees and low back when walking.
Keep your knees straight throughout the entire exercise!
Thighs externally rotated.
Legs perpendicular to the floor and pelvis aligned over ankles.
Shift your weight to your RIGHT leg WITHOUT letting your upper body lean. As you do this, draw your right hip both down toward the floor and in toward your body. Your LEFT hip should lift up in response to the lowering of your right hip. Can you pause for a moment? Can you feel the muscles of your right butt working?
Alternate back and forth.
Then try several repetitions on one leg.
This overhead press variation allows you to monitor your ribcage position with your free hand. It also teaches you to activate your glute and hamstring muscles to stabilize your pelvis as you move your arm overhead.
Hold the weight on the same side as your kneeling leg.
Engage your butt muscles on your kneeling leg WITHOUT tucking your pelvis. This means no "bad dog!" tail.
Ground down strongly into your front foot.
Place your free hand on your lower, front ribs. These ribs should be flush with your abdomen. Your ribcage should not move during the exercise.
As you exhale, press the weight overhead.
Notice: Did you lose the contraction of the butt muscles on your kneeling leg? If so, engage them again.
Notice: Did you lose the position of your ribcage? If so, drop your ribcage down. DO NOT BACK BEND!
I am doing this exercise with a kettlebell in a rack position, but you can also hold it with the heavy side up (this will challenge your arm's steadiness and grip strength) or you can use a dumbbell or a heavy book or a sack of rice ~ anything that feels slightly heavy for you.
- Place the heavy ball portion of the kettlebell in your palm.
- Root your feet. Feel a strong line of energy into your heels in particular.
- As you exhale, press the kettlebell overhead.
- Keep your pelvis steady. DO NOT shoot your hips forward. Keep feeling weight on your heels.
- Keep your spine neutral. DO NOT backbend or allow your ribcage to pop up and forward.
The way we habitually hold our bodies can have implications on our movement efficiency, power production and pain. Here are the basic points for finding a neutral position in your lower body.
Please maintain a light-hearted mindset when practicing these alignment exercises. Do not be goal oriented or easily discouraged. Instead approach them with a spirit of curiosity, as a way to gather information about your habits and as a way to begin to see additional options for the way you carry your body.
- Stand with your feet 6 - 10 inches away from the wall.
- Feel the weight of your body in your heels. Do not let the weight of your body shift to the balls of your feet.
- Allow a very slight space between your lower back and the wall.
- Allow your shoulders and upper back to round forward away from the wall as you press your middle back strongly into the wall. Your middle back is the area from your bra-line to your true waist.
- Attempt to stand upright as you keep the area of your mid-back pressing strongly into the wall.
- Keep feeling for weight in your heels.
- Do not lift your chin in an attempt to put your head on the wall. Keep your chin lowered. For some of you this will feel like you are making a double chin.
The is great debate amongst those who work in the movement and somatic fields (ie, researchers, academics, coaches, movement instructors, somatic practitioners) about the relevance of alignment guidelines and exercises such as this.
My intention here is not to say that there is one perfect, static, pin-point alignment that we all must find and maintain.
My intention is to help you begin to become aware of your habitual way of holding yourself and explore how this habitual posture might be holding you back from your health and fitness goals by disrupting the force production throughout your kinetic chain, increasing your energy expenditure, placing unnecessary strain on your joints and connective tissues and potentially causing you pain.
Alignment is not everything. Many studies show that "good" posture and exercise technique (form) are not always indicators of pain-free movement. You can perform a "perfect" squat and still have hip pain.
I do not believe in having people stand in front of grids or measure their joint angles with special tools in order to assess their alignment. This is far to rigid and takes people away from feeling their own bodies and encourages to rely solely on external markers to measure "progress."
I believe that our job as movement professionals and body workers is to help our clients to find greater intimacy with their bodies, not less.
Our bodies are naturally asymmetrical. Just consider your internal organs: the way your heart sits to the left of your midline and your liver sits to the right. Consider the twists and turns of your intestines and the amorphous shape of your stomach. Doesn't it seem only natural that the bony structures that surround and protect these organs would be asymmetrical to some degree as well?
But to say that alignment doesn't matter at all is to ignore basic laws of physics. The way our bones organize themselves in relationship to one another, in relationship to our soft tissues and viscera and in relationship to gravity absolutely DOES impact the force loads to which your body will adapt.
Poor alignment is part the reason why bunions get formed and why shoulder injuries are common in yoga classes where Chaturanga (yoga's variation of a push up) is centerstage. Sometimes it's a very big part of the reason why. Over the years I can name 6 clients who came to me with bunion pain. (They actually came to me for health and fitness goals, but revealed that they had bunion pain in our initial session.) All 6 of these people had been told they needed surgery for their bunions and all 6 of them were cured of their bunion pain within a couple weeks simply by learning to align their lower body and mobilize their toes.
I have similar stories around shoulder, hip and knee pain.
The more we know about ourselves, our bodies, our habits and our movement patterns, the more empowered we are to take ownership of our health.
While it is important that we not be rigid in your assessment and application of alignment points or to invest all your energy and efforts into standing and moving "perfectly," it is also important to become aware of the way you habitually hold your body and move. Attempting to improve your alignment in your daily life and in your exercise technique is a practice worth pursuing.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips with your feet slightly turned out.
- Externally rotate your thighbones and feel your weight shift to the lateral edge of your foot.Feel for the weight of your body in your heels.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed away from your ears and your elbows tight. Do not let your elbows flare out.
- Hold the weight close to your body.
- Sit back and down attempting to get your hip crease just below the top of your knee cap. Keep feeling for the weight in your heels as you sit back. Keep your thighs externally rotated and your knees wide.
- Press the floor away from you as you come back up to stand.
Choose a weight that allows you to perform 5 - 10 receptions with good technique
It is important to hold the weight close to your body with integrity in your arms. See how my elbows are hugging close to my body in the photo below? This is correct.
Do not allow your elbows to flare out to the sides like in the picture below.
Keep the weight close to your body. Do you see how I am holding the weight far away from my body in the photo below? This is not good. It causes added strain in your shoulders, neck, upper and lower back.
Remember: Keep the weight close to your body with shoulders relaxed and your elbows hugging tightly in toward each other. You can see this optimal positioning in the photo below.
- Stand with your feet directly under your hip bones.
- Point your toes directly forward.
- Make a kidney bean foot.
- Bring your attention to the mound under your big toe and raise your heels off the floor to come to balance for a brief moment on your toes.
- Make sure that your weight does not shift toward the baby toe side of your foot. Remain heavy and rooted in your big toe and big toe mound.
- Stand with your feet just wider than your pelvis with your feet slightly turned out.
- Externally rotate your thigh bones. Feel your weight shift to the lateral part of your foot.
- Sense into your feet, particularly your heels.
- Hold the dumbbells in front of your shoulders with the bars parallel to the floor and your elbows directly under your wrists.Initiate the squat by shifting your hips back, NOT by bending your knees forward.
- Feel for your heels as you continue to sit down and back into your hips.
- Your knees will eventually come forward slightly.
- Attempt to sit your hips just below the top of your knee cap.
- Pause in the bottom for a moment, keep feeling for your heels, keep your thigh bones externally rotated and your knees wide.
- Press your feet strongly in floor to return to stand. Push the floor away from you as you stand.
Keep your dumbbells tight!
- Dumbbells in front of shoulders
- Elbows under wrists
- Dumbbell bars parallel to the floor
- Shoulders relaxed back and down away from your ears
In the photo below, my wrists are sloppy. Do you see how the dumbbell bars are no longer parallel to the ground? This is not right, because it is not tight.
In the picture below the dumbbells are way too far forward of my body.
But don't be lazy and rest the dumbbells on your shoulders as in the picture below. You're here to work, so keep it tight!
Keep it right! Keep it tight! Now: Get squatting!
- Stand with your feet directly under your hip bones and your toes forward.
- Look at the arches of your feet and the inside of your ankles. Are they dropping toward the midline? What is the shape of your foot?
- If your arches are dropped, externally rotate your thighbones to help lift the arches of your feet. Your inner ankles should move in and away from the midline as well.
- Spread your toes long.
- Do your feet look like kidney beans?