I just returned from an excellent weekend in Toronto training with Body Harmonics. We spent two whole days looking at shoulders! It's an unbelievably complicated area and certainly one that is problematic for a lot of people. And just a quick note here- If you've got neck pain then it is very likely that your shoulders are a big reason why that's the case.
My head is buzzing with ideas and assessment techniques, and I am so excited to start integrating these into my classes. Over the next few weeks I'll record some videos of a few exercises you can try at home, but before that, I'd like you to understand a bit more about the shoulder complex in general and how it works. (I'll try not to get too technical!)
The shoulder complex (or girdle) is an intricate series of muscles working together around two main fulcrums: the shoulder joint (where your arm bone meets your shoulder) and your shoulder blades (or scapula). Your collarbone joint also has a big role to play but I won't focus on that here.
If your muscles are imbalanced in one section (weak on one side and strong on the other) then it likely impairs the movement in these joints. For example. your deltoids might be strong and your rotator cuff muscles weak. This is quite common, and it makes sense- your deltoids lift your arm and your rotator cuff pulls your arm bone into place in your shoulder socket. So in this scenario your arm is more likely to pull too far out of the socket when you lift your arm.
Once one joint is sticky or doesn't move properly, the others can't move well either. Once you spend a long time like that the muscles get more imbalanced and the problem gets worse. So how to you move these joints properly once that happens? And how to you get those weaker muscles firing when the stronger ones are used to taking over?
This is where the Pilates approach to rebalancing the shoulders is so exciting! Because Pilates is designed to increase body awareness and uses intent and visualization to strengthen and control your body, we are able to help people find and activate these muscles. Pilates also looks at integrating your whole body to work more efficiently together rather than focusing on only one area. Each time you move your arm there is a chain reaction in other parts of your body- your neck, for example. If we can get the whole mechanism working together more smoothly then it can really help with all these issues.
If the above paragraph makes no sense to you (sorry!) then consider this example. You develop shoulder pain and go to a physiotherapist (as an example). They recommend strengthening your rotator cuff muscles. They give you the dumbwaiter exercise:
Now I have used this LOTS over the years in my classes. It's a great exercise for the rotator cuff. Nothing wrong with it at all. But it only strengthens the rotator cuff if you do it properly! And it only works the rotator cuff in one position. Starting with this is great but there is so much more you can do after you begin feeling stronger.
On this course, I learned a bunch of different positions and exercises for the rotator cuff, and I learned how sometimes, when people do the exercise above, they simply use the shoulder joint to force the movement rather than using their weakened rotator cuff muscles. Like any strengthening work, you want to be sure to do it correctly, to vary your positions and change the intensity to maximize the benefits. Pilates can definitely help you do that!
Pilates is fabulous for keeping you going on the path of rebalancing you with a variety of exercises, and integrating your whole body into a regular strengthening routine. YES!
Do you have problems with your shoulders? Stay tuned for more info to come on my FB page, and feel free to share in the comments.
Diane Archer, Pilates Instructor from the UK now living back in Canada. Blog of tips, thoughts, home challenges.