Shoulders on the Back: From Plank Pose to the Floor

When attempting to stand up straight there is a tendency to lift the chest, pull the arms back and pull the shoulder blades in. This is the pattern I see in most yoga students when I ask them to stand up straight at the front of the mat. It is a terrible pattern yet one that is deeply ingrained in our culture.

We want the shoulder blades to be in the correct position and the shoulder girdle to be aligned correctly but this way of standing sacrifices the correct position of the arms in order to put the shoulder blades where we want them. It is my hope that we can create a muscular environment for the shoulder girdle that would keep the shoulder blades in the right place and allow for the arms to hang loose as designed.

The shoulder girdle hangs from the head and the shoulder blades hover above the rib cage equidistant from the spine.  When we make use of the arms the shoulder blade is meant to remain in place due a number of opposing muscles connecting the shoulder blade to the spine, rib cage and arm. When in action, the shoulder blade is making minute movements in all directions but always returning to the center. If this happens, all sorts of good things can happen in life, athletics and the yoga practice.

In plank pose the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankle should all line up.

We’ll look at lowering from a plank pose to the floor. Let’s assume we are beginning with a solid plank pose. The ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are lined up with each other and the shoulder blades are on the back with equal distance between each shoulder blade and the spine. Easier said than done but we will go with that.

Four muscles that I have written about recently, the pectoralis minor, the lower trapezius, the rhomboids and the serratus anterior (there are other muscles invloved as well; there always are) all go to work as the body moves from plank pose towards the floor.

As the body lowers, the Rhomboids engage drawing the shoulder blades towards the spine and the serratus anterior engages drawing the shoulder blades towards the front of the body. Balanced tone in these muscles works to keep the shoulder blades exactly where they began.

The rhomboids and serratus anterior stabilize the shoulder blade from side to side and the second set of muscles, pectoralis minor and the lower trapezius work the shoulder blade in the opposite directions, from top to bottom as well as front to back.

Returning to the body on its way from plank pose to the floor, both pectoralis minor and the lower trapezius also engage to stabilize the shoulder blade. More often than not the head of the arm bone will start to round forward from the pull of a tight pectoralis minor/ineffective lower trapezius. The pectoralis minor is overwhelmingly the tighter/stronger muscle in this equation and the head of the arm bone rounding forward is a major problem in many yoga practices and responsible for a lot of shoulder injuries.

When all four of these muscles are able to work as designed the shoulder blades will remain in its correct position and you can move the upper body with an integrity that won’t be available without balanced muscular tone.

Upcoming posts will include strengthening exercises for the lower trapezius and I’ll do a post on another muscular relationship with the shoulder blade and the arm involved Teres Major and the Rhomboids.


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