Here’s something that might sound familiar; I keep finding my shoulders hunched up around my ears. Or maybe you find your chin protruding forward or up, or your neck is bending without you meaning to. Perhaps you just feel stuck in your shoulder/neck area. Dancers and aerialists often find ourselves dealing with these or other issues related to having tight traps, but they can also come from a variety of other activities, including; driving, sitting at a computer, stress, and overcompensation during exercise. Here is a series of quick exercises to release that stuck feeling.
Part 1: Release
First, we want to release that tension with a little targeted massage. All you need is a lacrosse ball, peanut, or other firm self-massage tool, and a door frame or corner wall.
Picture a triangle formed by your neck and shoulder. You want to target the two bottom corners of that triangle with your lacrosse ball or peanut.
Start with the ball on the corner closer to your neck. Bend forward at the hips, keeping your spine straight, and press the ball or peanut into the corner or door frame. Your arm should stay limp, hanging straight down. Tilt your head away from the wall, and slowly nod or shake your head. Hold this position, without rolling off the point, for about 20-30 seconds. Repeat with the outer corner of the triangle. You can do this 3-4 days a week, or every day if needed.
Part 2: Stretch
Next, we want to stretch out and elongate the muscle. You don’t need any equipment for this one.
Sit or stand with your shoulders back and down, but relaxed. Hold one arm out at a 45º angle and flex your hand so your fingers point up. Tilt your head away from this arm and slowly nod your head. Keep your ear pointed toward your opposite shoulder, like you are holding a phone to your ear. The range of motion can be small or large. Feel free to hold in places that feel they need more stretch. Do this for about 30 seconds.
Part 3: Strengthen
Now that we’ve loosened up our upper traps, we need to strengthen our lower traps. This allows us to even out the work we’re asking our muscles to do and prevent the overcompensation that causes tightness. For this exercise, you will need a resistance band.
Pike Rows with Resistance Band
Sit in a pike position, legs straight out in front of you, neutral spine, with your feet flexed. If you can’t comfortably sit with your legs straight, roll up a yoga mat and place it under your knees. Loop your resistance band around your feet and hold each end. Starting with your arms close to your sides, pull back on the band, squeezing your shoulder blades. Make sure your shoulders stay back and down! Slowly return to starting position.
For the next set, still keeping your shoulders back and down, hold your elbows out at a 45º angle from your body. Pull back on the band, squeezing your shoulder blades.
Do another set with elbows out at a 90º angle.
Do 2-3 sets of 10 in each position.
Hunching your shoulders…
Arching your back…