A flexible and limber body that is capable of moving in all directions is much less likely to experience any kind of injury. As we discovered in our last installment on upper back strength, we must have proper posture to work the strength of the upper back. Posture means length which in turn means flexibility.

The hunching of the shoulders and the slumping in our seats during the day can cause back pain, headaches, tension, and tightness in the back, neck, and shoulders. These problems are painful, uncomfortable, and avoidable.

The following Pre-Pilates upper-back stretches target the upper back, neck, and shoulders. Taking time to do these stretches throughout the day can help increase flexibility and reduce tension and stress. This is also a great way to take a much needed break so that you can continue your activities with a renewed energy.

Exercise: Thread the Needle

This first exercise may not be the best one to do in the middle of the day at the office but it is one of the best upper back openers I’ve found. This would be a great way to start or end your day or both.

• Start on all fours. Line up your wrists under the shoulders with your knees lined up under the hips.
• Lift your right hand slightly and turn the palm up to the ceiling.
• Now reach across your body and thread the right arm under the left bent arm.
• The right arm and right side of the face should rest on the floor.

If you have an extremely tight upper back, shoulders, and/or neck, rest the head and arm on stacked blankets or a bolster.

• As you rotate, try to bring the right shoulder under you as you turn the eyes to the ceiling.
• Feel the shoulder blades stretch away from each other.
• Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
• Gently switch sides.
• Repeat 3 to 4 times.

Exercise: Roll Down at the Wall

• Stand with your back against the wall with the feet six to eight inches away from the wall.
• Your feet should be parallel.
• Soften (bend) the knees a bit.
• Align your neutral spine against the wall.
• Try to rest the middle of the sacrum, mid back (at the bra line), and back of the head against the wall.
• On an exhale, start with your head and slowly peel the spine away from the wall from top to bottom. Imagine that your head, arms, shoulders, and upper back are filled with sand as you curl forward.
• It’s okay to bend the knees more to accomplish the roll down.
• Stop the roll down at the top of the pelvis just before the fingers touch the floor.
• Imagine that you are hanging over a railing and hold for a few seconds.
• Keep the upper body and arms heavy and then allow the arms to circle freely at the top of the arm bone.
• After 5 circles in each direction, inhale and roll back up the wall slowly, one vertebra at a time.
• When you reach the top, find your anchors and neutral spine.
• Repeat 3 to 4 times.

Exercise: At the Desk Stretch

This is a simple, anytime, anywhere stretch that opens your upper back, shoulders, and neck.

• While seated, bring the left arm across the chest.
• Hook the inside of your right elbow above the left elbow and use your right arm to help stretch the left shoulder by pulling the left arm to the back and to the right.
• Drop the right ear to the right shoulder and turn the head so the eyes are looking toward the floor.
• Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
• On an exhale, turn the eyes forward and gently bring the head back up.
• Release the arm and switch sides.
• Repeat.

To intensify Thread the Needle, lift the top arm so the fingers reach to the ceiling or behind the torso.

To intensify Roll Down at the Wall, use 2 lb weights in the hands to increase the downward pull. Remember to keep the upper body, head, and arms heavy and relaxed.

To intensify the At the Desk Stretch, add a rotation in the spine. Try to look behind you as you stretch the opposite arm across your chest and down toward the side you’re rotating to.

~ by Jennifer Gianni

We hope you find these exercises helpful. Leave any comments below!

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