Most of us drive, commute, do computer work, watch television, and often sleep in the same position. We become stuck in a forward-flexed thoracic spine posture that rotates the shoulder blades downward and pushes the head forward. Long term postural flaws will limit your strength and functional mobility, and they are the precursor to many of the pain problems we treat in physical therapy. Your fitness program should eliminate and not feed into these postural problems. I have some postural restoration training suggestions that nearly anyone can implement in his/her fitness program.
Many strength coaches and physical therapists have found that performing a mobility exercise followed by an activation (strengthening) exercise produces more expedient changes in postural flaws. Your goal is to increase the restricted movement pattern and then strengthen through the newly acquired range of motion.
Foam Roll T and Band Pull Apart
Position lengthwise on a foam roll. The head, spine, and hips should all be supported. Bring the arms out to the side so that the elbows are even with the shoulders and bent to 90 degrees. Let the shoulders relax and permit gravity alone to pull the arms toward the floor. Attempt to keep the forearms parallel to the floor and the elbows at 90 degrees. Stretch for 20 seconds and then bring the elbows together in front of your body. Repeat for three to five repetitions. The foam roll stretch will increase the mobility of the shoulder girdles and correct upper thoracic and cervical posture. You should eventually be able to get the elbows to the floor.
Immediately after the foam roll mobility exercise, perform ten band pull aparts. Stand tall with the chest proud and the head pulled back. Hold the band with the palms to the sky, elbows extended and the hands just below shoulder level. Concentrate your efforts on the muscles between your shoulder blades as you pull the band apart and bring the hands out to the side. The tempo of the exercise should be controlled–two counts to pull the band apart and two counts to return to the starting position. Choose a resistance band that is fairly easy and focus on making the motion smooth. If you sit at a desk all day keep a band at work and perform a few sets of band pull aparts every day.
Use this set of exercises as a stand alone daily posture restoration activity or as a warm up before more aggressive shoulder strengthening exercises. It is far more effective and less likely to cause harm than the commonly performed ballistic, windmill flailing, shoulder warm ups that every physical therapist is happy to see in the gym.
For foam roll and band pull apart demonstrations, click on the link below:
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS