Tight, rounded shoulders are just as guilty as weak back muscles in creating bad posture. Our shoulders are connected to our neck, upper back and rib cage. When we have tension in the shoulders, pain in all of the connecting areas can be felt. Stress, sitting at a desk for too long, and carrying a purse or backpack are all causes for tight shoulders. Stretching of the muscles on the anterior side of our torso is necessary for good posture. Good posture leads to less pain, better spinal health and easier breathing. The more flexibility we have in the front of our shoulders, the less tension there is pulling the shoulders forward. These 4 Pilates exercises will not only create more flexibility in your chest and shoulders, but they will also strengthen your back and core.
Rocking– Lie on your stomach and reach back to hold onto your ankles with your legs bent. Lift your chest off the ground, using your legs as leverage. You will feel a stretch in your quadriceps. Reach your head and feet towards the sky to get a deep stretch in the front of your shoulders. If this is too intense of a stretch, you may start lying down holding one ankle at a time and work up to the full rocking position. Once you have the full rocking position, start gently rocking your body back and forth by contracting the muscles along the posterior side of your body. Finish the exercise in a child’s pose to release the lower back.
Double Leg Kick– Lie on your stomach with one side of your face on the mat. Place one hand on top of the other as high as you can in between your shoulder blades. The elbows stay bent and relaxed by your sides. Squeeze your legs together and click your heels to your butt three times. When you do this, think of squeezing the glutes and pressing the hips to the floor so they don’t lift off the ground. After the third click, straighten your legs and arms without releasing your hands and hold for three more counts with the chest lifted off the ground. Lower your head down with your face in the other direction and repeat. Change the direction of your head each time and do five times on each side. When you arch up and straighten the arms, make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together to really stretch the front of the chest and shoulders.
Leg Pull Front– This is a traditional Pilates exercise meant to open the shoulders and work the glutes and hamstrings. Sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you. Place your hands shoulder width apart behind you. Your fingers may be facing in or out. Lift the hips into the air as high as possible by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. The goal is to get your feet as flat on the floor as possible by lifting the hips and pressing your palms into the ground. Your shoulders will be opening as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Do not sink into your shoulder blades or let your back round. Think of lifting your chest and hips towards the ceiling. Do this 5 times. Traditionally, once in the position with your hips up, you would kick each leg into the air three times. This is not necessary if you want to focus on opening the shoulders, but it can be done for an added challenge.
Boomerang– This is a great core strengthening exercise as well as a shoulder opener. Sit on the ground with your legs straight in front and cross your right ankle over the left. Using your abs, roll onto your back and swing your legs over your head. Don’t let your legs touch the floor. Keep them parallel to the ceiling and switch your legs so the left ankle crosses over the right. Roll back up to a “V” sit on your tailbone with the legs straight in the air and your hands reaching towards your feet. Keeping your legs where they are in space, slowly bring your arms around and behind your back trying to keep them straight for as long as possible. At the last moment, clasp your hands together behind your back while opening the shoulders and stretching the chest. Slowly lower your legs with control to the ground before bringing your nose to your knees. Stretch the arms behind your back up the ceiling. Unclasp your hands and slowly stretch your arms around and forward to your toes. Roll back to bring your legs over your head again and repeat the sequence three more times.
I hope you try these and feel the relief! Let me know how it goes!
More tutorials by Crystal: 7 Minute Booty Barre Workout (video)
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Video: Crystal Chin