By Joel Crosby • Edited by Amanda Altman
The shoulders are the most mobile joint in the body—for better or for worse. When they are tight and restricted, they can cause neck and lower-back injuries.
As a young competitive athlete, I experienced numerous shoulder injuries. If I had the knowledge and tools of the original work from Joe Pilates back then, some 20 years ago, I could have quickly rehabilitated the injuries—and the overuse problems would never have occurred.
Even if you have never had a shoulder injury, the time we spend on computers and smartphones demands extra care for the shoulders. Everything you need to reset, retrain and strengthen the shoulders from the inside out is built into the original Pilates work. I love the elegant simplicity of the Spine Corrector; it is pure genius. Combining it with some simple props can really be a “cure all” for the neck and shoulders.
The goal of this series is to “reset” the shoulder girdle, relieve discomfort in the shoulders and teach the proper connection of the arms to the back. You will quickly notice how the head and the pelvis become more stable. Once shoulder elasticity is restored with consistent practice—be patient, this takes time—you will have an easier pathway to generate more power and exercise safely with better results. The icing on the cake: You will look great and have a more confident appearance.
There are many Pilates exercises to help restore neck and shoulder health and mobility. Here are my favorites, with accents I hope you will enjoy.
Props: Spine Corrector; set of one-pound hand weights; bar or dowel
Breath: Breathe naturally unless otherwise indicated.
• Always reach from your back while keeping your stomach in.
• As you work, go just up to the tension—not through the tension—in the shoulder.
• If you or your clients experience a “pins and needles” type of feeling, reduce the range of motion.
Purpose: lubricates and warms the shoulders in spinal extension; resets the sequencing of the shoulder muscles and connective tissue
Setup: Lie on the Spine Corrector with your head comfortably resting on the barrel, and your legs actively reaching long and together. Holding a set of weights, extend your arms toward the ceiling, directly above your shoulders, palms facing forward.
1. Circle your arms slightly behind you, out to your sides (but stay in your peripheral vision), to your hips, and then back to the starting position, keeping your shoulder blades on your back and in contact with the padding. Do 5 circles, and then reverse the direction and repeat.
Tips: Although it might be tempting to use heavier weights here, go light—men should opt for three-pounders, max—since the objective is to work and reset the deep muscles and connective tissue in the shoulder complex. Keep your chest open as you circle.
Modification: Bend your knees, keeping them together, with your feet flat on the floor, if that feels better on your lower back.
One Arm Up/Down
Purpose: stretches the back while opening the chest and shoulders
Setup: Same as Arm Circles.
1. Inhale to prepare.
2. Exhale as you extend one arm behind you, and the other toward your hip.
3. Inhale as you return to the starting position.
4. Repeat step 2, switching arms. Do 3 sets.
Modification: Same as Arm Circles.
Purpose: opens the chest, upper back and front of the neck
Setup: Same as Arm Circles, but cross your arms over your chest with the weights toward your shoulder blades and palms facing one another.
1. Using your upper-back muscles, reach your arms wide to your sides, opening your chest while maintaining your arm-to-back connection.
2. Cross your arms over your chest, bringing the weights toward your shoulder blades with your elbows in line, if possible.
3. Exhale as you gently reach your elbows toward your stomach, keeping your head on the barrel.
4. Open your arms and return to the starting position. Do 3 sets, alternating the placement of your arms in step 2.
Tip: Keep your hands in your peripheral vision as you reach your arms wide in Step 1. Avoid locking your elbows.
Modification: Same as Arm Circles.