Headaches, push-ups and tennis elbow: The shoulder blade connection

THIS week, across all my classes, there’s a bit of a theme. Clue: They are behind you and you need them to move your arms. Anatomically speaking I’m referring to your scapulae, without the latin they are your shoulder blades.

Any arm or shoulder movement is dependent on your shoulder blades. From golf to gardening, running, or even drinking a cup of tea. Conditions like headaches, tennis elbow, rotator cuff injuries and even arthritis can all originate in dysfunctional shoulder blades. And the basic problem? They don’t move. This is why many Pilates exercises incorporate arm movements and why, during classes we spend a lot of time mobilising the upper body and taking care to position arms, elbows, shoulders and necks in a specific way.

Now to be honest, this is way too big a topic to unravel in one blog post and I don’t intend to. Instead, I’d like to offer you some food for thought to take into your classes and every day activities.

Even now, as you read this, how are you sitting or standing? Think about your little shoulder blades. Where are they right now? And where have they been for most of the day? If you spend a lot of time at your desk, they’ll have been fairly slack as your shoulders slope forwards and your wrists/fingers take the strain. If you sit up straight now and think about letting them drop away from your ears, how does that feel?

Inactivity and rigidity are enemies of your musculo-skeletal system so here are a few ideas for getting your shoulder blades moving:

THE IMAGINARY HAND SQUEEZE:

Stand up and imagine someone has placed their hand between your shoulder blades. Now try to squeeze the hand (you could of course find a willing volunteer).

 

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

My son, demonstrating THE DIVER

THE DIVER:

From standing, place both hands above your head as if you were about to dive into water. Now raise your shoulders to your ears, without changing your hand/arm position and then lower your shoulders to create space under your ears. This exercise stimulates the natural winging in and out of your shoulder blades.

THE PUSH-UP PREP:

From your hands and knees (you can progress to toes) prepare for a push up. Now check your elbow joint position. Are they pointing out to the sides or back, towards your knees? If they are facing the sides, your shoulders aren’t in the right position and you’ll always struggle to do a push-up (plus you’ll get really sore wrists). Instead try drawing your shoulder blades away from your ears, squeeze them together just a little and ensure your elbow joint creases are facing forwards. Notice what happens now when you bend your elbows.

THE KNEELING TWIST:

From your hands and knees, thread one arm through your torso as if you were threading a needle, bending the other elbow to enable your shoulder blade to almost touch the floor, then go the other way, opening up your arm completely to the side.

 

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Want a flat tummy? My top 5 dos and don’ts.

DON’T EAT SUGARS OR REFINED CARBS. This one’s simple. Cut it out for a week and then tell me you haven’t lost fat on your tummy.

DON’T EAT PROCESSED FOODS. Yes even and especially diet ones. Flat tummies start in the kitchen.  No amount of exercise can out do a poor diet.  The cleaner your diet (this means no chemical nasties, unknown salts or sugars) the leaner your belly!

DON’T GIVE IN TO STRESS. It’s hard but stress, especially long-term, low level stress is a trigger for storing fat around your tummy. It can also be a trigger for comfort eating. Minimizing stress could mean letting go of commitments that aren’t serving you, booking in a weekly yoga or exercise session, or just taking time out to unwind but consider it as important to your health as cleaning your teeth (stress arguably causes more disease than bad dental care).

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DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL ON A REGULAR BASIS. ‘Ha ha,’ you think … but it’s true.  A glass of wine a night is like eating a chocolate bar before you go to bed. Empty calories which don’t fill you up but will keep fat on your tummy. An occasional tipple is fine but not if you’re serious about finding your waist.

DON’T SNACK. Cows graze, lions feast and famine. Unless you are training for an endurance event or pregnant, eating little and often is a misnomer. Cut out all snacks and aim to leave at least 4 hours between meals to regulate your insulin production.

DO GET PLENTY OF SLEEP. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can make you feel more hungry and crave calorie dense, fatty and sugary foods.

DO WORK ON YOUR POSTURE. Rounded, stooping shoulders lead to saggy boobs and extra belly rolls. Likewise a deep arch in your lower back makes it hard for your abs to work and can leave you with a permanent poochy belly. Lift weights and do Pilates!

DO DRINK LOTS OF WATER to keep you feeling full, flush out toxins and prevent water retention.

DO EAT A SELECTION OF HIGH QUALITY MEATS, FISH AND VEGETABLES – especially dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach and watercress, which are all great alkalisers.

DO CHANGE YOUR HABITS. If you’ve read all of these Dos and Don’ts and thought, ‘well I sort of do that but I can’t change that,’ then enjoy your belly roll.  Changing shape = changing habits.

Related posts:

How to alkalise your diet.

Is sleep deprivation making you fat?

Why can’t I stop eating sugar?

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com