Pilates Workout Tips for Healthy, Well Balanced Shoulders

• Have You Ever Experienced A Painful Arm or Shoulder Injury?
• Are Your Shoulders Ever Hiked Up By Your Ears?
• Do You Carry Tension or Stress in Your Neck and Upper Back?

It’s no surprise that a lot of people these days are dealing with one, or several of these shoulder problems. To hold our vertical human posture we have a couple of options - excellent core support and good posture, or the reliance on our deltoids, upper traps, and shoulders to support us!

Consider this … Your posture will either be similar to a coat on a hook (shoulders up), or a circus tent with a tall pole up the middle and the corners sloping down (abdominal support & relaxed shoulders.. Coat on a hook posture habits will create a great deal of neck and shoulder pressure. You might experience frequent headaches, or find yourself more susceptible to shoulder strains and rotator cuff issues.

On the bright side, things can change fairly quickly with the right body awareness, good shoulder mechanics, and improving core support & posture.

To start, the most essential tip for strong, healthy shoulders is to strengthen your core.

The more powerful your abs and back are, the more it will help keep you sitting and standing with tall posture. With a strong core your shoulders can loosen up. However simply relaxing the shoulders sometimes may not be enough. Active muscle work to pull the shoulders down away from your ears and is often necessary.

An easy cue to remember for strengthening the lower trapezius muscle (the part of the Trapezius muscle that assist in pulling the shoulders down) is “Diamond Down.”

The Trapezius muscle is the broad diamond shaped muscle which includes fibers functioning in three distinctive directions. The top fibers elevate the shoulders. Middle fibers aid in pulling the shoulder blades together, and the lower fibers pull the shoulder blades down.

In most cases, the most basic and most important action for shoulder foundation and balance would be the downward action of your Trapezius, thus my cue of “Diamond Down” in preparation to attempt any exercise that consists of using the shoulders and arms.

Advantages of Conditioning the Lower Trapezius Muscle with “Diamond Down”

• It offers counter-leverage essential to elongate and open joint space for your upper thoracic spine, head and neck, resulting in improved alignment and upper spine mobility.
• It puts the shoulder joint at a more optimal position for movement of your shoulder and arm during workout. Greater movement increases strength and flexibility and minimizes injury risks.

Tips for Practicing “Diamond Down”

1. Begin Standing with good posture and core support. The upper back needs to be to curved for normal posture to ensure that the shoulder blades can lay level on the back. Just allow the your arms to hang by the sides.

2. Breathe in into the back to lift the ribcage and lengthen the spine, Exhale and from the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and draw the “Diamond Down” gently pulling the shoulder blades down towards the back of your waist.

3. Perform your “Diamond Down” exercise 3-5 times as a warm-up exercise before your workouts.

4. Initiate EVERY arm and shoulder exercise with the “Diamond Down” action first.

5. Or do this as a stand-alone shoulder strengthening exercise throughout the day to call remind yourself to keep your shoulders away from your ears!

What To Watch For:

• Make sure that when the shoulder blades pull down they stay flat against the ribcage. Be sure the shoulder blades don't pinch together.
• Watch your posture, allow the blades to move, and keep the rest of the body still.
• Make sure the lower abdominals are lifting for core support and remain lifted while you draw your “Diamond” down.

Get More Out of Your Core:

Great Pilates workout techniques results in a healthy body. If one has a poor, weak core, odds are the shoulders are likely hiked up around your ears. With stronger core muscles it’s quicker and easier to improve shoulder mechanics, decrease joint pain, and get the maximum benefits from your Pilates workouts.

Focus on Core strengthening exercises for your abdominals and back, in addition to practicing your “Diamond Down” shoulder blade cue and you’ll be well on your way to acquiring strong and healthy shoulders with every workout routine you do.


For more great shoulder exercises add some Pilates Arc Barrel training to your workout program. Get a Pilates Arc Barrel and a copy of the book A Barrel of Fun for easy-to-learn exercises for your Core, Shoulders, and more…. http://www.centerworks.com/store/pilates-arc-barrel-combo/

Author's Bio: 

Aliesa George is the founder of Centerworks® Pilates. She is an author, workshop presenter, and mind-body health expert with more than 25 years of experience designing solutions for health improvement. Aliesa has created a wide variety of products focused on Pilates, Foot Fitness, the Mind-Body Connection, Stress-Management, and Whole-Body Health. She enjoys helping others discover the connection between thought and action to get positive results and achieve goals for a healthy mind, body and spirit!