Farewell to Slouching-Part 2

By on July 1, 2011

By Marjorie Jafffe –

So as I covered last month, posture is very important and to help you develop good posture and the Muscle Memory technique, you’ll want to test the length and strength of your pectoral muscles on your chest. You can start with:

Position a: Raise your arm in front and lift it straight up towards the ceiling; keep it alongside your head.

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Feel the muscles of your chest working. If you can lift the arm into Position a, then your pectoral muscles are long and strong enough. If your arm isn’t perfectly straight, you need to lengthen the pectorals. These are the muscles on the chest. Run a fingertip up the front of your ribs to your collarbone and continue to the end of the shoulder. The pectoral ties from that, point diagonally down like a fan across both sides of the chest to each rib. You know you need work on your pectorals if your shoulders are rounded. When the pectoral muscles are stretched and strong, they keep our shoulders erect and straight. Visualize these muscles as a fan of rubber bands spreading across the chest on each side. If the rubber bands are stretched, your shoulders are straight. If your muscles are tight and weak, the rubber bands stay short, and your shoulders are pulled forward and you slouch.

Muscle Balance: Before you begin your shoulder exercises, think about how muscles work. Muscles work in pairs, one cannot work alone. When one muscle contracts, there’s an opposing muscle that relaxes. Contraction is pulling in; relaxing is releasing. For example, when your biceps contract to bend your arm, the triceps along the underarm relaxes. The fact that two muscles work at the same time produces a double benefit.

In shoulder exercises, the pectoral muscles on the chest work along with, and have to stay stretched out, in order for the trapezius muscle across the upper back and *back of neck to do their work in keeping the shoulders and spine of upper back straight. Ballet dancers have rippling muscles in their upper back from holding their arms in poses for a long time. Luckily, we don’t have to do that, but we will look as graceful as a dancer when our shoulders and upper back are straight and our neck is lifted out of our shoulders.

A Note About the Neck: A healthy spine is neither too curved nor too straight. Of the 24 vertebrae of your spine, there are the top seven cervical vertebrae in your neck. Hold your chin level – not up or down and move your head back to line up your ear with your shoulder. It’s vital to make this section of your spine longer, with only a slight (15 degree) curve, so that the nerves can emerge freely from each vertebra without being irritated. You need space in between each of these vertebras; if neck muscles tense and shorten your neck hunch which forces your shoulders to curve forward and now instead of long space between the ear and shoulder, it’s a short space and more tension. Especially when the spine is curved forward like this and you lift your head to see, that really crunches your neck. Here’s where your Muscle Memory Voice will help you.

Your Muscle Memory Voice: The answers to the following questions from the Muscle Memory Quiz become your ‘muscle memory voice’ to ensure you’re working your muscles to keep your shoulders straight. Ask yourself the questions as you’re doing the exercise and then when you’re out and about. Re-read the note about the neck and use your ‘voice’ to call on your Muscle Memory to increase the length of your neck and position of your head – lifted and centered in the middle of the rest of your body.

Question 1. Is there a long space between my ear & shoulder? Answer: Yes! Spread the fingers on one hand. Put thumb at tip of shoulder and third finger on ear lobe. As you work the trapezius muscle (across the upper back and neck) move your head up so the finger to longer connects to the ear lobe.

Question 2. Is the back of my head in the same line as my upper back? Answer: Yes! Hold either a ruler or your hand vertically on the upper back. Move it up and see that the middle of the back of your head touches it.

Question 3. Do my shoulders point straight to the ceiling? Answer: Yes! Visualize a vertical line going from the tip of your shoulders straight up towards the ceiling. Check that your shoulder does not roll forward. Spread out the pectorals on your chest and use the trapezius on your upper back to hold the shoulders straight, back and down.

Question 4. Do I feel the same strength in my chest and upper back? Answer: Yes! Roll your shoulders backwards, and as the pectorals are working, feel the spine sinking in between the shoulder blades. As the pectorals stretch out and lengthen, the rhomboids muscles on the inside of the shoulder blades contract and tighten to pull the shoulder blades together — your muscle balance at work.

As you’re practicing each of the following four exercises, ask yourself all 4 questions to develop your muscle memory voice. This is how you connect your mind to your body and keep your shoulders straight all the time.

The most important rule to follow for exercise, though, is to BE COMFORTABLE. Discomfort is a message from your brain to your body that something is wrong. So, the first ingredient for successful exercise is awareness of your body – pay attention to how it feels, learn about it, and you’ll get to know your body better.

A Note about Breathing During Exercise: Never let breathing instructions interfere with learning an exercise. NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH. Remember to breathe in and out regularly as you are in the learning phase. Then, once you have mastered the exercises, inhale deeply through your nose as you begin to initiate the exercise and then, exhale forcefully through your mouth – directly into the working muscle. We inhale naturally, but sometimes forget to exhale deeply. This is important because we make room for fresh air when we eliminate the used air in our lungs. You’ve heard “take a deeeeeep breathe” to relax; I take a deep breath out when I want to relax! Phew!

Exercise 1 – Shoulder Circles. Either stand or sit comfortably in a chair.
> Keep belly tucked in; > Chest in front of stomach; > Back of head in line with upper back; > head lifted, chin level; > Shoulders relaxed and down – nice big open space between ear and shoulder.
a. Bend arms and place fingertips on shoulders; slowly make backward circles b. Begin with a slight lift c. Keep circling motion behind you. d. Slowly roll all the way back e. Feel shoulder blades come together f. Pull shoulders down (the movement is both back and down) g. ‘Let go” and return to starting position h. Pause in between each circle and repeat 10X

Exercise 2 – Shoulder clasp. Stand with correct alignment. Standing when you exercise increases bone density because the physical pull of muscle on bone when you are standing produces a chemical reaction that actually causes new bone tissue to form. >ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, ear – all in a straight line. >Answer the 4 MM questions
a. Lift shoulders slightly, as you roll them back and down
b. With arms behind you, clasp 2 fingers of one hand with the other hand and roll shoulders back and down again
c. Feel chest muscles stretch as shoulder blades pull in towards spine
d. Pulling the shoulders together more tightly, now pull them down
e. ‘Let go’, pause and repeat 5X

Exercise 3 –Trapezius strengthener. Either visualize you’re holding weights, or work with 3 lb. dumbbells. >Stand with legs about three feet apart with knees and toes pointed out. Knees are bent slightly, pointing in the same direction as feet.
a. Arms down in front, with or without a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your thighs
b. Keeping shoulders down, lift and bend elbows up and back, keep at chest level
c. With elbows and hands higher than shoulders, pull shoulder blades together and feel spine in the upper back sinking in
d. Slowly lower arms down to starting position and repeat 10x

Exercise 4 – Shoulder Pull downs. Once the pectorals on the chest lengthen and stretch out, all the back muscles can work. It’s this muscle balance that keeps your shoulders pointing straight towards the ceiling. Either use dumbbells or visualize holding a heavy weight. > Stand with legs shoulder-width apart; > belly in; > chin level, head lifted and back of head in line with upper back. Keep in mind these correct alignment principles and take them with you from exercise to the walking, sitting and standing activities of your life.
a. Lift and bend arms at a right angle. Lift elbows to the same height as shoulders
b. Straighten arms toward ceiling. Keep wrist, elbow and shoulder in a straight line
c. Keep pectorals stretched out and use back muscles as you slowly pull arms down to starting position – a right angle – and feel the back muscles working
d. Hold position to set muscles and repeat 10X.

An Additional Benefit: The way to a flatter stomach begins at the shoulders. This may seem surprising, but when the head and shoulders stay lifted, you are more easily able to contract your stomach muscles. Gravity is known to pull everything down. But now, with upper body strength, use Muscle Memory to hold yourself straight up against gravity and your stomach will look flatter.
Make Your Muscle Memory Voice a part of you and remember to use it during the exercises and after you’re finished. And then, it’s “Farewell to Slouching”.

Marjorie Jaffe, owner of Back in Shape exercise studio in NYC & lifelong fitness expert, is the author of a number of books including, The Muscle Memory Method, Get Your Back in Shape and Albert the Running Bear’s Exercise Book, as well as a Reader’s Digest Books contributor. She was trained by Dr. Sonya Weber; founder of Columbia Presbyterian’s Posture and Back Care Clinic, and she served for ten years as head instructor for the YWCA Backcare program. Website: http://marjoriejaffe.com/.

About Marjorie Jaffe

Marjorie Jaffe, owner of Back in Shape exercise studio in NYC & lifelong fitness expert, is the author of a number of books including, The Muscle Memory Method, Get Your Back in Shape and Albert the Running Bear’s Exercise Book, as well as a Reader’s Digest Books contributor. She was trained by Dr. Sonya Weber; founder of Columbia Presbyterian’s Posture and Back Care Clinic, and she served for ten years as head instructor for the YWCA Backcare program. Website: http://marjoriejaffe.com.

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Farewell to Slouching-Part 2