SOS: Save Our Shoulders


Shoulder & Chest Anatomy




WHY DO CHEST / SHOULDER MUSCLES GET TIGHT?


1. Extended poor posture: If you spend a lot of time hunched over a computer desk or table with rounded shoulders, your muscles may start to feel closed and tight because they don’t spend enough time open and activated.


2. Repetitive motions: Consistent movements, whether it’s weightlifting at the gym, sports practice, push-ups, or moving heavy objects, can put a lot of strain on your muscles, increasing the chances of tightness or soreness.


3. Upper-back stiffness: Your chest muscles work in tandem with your upper-back muscles to support your shoulders, neck, and arms and perform upper-body movements. If you’re experiencing upper-back pain or upper-back tightness, your chest may overcompensate, which can lead to sore or tight pec muscles.



Can you see how everything is connected?

With this one stretch, you will be working on your chest, back and shoulders.



 


Reverse Shoulder Stretch Anatomy II Reverse Shoulder Stretch With Chair Support



REVERSE SHOULDER STRETCH


When we sit hunched over a desk all day our anterior deltoids and pectoral muscles shorten and get tight. This can lead to shoulder pain, neck pain, difficulty taking deep breaths, and difficulty lifting heavy things.



The reverse shoulder stretch is an upper-body movement that expands and contracts the muscles in the upper front of your torso, collectively called the pectoralis muscles or pec muscles. The pecs are a central muscle group that aid in good posture, shoulder-joint movement, neck movement, breathing, and pushing or pulling heavy objects.



BENEFITS


The reverse shoulder stretch

  • activates the chest muscles

  • stimulates blood flow

  • increases short-term range of motion and flexibility

It is excellent for relieving neck, shoulder, and upper back pain caused by restricted mobility and rounded shoulders.

It is a staple for all athletes, involved in sports or activities with a high usage of their shoulder cuff.


If you are into:

  • tennis

  • climbing

  • boxing

  • bouldering

  • powerlifting / weightlifting

  • volleyball


this is a good stretch to include in your daily regimen.


This is also a wonderful stretch for postnatal mums especially when breastfeeding due to hunching your shoulders over your baby.



--Adapted from Alex Smith, 'Corrective Stretches For Your Shoulders' (May 2018) and MasterClass 'How To Stretch Your Chest' (July 2021).




rope wall, Iyengar yoga, Iyengar studio
Iyengar Yoga Rope Wall


If you've been to an Iyengar yoga studio, you might have practised at a "rope wall". Students utilise these ropes to support the body in various postures. This enables the student to be able to hold the pose for a longer time.


In the picture below, you'll see a student doing a version of Tadasana (Mountain pose) with his hands through the ropes. If you have access to a rope wall, go for it.


The main issue with using the rope wall is that the student may "hang on" to the ropes i.e. the entire body is tilted forward. This is not what you want to do. In Iyengar yoga, props like blocks, straps and a rope wall are used for support BUT there is a difference between resting on* and engaging with a prop.


The good thing about using a table / chair is that unlike the rope wall, you cannot lean forward. To stand upright, your hands have to maintain their grip with the strength of your fingers. Your arms and shoulders have no choice but to be active.



Q. How do I know if I am resting on or engaging with a prop?


A. Take the prop away. If you fall over, you were resting on it. In this pose, the body is engaged, not sleeping.




*Note: Props can be used to rest on, but not for this standing stretch.


tadasana, mountain pose, rope wall, Iyengar yoga, shoulder stretch
Tadasana At Rope Wall

 

LET'S GET STARTED



1) Stand in Tadasana at a distance away from table / chair.


Distance depends on how far you can reach back with your hands while keeping the entire length of your body in the same neutral standing alignment*. You can adjust this distance later if you need.



Tadasana alignment

  • Feet are hip-width apart

  • Visualise the front of your torso as a square shape

  • Lift your chest up

  • Lengthen the collarbones outward

  • Arms are resting by either side of your body

  • Head / shoulders / pelvis are in the same line

  • Weight is mostly in your heels

  • Toes are light (not gripping the floor)



*What is neutral standing alignment?

  • Do not push your hips forward

  • Visualise your head, shoulders and pelvis neatly stacked

  • Imagine a string connected to the crown of your head. Pull up and "grow" taller



2) Without changing anything in the rest of your body, move your arms backward.

A common mistake is that the head or torso begins to lean forward.



3) Reach back and find a gentle grip on the furniture (fingers should not be tensing up).

Distance between your hands depends on your own comfort level. (Note: I did not adjust my student for this - I let her find her own grip distance.)

4) Do not lean back. Stand upright.

5) Soften your gaze, and either look straight ahead or slightly downward. This relaxes the eyes / muscles around the eyes. Do not tilt your chin up or downward.

6) Breathe softly and slowly through the nose.

7) BE IN THE POSE. The magic of the pose is when you are able to hold it for some time and breathe at a relaxed, steady pace. Resist the urge to fidget.


How long should I hold the pose? Hold for as long as feels comfortable. My student held this for about a minute.


Sthira sukham asanam.

Let your practice be steady and comfortable.