One of the most important and long lasting ways to get rid of neck and shoulder pain is to change your posture. I am sure that you have all heard it from your massage therapist, but, how can you change your posture after it’s been that way for decades? The body has already been trained and it’s game over, right?
Wrong! Using the right fascial massage techniques, stretches and strength training can re-educate your body to develop and accept a new posture. With postural re-education you will find more permanent results than simply trying to pull your shoulders back.
Firstly, understand that the change has to be gradual. It can be next to impossible to change postural habits overnight. Clients often feel like they have to change their posture instantly and that they are “failing” every time that they catch themselves falling into their old slouches. I ask them to instead try to have good posture for a total of an hour a day for the first week and then gradually increase it. This way they can understand that it is a gradual process and that they have a really good chance of succeeding. Most will be able to do more than an hour a day and feel great about it.
Strength Training for Posture
The other approach is to start strengthening your muscles. Posture is only partly habit. The rest of your posture depends on muscle balance. The chest muscles (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor) pull the shoulder blades forward, while the back muscles (rhomboids, trapezius and latissimus dorsi) pull the shoulder blades back and toward the spine. Most people are stronger in the chest than they are in the back, which is why they slouch forward. Re-balancing your postural muscles involves stretching out the pectoral muscles and strengthening the back muscles.
Start training your back muscles.
By strengthening the upper back muscles, specifically the muscles that bring your shoulder blades together, you will find that your body with its balanced muscles will naturally and automatically go into the correct posture. You won’t have to think about posture or make any real effort again. The key exercises for strengthening these back muscles are lat pulldowns and rowing motions.
Focus on Endurance
The problem with pulling your shoulders back is that these muscles get tired as they lack endurance. An 8 hour work day is a long time for these muscles to be working against the powerful chest muscles. When strengthening your postural back muscles, build endurance by lowering the weight and working up to sets of 16 or more reps.
Take it Easy on Your Chest
Most people that work out love spending time on their pecs. Guys love the strong, masculine look that big pecs give, while women like how it firms and lifts the breasts. Remember though, that strong, short, tight pec muscles are a big reason for our bad posture. These muscles shorten with repeated slouching and hunching over our computers. Strengthening these muscles further shorten them and worsen our posture. You can still work on your chest in a workout, but you will need to change your approach:
- Lower the weight you are using.
- If you can, leave the bench press alone and work the pec fly machine. The pec fly works the pecs through its full range of motion including the stretched out end range.
- Stretch your pecs before and after every set. Pec stretches will lengthen the pec muscles and keep them from going into spasm.
A Second Look at the Elliptical
Most people use the elliptical by powering through with their legs while their arms limply hold onto the handles and swing. This is good for cardio training and working the legs, but if you want to improve your posture and get rid of your neck pain, try using the elliptical in the following way.
- The key is to focus on what you are doing with your upper body. Try to shift all the work from the legs to the upper body. It may be difficult at first and you may need to alternate between focusing on the upper body and focusing on the lower body.
- There are 2 phases: pulling the handle back and pushing the handle forward. To work your postural muscles, put all your effort into the pulling back phase while using the pushing forward phase to rest.
- When working the upper body, don’t let your arms do all the work. Focus on your shoulder blade. It should be either moving outward or pulling inward toward the centre of your back. The more your shoulder blades are moving, the more you are working your postural muscles.
- When you pull back on the handle, try to pull your shoulder blade toward your spine. This works the rhomboid, lats, and middle and lower traps: the postural muscles that pull your shoulders back.
- During the rest phase when the handle is going forward, don’t put too much effort on the arm, but try to distract your shoulder blade and slide it out and forward for a nice stretch.
- This exercise works great because there is a lot of repetition which builds endurance in your postural muscles. When those back muscles become as strong as or stronger than the front muscles your shoulders will automatically start pulling your shoulders back on their own.
Good posture, naturally.