As wonderful as pregnancy can be, it’s rough on the body.
Babies. Without them our species would go extinct. So, obviously they’re kind of important!
Men, this whole idea that couples say “We’re having a baby” is just to soothe your ego. Your body isn’t taking the stress of growing another human inside you. Women’s bodies come under enormous new stresses when pregnant. Anything we as trainers can do to help a client’s body ease through pregnancy is great. So today, let’s focus on an unusual exercise to benefit pregnant women, Shoulder Release.
What is shoulder release?
For those who aren’t versed in GYROTONIC® training this is shoulder release as shown beautifully by my pregnant client Claire.
A beautiful motion, right? So how does this specifically help a pregnant woman’s changing body? Let’s start by looking at the way pregnancy can adversely affect posture.
Two different sources of new weight, two different strains on the body.
Aside from excess general weight that may be put on during pregnancy, there are two very specific causes of weight increase that could affect your posture: a new human growing inside you and larger breasts to feed that baby. Each of these can have an adverse impact on your posture.
A growing child in your abdominal cavity can cause your pelvis to tilt forward, technically called anterior pelvic tilt. The increased size and weight of the breasts can cause an increase in the roundness of the upper back. These two “postural distortions” in non-pregnant people are known as Upper Crossed Syndrome and Lower Crossed Syndrome, two postural distortions enumerated by Dr. Vladmir Janda.
Shoulder Release can alleviate these excess curvatures.
The latissimus dorsi, commonly know as “the lats” is a large flat muscle of the back. It’s origin along the lower thoracic spine (rib cage), the connective tissue of the low back (thoracolumbar fascia) and the top of the pelvic bone, the iliac crest. It inserts into the front of your upper arm bone, the humerus. So when it contacts and tightens, it brings the front of your arm bones toward your low back, rounding the shoulders while simultaneously increasing the curvature of the low back. The increased breast size and weight will already cause this imbalance and with that extra weight causing this, the lats are in a constantly shortened position. Shoulder release counters this by having the arms moving away from the low back while the low back is rounded. The weight is on the hands and as they move toward the tower, you don’t just let them fly, you move in a controlled manner. This is an eccentric contraction of the lats. They are working, but lengthening. Eccentric contractions are essentially active stretches.
The abdominal muscles are stretched as the baby grows. Obviously this weakens them as it takes them out of their efficient “length-tension relationship”. The belly “spills” more. At the beginning of shoulder release you’re diving with the upper body, but you’re not flopping or falling forward in an uncontrolled way. You’re also rounding your back. And what muscles are primarily responsible for flexion of the trunk? That’s right, the abs. All four contract, creating space posteriorly in between the lumbar vertebrae. For a pregnant woman, this movement also lifts the baby and draws it inward, which will help keep the muscles of the abdominal wall strong to support the weight of the baby 24/7.
Another part of the Upper Crossed Syndrome is the head coming forward of it’s proper placement above the shoulders, called Forward Head Posture. With all the curvatures of the spine increasing, the increased curvature of the neck can cause tight neck muscles all the way up to the base of the skull, into the suboccipital muscles.
Shoulder release helps moms to breathe more freely.
Another aspect of having a new human growing inside you is that they take up space. Space in your abdominal cavity, space where your internal organs would normally move when your diaphragm descends when you inhale. With that space being taken up by your progeny, deep breathing becomes more and more difficult. Shoulder Release helps by shifting the expansion the body needs from the abdominal cavity to the posterior rib cage. The breathing in shoulder release is an exhale as you dive (see video above) and the inhale coming as your curling back to shoulders over hips. With the spinal flexion (curl) happening and expanding as you’re inhaling, there is more space between your ribs to expand your lung capacity, allowing a more complete inhale.
OK. Enough of a guy telling you that it’s shoulder release is great during pregnancy.
Let’s hear from an actual pregnant woman, my client Claire from the video above.
Shoulder release is particularly beneficial during pregnancy as it opens up the musculature around the kidney/thoracic area and along the multifidi with intention. The slow release allows me to articulate the curl and spend extra time breathing into the areas that reveal themselves to be stickier than usual. As my body changes daily during pregnancy, I’ve taken to doing this at home sans straps as part of my morning routine. Highly recommend!
GYROTONIC is a registered trademark of Gyrotonic Sales Corp and is used with their permission.