If you sit in a yoga/ Pilates studio or gym long enough (10 minutes probably) and listen – you’ll probably hear one of these said a fair few times:- Shoulders down – set your shoulders – relax your shoulders – squeeze your shoulder blades into a V… And it might be said more than once to the same person..!!
One thing to be say about this : trainers if you keep saying the same thing and it’s not working – say something different!!…
There are lots of other ways to say “shoulders down” but that is not the subject of this blog.
My chosen (specialised (MasterMind TV quiz show..)) subject today is why you DON’T always want to keep pulling your shoulders down your back!!!
I’d like to start by saying that shoulder placement and arm movement within the shoulder joint is a hard area to understand – it is a mobile joint and so much can ‘go wrong’ with it. If you are on hands and knees they need to behave a different way to when you are standing and if you then go into arm balancing moves it’s all arse over head!!..The purpose here is to explain why ‘shoulders down’ is not always the best action to take and often causes more muscular tension than good. The time to “say’ it is when the shoulders do indeed live up by the ears or when as the arm moves the shoulder blade decides it wants to go with it immediately instead of waiting a while (if you want to know more about this google glenohumeral rhythm.
However if the shoulder blades are relatively well behaved they are not meant to be dragged down your back.
Check out the drawings: (please no comments that they are odd, not to scale, not the same or slightly proportionally incorrect!!!)
The top one is the scapular (shoulder blade) – front view on the left side. The arrows indicate some of (not necessarily all) the different ways muscles act on the blade – the poor things get pulled about from all ways and it is this balance of pull we aim to find. The drawing on the right (which I am quite proud of!!) is where the scapular sit on the body – T3 and T7 are roughly where they are in relationship to the thoracic spine. I added a few muscles to show those that act on the scapular in an upwards direction. (Please note D – trapezius is only a VERY small part of the muscle…. and E -SCM is on the front of the body and not attached to the scapular but it still has an effect on it….)
Now here’s the thing. If we pull our shoulders down our back, but they started in the right place so the muscles above were all happily sat at their resting length – we would be putting tension into these guys. They would feel like an elastic band being pulled, the more we pull them down the more we pull the elastic band. If you hold that band there for long enough it will start to lose its elasticity and be under unnecessary strain – exactly what you will be doing to the above muscles if you continually pull your scapular down because someone told you to…….
What happens next? The muscles get a little bit miffed at being pulled and stretched – it’s not where they want to be so they fight it and try to pull the scapular back to where it is meant to be. More tension. That pain/tightness you feel in your neck/upper trap area might be because you keep pulling your scapular DOWN your back.!!!!
The shoulder area (shoulder girdle) is meant to be suspended by these muscles not be dragged downward (by other muscles which would then be overworked!). The more you drag the scapular down the less efficiently these suspensory muscles can do their job and get stressed out = tension.
This is not the case for everyone and your trainer hopefully can help you understand when it is appropriate to pull em down and when it’s not!
As with all movement and body placement – it is individual and also can depend on your career/hobby/body needs. But if you have strain in and around the shoulder blade area the likelihood is they are not sitting in the right place and that’s what we need to help you with!