Strength is one of those words that gets people’s attention particularly if they feel they lack it. There is no denying that being strong feels good. More than that though, mobilizing our upper bodies sets us on a path to improving breast health, better bone density and enhanced breathing. Who doesn’t want that? Upper body strength in particular is a concern for many people, but for women in particular. If the question is how to achieve it, the answer invariably seems to be, “I need to go to the gym and lift some weights.”
Lifting weights with an upper body that has been mostly sedentary for years will only reinforce your current shape. If we are not using our upper body in a variety of ways, we are adapting to that lack of use and when we do go to lift something heavy or reach up for something high, we wonder why we struggle to do it or why it hurts.
We tend not to use our arms very much other than in very small motions. How many times a day do you lift your arms above shoulder height or carry something heavy? Upper body tone keeps the joints of your shoulders, elbows and wrists stable. Optimal tension in this area keeps the upper spine upright. There is huge potential for movement in the upper body but for most of us, our arms and much of our shoulders spend most of the time out in front of us. This limited use sets the tensions, our range of motion decreases adapting to what we do most frequently and before we know it, we have frozen shoulder, neck issues and not a great deal of range in this area.
So if upon reviewing how much you move your upper body on a day-to-day basis and you find the answer is, not very much; it’s important to start by mobilizing underused tissues. Our modern lifestyles are not going to give us the movement these body parts require anytime soon so some restorative work is necessary to begin to mobilize the area and develop strength once we’ve identified what’s stuck.
So where to start?
• Each time you go to walk through a doorway, raise your arms above your head. Notice if your rib cage wants to travel with your arms. Can you get your arms up without taking your rib cage with you. Your arms might not go so high.
• Put some of the stuff you use in the kitchen most frequently at a higher level so you have to reach for it. Notice how we make everything as convenient as possible, missing out on movement our bodies require.
• Get down on the floor on all fours and get up again. Do this several times a day.
Here is a move to begin to wake up the sleeping parts! It will help you to unstick your upper middle spine, mobilize your shoulder blades and get some blood flowing into the area.
Start on your hands and knees. Let your knees and wrists fall directly under your hips and shoulders.
Keep your arms straight and your elbows pointing behind you.
Let your head hang and your pelvis and belly relax towards the floor.
Slowly allow your torso to move towards the floor. Your arms should stay straight and not change position. This will allow your shoulder blades to come together.
Then press into the floor with your hands and move the entire spine up towards the ceiling. Your shoulder blades will slide away from each other. Don’t round your upper back or tuck your pelvis. Try to isolate the movement to your shoulder blades.
Your spinal column maintains its original curve as it moves towards and away from the floor. Not to be confused with the cat/cow exercise.
Repeat 5 times and slowly increase the repetitions. Do them EVERYDAY.