WOMEN’S FITNESS

hunch
By Caroline Sandry

Lose the

Are round shoulders adding kilos and years to the way you look? We have a hunch that you will like these exercises...

When we were young, our teachers or mothers might have encouraged us to stand up tall and pull our shoulders back. Good advice in theory, but unfortunately people literally ‘pull their shoulders back’ with their rhomboids (muscles of the upper back) sticking their chest out and arching their back. Go to a mirror now and see what happens to your body if you literally ‘pull your shoulders back’ You will most likely see your stomach poke out as your lower back arches and see your chest lift and your chin poke forward – not the perfect posture we would like to see! In fact this action is more likely to increase tension in the body and can cause more problems.

So, what is the solution?
In order to correct your posture, you need to develop strength in the small stabilising muscles of the shoulder girdle and thoracic (upper) spine. At the same time it is important to stretch the front of the chest and increase flexibility in the whole shoulder girdle, chest and upper arm. Try to circle your shoulders in a backwards motion several times per day, ending the movement with your shoulder blades in their correct position – slightly drawn together and down. The movement you make in the first exercise below – ‘shoulder stabilisers’ should help you to feel the position and movement of the shoulder blades on the rib cage. Try to be aware of this movement of the scapula (shoulder blade) as you perform the following exercises. I have selected below a combination of yoga and pilates moves that will stretch and open the front of the chest and shoulder, and strengthen the shoulder stabilising muscles which will hold the scapula in it’s rightful place and give you a natural and comfortable improvement in your posture. Never force a movement, and try to be relaxed and free- flowing as you practice. It is fine to practice a few repetitions of each on a daily basis.

Photography: Neil Francombe/Ultra-Fit Images

Round shoulders not only ruin
your posture, they can lead to back and neck pain, and in the long term can give you stooped posture – or a ‘hunch-back’. Modern life is not conducive to good posture! Sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, driving a car and slumping on the sofa will all encourage round shoulders and stiffness. As your shoulders and upper back become tighter, you may develop head and neck pain, which will increase your tension levels, and lead to further tightness, and so the cycle continues! And just to add insult to injury

– round shoulders will make you look shorter and fatter! Nice, broad open shoulders will make the hips appear narrower in contrast, whereas inwardly rotated shoulders and a forward bend in the upper back will make your lower body look wider in comparison. A rounded upper back tends to go hand in hand with a protruding abdomen; stand in front of the mirror, slump your shoulders forward and feel how your abdominals relax and protrude, and then stand up tall, shoulders wide, and see how much easier it is to flatten your stomach!

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WOMEN’S FITNESS

Pilates shoulder stabiliser
■ Stand up tall, feet hip width apart, elbows touching your waist and bent with palms facing up ■ Exhale and gently draw your navel in towards your spine ■ Inhale as you move your hands backwards (keep forearm parallel to the floor throughout) working the muscles between the shoulder blades ■ Exhale to move hands back to the start position. Repeat 8 times Training tips – the aim is to locate the muscles around the shoulder blades. Try to keep the shoulders down throughout, with a gentle abdominal engagement. Do not arch the spine as you perform this exercise.

Pilates arm circles
■ Lie on your back, knees bent and hip width apart, spine in a neutral position (neither flat nor arched) ■ Float hands up above the shoulders ■ Exhale and float hands towards the floor behind you and circle out wide ■ Inhale as the arms come back above your shoulders ■ Circle 4 times in each direction. Training tips – As you exhale your arms behind you, try to keep the ribs in a neutral position; do not let them arch up off the floor. Make the circles as big as you comfortably can.


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Spine extension
■ Lie face down, arms forming a diamond shape, forehead just below thumbs ■ Inhale to prepare, exhale and draw your shoulders away from your ears lengthening you upper spine off the floor ■ Inhale to hold in the lifted position ■ Exhale to lengthen back to the floor and repeat 8 times Training tips – try to create as much space between your shoulders and ears as is possible. Keep the head in line with the spine throughout. This exercise is for your upper spine and shoulder area, so do not simply use your lower back to lift yourself off the floor.

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Pilates upper body opener
■ Lie on your right side, with your knees bent, fingertips touching in front of you, hips stacked one on top of the other (do not let your waist collapse onto the floor). You may support your head with a small cushion if you prefer. ■ Inhale and reach your top arm up towards the ceiling ■ Exhale and reach back towards the floor behind you, keep the waist and hips still, and let your head follow your shoulder back ■ Inhale to hold the open position ■ Exhale to bring the arm back to the start position. Training tip – do not let knees lift off the floor, and always keep your joints in alignment – wrist, elbow and shoulder all in a straight line.

WOMEN’S FITNESS

Pilates Spine Twist
■ Sit up tall with a neutral spine and legs crossed. If hamstrings or lower back restrict you, sit up on a cushion or yoga block. ■ Take your arms out wide to shoulder height, palms facing forward, shoulders down away from ears ■ Inhale to prepare, exhale and twist to the left ■ Inhale back to the centre and exhale to twist to the right ■ Twist six times each way. Training tip – keep your body weight even on both cheeks of your bottom. Keep shoulders away from your ears and as you twist left try to draw your left shoulder blade to wards the sight shoulder as you twist right.

The Cobra
■ Lie face down, legs together, forehead on the floor and hands palm down directly beneath shoulders. ■ Inhale and slowly raise forehead, then nose, then chin from the floor ■ Continue to roll the shoulders up off the floor, lifting your chin and keeping your shoulders away from your ears ■ Take a couple of breaths in the up position before rolling slowly back to the floor. ■ Gradually increase number of breaths or repeat sequence a couple of times. Training tip – do not push your hands into the floor to lift your head and shoulders, use the muscles of the back. Keep shoulders relaxed and down. It is a good idea to press back into the child pose after – bottom on your heels and face onto the floor to counterstretch the spine.

ALWAYS REMEMBER TO WARM UP AND COOL DOWN AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF EACH SESSION, AND STRETCH OUT THE MUSCLES YOU HAVE WORKED.

Coming next issue – need more time, and less you? We show you how to sculpt a better body in less than 30 minutes a day…..

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