3 Upper-Body Strength and Flexibility Exercises

8 06 2011

By Kate Allgood, MAT, SH

For Active.com When are we not using our upper body? (shoulders, arms, chest and upper back)?

Every day, we brush our teeth, comb our hair, type on the computer keyboard, move things, eat, lift up our kids, cook, wash dishes and more.

When one area of the body is weakened or inhibited, we transfer the weight and work to another area of the body, such as our upper arms or shoulders. By continually exerting our muscles in unnatural ways, we create imbalances in our body that can lead to even more pain, as well as restricted motion.

Are You Using the Right Muscles?

For example, while at the gym, men especially, focus on upper-body workouts. There is almost always someone at the gym doing a bicep curl. Frequently, people will be using a swinging motion to lift up the weight, using their back for stability. Such improper form often means that the bicep is not working as it should or the weight is too great for the bicep to handle, so the rest of the body is trying to compensate. The bicep, not the back, should be the muscle lifting the weight.

The upper body is also frequently used in sports, such as in tennis when swinging a racket. A lot of force is created as tennis players rotate their trunk and swing using the muscles of their upper body, including their shoulder. Commonly though, players end up using the most force from their elbow to their wrist. These muscles and joints are not meant to withstand the stress placed on them, and as a result often become sore and/or stiff.

Exercising Your Upper Body

To help properly balance and keep your upper-body muslces strong, try these exercises:

Shoulder Stabilizer

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs and feet together. Keep your arms straight at your sides. Keep your feet in a neutral position.
  • Face the palms of your hands up. While keeping your right arm straight, lift it straight up 45 degrees off of the ground.
  • Now move your arm 45 degrees to the right, away from your body.
  • You should feel the muscle contracting along your rib cage, under your arm.
  • Hold the position for six seconds and repeat six times on each arm, resting for a few seconds in between sets.

Upper-Back Contraction

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs and feet together, arms straight at your sides with palms down, thumbs toward your body. Keep your feet in a neutral position.
  • Keeping your arm on the floor the entire time, bring one arm away from the body in an upward motion (like making a snow angel).
  • Bring your arm up as high up as you can without pain. Note: If you can go past 90 degrees, only go slightly past this mark and stop.
  • Hold the position for six seconds and repeat six times on each arm, resting for a few seconds in between sets.

Scapula Rotation

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs and feet together. Keep your arms straight at your sides. Keep your feet in a neutral position.
  • Bend your right elbow at 90 degrees, so that the hand is straight up in the air.
  • Slightly move your right shoulder down (opposite of bringing your shoulder to your ear).
  • Keeping your upper arm and shoulder on the floor, squeeze your elbow into your side. Rotate your elbow so your forearm is moving outward, away from the body as far as you can without pain.
  • Hold the position for six seconds and repeat six times on each arm, resting for a few seconds in between sets.

Although these exercises may seem simple or easy, the goal is to work on one muscle at a time and slowly restore it to optimum performance.

Muscle Activation Techniques

If muscle pain or restricted motion persists in the upper body, consider consulting a specialist for Muscle Activation Techniques (commonly referred to as MAT). A MAT specialist will first do a full-body range of motion exam, including the shoulders and arms, checking for imbalances and limitations.

One simple range of motion test for the shoulders starts with lying face up on a massage table with arms to the side and thumbs up. The client will then be asked to internally rotate one arm from the shoulder, so that the thumb moves inward toward the body. The test will then be repeated on the other side. If both sides are able to rotate evenly, the MAT specialist will progress to another Range of Motion test. This may include having the client keep the rotation described above and then bring the arm out to the side. These movements should be fluid, equal on each side and not cause any discomfort or pain.

If this is not the case, there may be an issue with one or multiple muscles in the shoulder – this is one of the most complex joints of the body and can be a frequent area for imbalances. After determining if this is the area that needs to be worked on, the MAT specialist will begin the process of determining which muscles are not working as they should and help to restore them thorough muscle tests and precise palpations. The muscle will then be retested and worked on until as much balance and functioning can be restored as possible.

Note: The combination of Muscle Activation Techniques along with take-home exercises, such as the ones listed above, will vary greatly based on the type and extent of imbalances that each client has.

Whatever type of techniques, work outs or treatments you decide to use, it is important to take care of the upper body; using, exercising and resting the correct muscles at all times.

Kate Allgood, MAT, SH is president of Balanced Bodyworks, a Southern California-based business that enhances and improves mental and physical health and performance. Services include Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT), which corrects muscular imbalances to relieve pain and boost functioning, and sport hypnosis, which improves athletic performance through visualization and reinforcement techniques. Allgood is also an elite athlete, previously recognized as one of Canada’s best female athletes. For more information, visit http://www.balanced-bodyworks.com or call 858-344-5335.


Muscle Activation Techniques™, including the exercises described above, were developed by Greg Roskopf. For more information or to find a specialist near you, visit http://www.muscleactivation.com.




One response

8 06 2011

really its quality vs quantity…

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