Millions of people suffer from neck and shoulder tension. It can build up from poor posture, excessive sitting, overuse, and general stress and anxiety. Treatments for neck and shoulder tension can include manual therapies like massage or chiropractic. I love addressing this annoying and often chronic issue through effective movement.
How do I do this?
I make sure to train effective movement patterns throughout the entire body to support the neck and shoulders. Your hips and feet are connected to everything above, so I focus on building strength and support from the ground up.
Here’s an intermediate level Pilates Mat class plan I’ve put together to build power and ease in the shoulders.
I’ve included some images and cues I use to help bring my points home throughout the class plan.
I hope you find it helpful!
Theme: Power and Ease in the Shoulders
Images: Top of arm bone dropping into back of socket, shoulder blade counterweights to arms & hands, hands light as feathers, mid & lower back ribs puffing out with the breath.
Props: Magic circle, 2x 2lb weight balls
Key message: The main focus of this class will be finding the balance between strength & mobility in your upper body. By the end of the class we hope to be able to support our body weight against gravity with ease and stand with our shoulders resting lightly on our ribcages.
Standing warm up
Standing roll down spine & back up – checking for any places of tightness.
How do the shoulders/neck feel? repeat 2X
Cat/Cow – moving the length of the spine
Rib cage circles
Rock hips back over heels (neutral spine) & back to quadruped feeling for shoulder blade movement
Knees bent (Rt. side) hold ball between knees.
Ribcage rotations with straight Lt. arm.
Image: puff out back ribs, arm attached to sternum, top of arm bone in back of socket, squeeze ball as you rotate forward.
Lateral arm arcs – add arm rotation; ie. arm toward ear – external rotation, toward hip – internal rotation. Think hand light as feather, shoulder blade counterweight.
Hip abductions – Lt hand pushing on circle with arm extended in front of chest. Lift & lower – hip rotated int., hip rotated ext. Feel under arm connection.
Rotator Cuff holding weight ball – elbow bent at waist, humerus rotates – lower & lift ball. Top of arm into back of socket.
Scapula Retractions – extend arm forward, hand rests on ball. Lift & lower ball by moving scap. toward & away from spine. Repeat movement without weight. Think feather hand & counterweight scapula.
Leg Swings with Rib rotations – hand on ball with arm extended a) leg swings like a pendulum forward & back. Add rib rotations by rolling ball away as leg swings back.
Switch sides and repeat all side-lying above
Hover knees with Tripod arms. Feel for ribs filling scaps, wide armpits..
Ribcage rotation, 1 arm at T – reaching up & then under torso, breathe into back ribs
Balls under buttocks
Sagittal arm arcs. Arm toward ear – external rotation, toward hip, internal rotation. Hands like feathers.
Single leg stretch. Repeats on one side to feel deep core.
Double leg stretch. Add sagittal arc arms with shoulder rotations
Bridging. Circle around thighs, neutral bridge, lift pelvis – push out into ring, release & lower. Hold bridge. Lift & lower one heel, alternate.
Holding circle over head, with elbows bent. “diamond arms”. Engage abdominals. Lift elbows, scaps move down spine, lift ring off mat, squeeze ring. Repeat feeling for work in lower traps.
Resting on forearm and pelvis with top leg extended, bottom knee bent. Humerus rotated externally, top of arm pulled back into socket. Lift pelvis 2 slow counts up, 2 counts down. Back ribs fill with breath. Feel ribs lifting away from arm. Repeats. Hold, lift & lower top leg 3 X. Rest.
Tripod forearms, plank from toes. Walk feet toward arms piking at hips, walk back to plank. Repeat 3 X.
Side bridge – 2nd side
Resting on forearm and pelvis with top leg extended, bottom knee bent. Humerus rotated externally, top of arm pulled back into socket. Lift pelvis 2 slow counts up, 2 counts down. Back ribs fill with breath. Feel ribs lifting away from arm. Repeats. Hold, lift & lower top leg 3 X.
Plank > Downward Dog
Plank from toes and walk feet toward arms piking at hips, walk back to plank. Repeat 3 X. End in Downward Dog and walk hands to feet or feet to hands to end standing
Shoulder sponging – place Rt. hand on left shoulder at base of neck. Squeeze Trapezius as if you are squeezing a wet sponge. Release & imagine water filling the muscle. Switch sides.
Roll down spine & back up feeling for ease of motion.
Stand, eyes closed, breathe in & out, feeling for shoulder girdle resting on ribcage.