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Back to Basics: Keeping Your Shoulders Down

When teaching Pilates, I am always telling clients to keep their shoulders away from their ears. Raised shoulders is a sign of serious tension in the neck and upper back and over time it will create pain. Not only that but it wastes energy and can make surrounding areas not function correctly. Pilates clients aren't the only folks with tense necks and raised shoulders. I see this posture all the time when people are working out with weights, biking and running.

In an effort to keep the shoulders down, people tend to tense their necks even more – as if the sheer weight of their neck will calm the busy shoulder joint. Or people tend to grab in their lats or arm pits, which also increases neck tension and interferes with free movement of the arms.

To effectively relax your shoulders, you need to focus on your shoulder blades (scapula) sliding down your back. The muscle that anchors the blades is the bottom part of the trapezius muscle. You also want to feel your collar bone (clavicle) widening and the scapula sliding slightly toward one another. The end effect is an open chest with relaxed shoulders and neck. Nothing should feel pinched or gripped. Imagine the scapula is a slippery bar of soap sliding up and down the back. Try it next time you do bicep curls, sit in freeway traffic or ride your bike.


Join The Conversation
hottpink hottpink 9 years
I am guilty of this though I am really trying! I think sitting at a desk for 3 years has reaked havoc on my posture. Are there any excerises to help with posture and hunching?
AMP AMP 9 years
I tense my shoulders ALL the time. Even when I'm sitting at my desk or laying in my bed. Its a habit that I can't let go of, but I've really been making a conscious effort to stop. It especially bothers me when I'm running b/c its just easier somehow. I feel it takes more effort for me to keep them relaxed. And yes, my pilates teacher yells at me all the time to keep them down.
mudnessa mudnessa 9 years
I have noticed my shoulders are ALWAYS at my ears lately. I don't know what it is because I have been doing really well with my stress lately. I tend to get easily stressed and I have really been trying to control things. But I will be at work or the sink or sitting at the computer, watching tv and I realize my shoulders are all pushed up. I don't have any noticeable pain or other issues but it really bugs me and I'm sure it makes me look funny too. I am only 5 feet tall and this doesn't help me look taller, not that that is a major issue for me but I know I have bad posture and I have been working on that as well but now my shoulders are constantly up.
bozichsl bozichsl 9 years
I love to think I have great posture after studying ballet for years (and having mom yell at me), but this is my biggest problem zone. I constantly work on it. I agree - would love to see some exercise to help with it!
jkat jkat 9 years
I was never aware that I did this as much as I do until I started Pilates. My instructor is always reminding me to lower my shoulders. It has made me much more aware of it in my daily life too.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Great reminder, Fit. Thanks!
angelfromlsu angelfromlsu 9 years
This is a huge problem when running for a lot of people. I just try to keep my shoulders down as I would do in yoga.
brown_eyed_grrl brown_eyed_grrl 9 years
Fit--are there exercises or yoga or pilates poses that can help someone drop their shoulders? Is there a way to self-massage? My boxing coach used to get onto me about it, when I took kayaking lessons the instructor would get onto me about it. I can't seem to keep them down, though, and it causes a lot of pain.
bananapancake84 bananapancake84 9 years
I also have serious trapezious pain. Thanks for the tip!
silly3 silly3 9 years
Fit - I have a huge problem with this (to the point where I've been to physical therapy several times and even rotated my C3 vertebra due to muscle tension and weakness). Can you recommend some trapezius exercises that I could do at home with light weights? Thanks!
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