Pilates: Scapular Mobility

By Denise Vidal

In the last blog, we demonstrated how core strength can be supported through the shoulder girdle’s connection to the ribcage. We did this by exploring motions called protraction and retraction, that is the shoulder blades’ moving toward and away from each other along the ribcage. In this blog, we are going to explore upward and downward rotation of the shoulder blades, while continuing to practice our protraction and retraction. To do this exercise, you need a dowel of some kind that is wider than shoulder width. You can do this exercise sitting or standing; however, whatever position you choose be sure to align your head on top of your ribcage and pelvis.

To begin, hold the ends of the dowel in each hand and rest it on your thighs. Take a deep breath. As you inhale, feel your ribcage expand into your shoulder blades. As you exhale, engage your abdominals, feeling the front and back of your abdomen hugging towards each other.

On your next inhale, maintain your abdominal tone as you raise the stick to shoulder height. The shoulder blades will begin to widen on your back, just as they did in last week’s blog (picture 1). As you exhale, continue to lift the dowel to the height of your forehead. The shoulder blades will widen more as they upwardly rotate around the
ribcage (picture 2). I like to imagine the tips of my shoulder blades following the path of my little finger. At this point, your shoulder blades should be as wide as possible against your ribcage. Continue to lift the stick up over your head. As you do this, your shoulder blades will begin to narrow towards each other, or retract from the previous position (picture 3).

On your next inhale, begin to reverse the pattern until you come back to the original position. The shoulder blades will widen as the stick comes down toward your forehead, and then narrow slightly as the dowel comes to rest on your thighs.

Do this motion 5-10x every morning. Remember to connect your breath and the engagement of your core to the movement.




Pilates: Scapular Stability and Serratus Push-Ups

By Denise Vidal

In our previous two blogs we spoke about the movement of the pelvis in relationship to the legs. Now, we will discuss the relationship between the arms, the shoulder girdle, and the ribs. Like the lower limbs, the upper limbs are only as strong as they are able to maintain proper joint mechanics. One of the most fundamental joint movements of the upper body is the shoulder blades’ ability to glide along the ribcage. If the shoulder blades move well against the ribcage, then the ribs can become a strong base of support for the movement of the upper limbs.

To begin, come onto your hands and knees into what we call a “table top” position. Your hands and knees should be underneath your shoulders and hips, as if you were making a “table” out of your torso (picture 1). If necessary you can put a mat or a cushion under your knees for more support. Or, if being on your knees is not at all comfortable, you can do this exercise standing with your hands against a wall.

In this position start to breathe deeply, seeing your ribs expand as you inhale and your abdominals pull inward as you exhale. In Pilates we like to give the image that you are a pregnant cat and every time you exhale you are lifting your litter of kittens towards your spine. It may sound silly, but this image works for a lot of people! The idea is that you want to gain core support without changing the length of your spine and the width of your ribcage.

On your next inhale, maintain the straightness of your spine and arms as you sink your chest towards the floor and slide your shoulder blades together. In Pilates we refer to this movement as a “schlump” (picture 2). As you exhale, push into your hands and widen your shoulder blades on your back (picture 3). Do this movement 5-10 times, remembering to incorporate your breath and to keep your spine lengthened.

If you are experiencing any shoulder or wrist pain, speak to your doctor or physical therapist before attempting this exercise.



Rock Your Body Mechanics

By Riva Preil

Tis the season to be reviewing proper body mechanics, especially considering the amount of heavy lifting and transporting (ex. suitcases, gifts, decorations). Protecting your back is one of the best presents you can give yourself this holiday season, and the benefits will far outweigh that of any iPad. That being said, please pay close to attention to the following tips you can easily incorporate into your routine to promote optimal health and safety:

  1. SQUAT TO LIFT HEAVY OBJECTS- while lifting an object, step close to the object, spread your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend from the hips, knees, and ankles. Head and shoulders should remain upright, and tighten your abdominal muscles (your core) throughout the lift. Avoid bending from the back, and instead use your large, strong lower extremity muscles.
  2. USE GOLFER’S LIFT TECHNIQUE TO LIFT LIGHT OBJECTS- Choose one leg, and shift your body weight onto that leg. Put your opposite arm on a supportive surface (ex. countertop, rail, table etc.) and bend forward.  Allow the supporting knee to bend slightly and allow the unweighted leg to lift off the ground in line with your torso.
  3. PUSH RATHER THAN PULL- When moving heavy objects (ex. table, bed), pushing the item from behind while standing erect allows you to use your body weight during the move, which decreases the burden from your back.
  4. AVOID TWISTING- Trunk rotation while carrying or moving a heavy object puts severe stress on the lumbar vertebrae and the intervertebral discs. It is better to pivot and move from your feet while engaging in loaded twisting movements (ex. carrying luggage, vacuuming, etc.). As with all back protection strategies, remain as close to the item as possible throughout activity.
  5. SINK SAFETY- Most sinks are situated lower than our backs would like. Pay attention next time your brush your teeth- do you find yourself bending forward? Does this make your back feel strained? If so, try this simple trick- place one foot atop a stool while brushing your teeth or washing your face, and see how much better your back feels afterwards.
  6. LOGROLL YOUR WAY OUT OF BED- The worst thing is starting your day off on a bad foot…or a bad back for that matter! Getting out of bed in the morning could be a much more pleasant experience by avoiding awkward twists and bends as you arise. Instead, try using the logroll technique- roll onto your side, scoot close to the edge of the bed, and bend your hips and knees. Then, push up through your upper body as you drop your legs off the bed. This maneuver allows you to move your back as one unit and decreases pressure on the spine.

Good luck with these techniques! I hope they help you feel great during 2013 and beyond. Happy New Year!