(Or how to fix neck, upper back, and shoulder tightness)
I was just going through the blogs and I can’t believe I haven’t yet written about the foam roller. Lying longways on the foam roller, that is.
I was introduced to the foam roller about 10 years ago in a gigantic hotel ballroom with about 250 other personal trainers doing a workshop.
Instructors threw out a one foot long 6 inch in diameter round little piece of white styrofoam to every participant. I looked at it and thought, “How could this little thing do anything impactful?”
How wrong I was.
The next instructions were to flip over on your stomach and place the roller under the quad muscle on the front of the thigh. Nothing happened until I followed the final instruction, which was to actually roll up and down the thigh.
Aaaaaah! What the heck!?!
Imagine being in a room with 250 people whose faces instantly go into all sorts of contorted expressions as they realize the crazy tightness that has been discovered so quickly in their leg as they roll. This little piece of styrofoam totally kicked their booty. It still makes me giggle to think about. 🙂
I blogged about this last week when I talked about knees and knee pain. That is one way to use the roller, but this is quite another.
You are in for a treat!
Here’s the nitty gritty:
Hop on the three foot long roller on your back with your stomach facing the sky longways. Even if you do nothing else while on the roll, this will reap tremendous benefits. Turn your palms up to the sky, too. That allows that whole shoulder girdle to open up and roll back.
I’ve run into clients who find this basic position uncomfortable. “The roll is too hard,” they tell me. No problemo: take a towel, fold it in half, and put it on the roller before you lie down. Additionally, I’ve also run into pointy heads and protruding tailbones. No problemo: take a hand towel and make a little donut out of it, put it on the towel on the roll, and then climb on.
Anything else? Oh ya!
Let’s say you’ve had breast cancer surgery. Your shoulders are rolled forward in protective mode, or just so darn tight from being a desk jockey, that this is not comfortable and pulls too much. No problemo! Just place a pillow, books, or in my case below, a yoga block under the elbow to decrease the pressure.
Truly, just lying there with your palms up is a great start. However, I take advantage of the awesome opportunity to get to know your shoulder blades a little better. The roll allows you to actually feel them move around versus something less kinesthetic like just lying on the floor.
Let’s look at shoulder blade anatomy here for a second. Here we have the headache muscle in yellow, trapezius number one. Classically overused and chronically tight on most people.
It’s best friend is trapezius number two, seen below. Remember the way the lines are drawn are the direction the muscle fibers run.
Here’s my favorite trapezius three and four, and our target today ( and always) on the roller. You want to figure out how to squeeze that lower trap and get it to work to take pressure off of the upper guys.
Peel away a layer of trapezius muscles, and you can see how many little muscles are available in the shoulder blade area. Seventeen in fact act on the shoulder joint! We will also target the rhomboid to help bring those shoulder blades back towards the spine where they belong.
When shoulders round forward, shoulder blades come with them, and then the chest or pectoralis muscle on the front of body gets tight and shorter, while all of these trapezius muscles get slightly longer and tighter. There is very little balance between front and back, and everybody gets frustrated. As a result, over time you might get a migraine, or TMJ, or sinus problems, or a sore neck, or impinged shoulder. You might even tear your rotator cuff, develop tennis elbow, or carpal tunnel.
Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! 🙁
4 Exercises for your shoulders
Try these four simple exercises as a starter to get those shoulder blade muscles working and in balance. I like doing most exercises for about 1:30 each time, and remember the second set always goes better as you’ve re-established a nerve pathway. This is as much a brain workout as a muscle workout! I like to alternate hip exercises with shoulder blade exercises as I’ve never gotten blades to cooperate without a good solid hip foundation.
Exercise #1: Shoulder Bridges
Drive through your heels, exhale through your nose to stabilize core, and use glutes and hamstrings equally to lift hips off roll. Careful back and quads don’t try to dominate.
Exercise #2: Reverse Presses
Bend elbows to ninety degrees, and push elbows into floor feeling lower part of shoulder blade slide in towards roller as a result of you simply pressing on elbows. I know you can squeeze your shoulder blades together; I am interested in the trigger mechanism neurologically from elbow to shoulder blade. Do not let chest help or tighten up!
Exercise #3: One Foot Shoulder Bridge
Cross foot on knee, and now drive through heel lifting both hips feeling glute work really well with hamstring helping. If one side is stronger than the other, feel free to do a few more repetitions to catch the weaker side up.
Exercise #4: Open the Newspaper
Now tuck your elbows into your sides bent to ninety degrees, and open imaginary newspaper across chest feeling shoulder blades slide into roller using trap 3/4. Careful of your neck!
Now for the best part of the day:
Roll off the roller and lie on the floor. How long have you been there? Gravity has sneakily been working, wrapping both spine muscles around the roller and relaxing them. Does it feel like the roller is still there or little elves have come along and dug a tunnel while you were working out?
That is my favorite part: The tunnel!
Give these exercises a try and let us know in the comments below how they worked or if you have any questions!