7 Training Tips for Better Upper Back Mobility to Improve Posture and Reduce Arm and Shoulder Pain

by | Apr 4, 2018 | Functional Movement, Posture Improvement | 0 comments

Upper Back MobilityHow is your upper back mobility? Is it easy to arch, bend, and twist your spine? Or, do you feel kind of stiff, sore, and tight?

Ever wonder why it’s a challenge to improve how you move for a healthy spine and pain-free arms and shoulders?

Are your Pecs on overdrive?  Do your Anterior Deltoids do too much work? Are Your Lats on Lock-down? Do tend to hold up the weight of the world with your shoulders?  Are your low abs pooching out more than pulling up, back, and in? Do you tend to get grippy with your Hip Flexors, or do way too much with your Glutes?

Heck, in the one quick paragraph above, I’ve given you at least 7 reasons why your upper back mobility might be compromised and why your neck and shoulders might be giving you grief when you’re exercising.  Or maybe you aren’t exercising because they hurt!

You might not even realize that the bad habits you’ve been using are creating the posture problems you’ve developed.  Perhaps you’re thinking, “but I used to be able to _________________  (fill in the blank),”  “and then one day my (upper back, neck shoulder, arm, elbow, hand, hip, knee, foot) started hurting.  I have no idea what I did to injure myself?”

Or maybe you DO remember the moment that your poor posture and bad functional movement habits caught up with you and your body reached the tipping point of no return and said, “I can’t take it anymore!”  And poof… pain or injury occurred.  You might not have realized that it was a lifetime of bad body mechanics that’s landed you in the state you’re feeling yourself in now.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting weights, lifting children, or pulling straps in Pilates, if the balance of work and release for proper muscle support and free range of movement is not quite right, sooner or later the wear and tear is going to get you.

Proactive is always better than reactive.  But sadly, its usually not until we hurt that we start looking around trying to figure out how to feel better and get our life back.  A part of this includes taking responsibility, becoming aware of good and bad habits, listening to the body better to ensure that the new and improved muscle habits you’re working on are actually moving you towards better health.

One of the perks of Pilates is that we’re not just working on strength with the spine in a stable position, like you should be doing in the weight room.  But instead, there’s a focus on improving spine mobility.  Not just upper back mobility, but improving both support and mobility through the entire spine – to flex the body forward, arch and extend the spine back, side bend, and rotate the back segmentally and sequentially. Sometimes this is done independently without the arms involved, but more often exercises involve multi-tasking where the back is moving in conjunction with the arms and shoulders moving too!

Here Are My Top 7 Training Tips To Help You Get Started on Better Upper Back Mobility:

  1. Improve Your Standing and Seated Posture Habits
  2. Improve Your Pilates Posterio-Lateral Breathing Habits
  3. Improve Pelvic Floor and LOW Core Support
  4. Work to Release the Pecs and Strengthen the Serratus
  5. Find and Use the Lower Trapezius to Actively Pull the Shoulder Blades Down
  6. Wake up the Posterior Deltoid and Activate the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock arm position.
  7. Let the Lats go (so the spine and ribcage can swing freely from under the arms)

All of this involves teaching the spine, ribcage, shoulder blades, and arms how to work independently of each other and with each other effectively depending on the action and the movement needed from the body.

Globally, these are the seven big concepts that can transform your body for better upper back mobility.  There is not a quick fix, but changes can happen quickly once you’re aware of what’s needed and can start feeling and finding the changes happening as you work at it.

There are a million little nit-picky pieces to each of these seven concepts that can provide you with lots and lots of valuable things to pay attention to not only during your workouts, but throughout the day, at work, at home, and when you’re exercising.

The best place to start is Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/ Low Core.  Without these three KEY components in place, getting the rest of the upper body to play nice and work right is going to be an impossible challenge.

But get confident with Posture, Breathing and finding/using your both your Pelvic Floor and Low Core, and this will take a huge chunk of stress out of your neck, arms, and shoulders (not to mention the positive health benefits to your feet, knees, hips, and back!).  I’ve seen the positive results of following these strategies repeatedly with my clients who’ve come thru my door complaining of shoulder pain problems.

Once you’ve got a grip on the three key concepts of Posture, Breathing, and Pelvic Floor/Low Core, it gets easier to tackle the focus and fine-tuning needed to get the final 4 concepts that really matter for strong, flexible pain-free shoulders and better upper back mobility.

I know, you started reading this looking for the one magic “exercise.” Well, there isn’t one!  It’s everything you do in life, done as efficiently and effectively as possible by maintaining good posture habits while you find and use the right muscles to move.  Re-educating your body for better body mechanics will help you more easily improve not only upper back mobility, but strength and mobility for your whole body.

It can be overwhelming to think about all seven of these key training tips happening at once, so take it a step at a time. Keep in mind that it’s a process…and it will be easier to practice the exercises needed to make lasting improvements for better upper back mobility and eliminate arm and shoulder pain once you’ve got more awareness of body alignment, breathing and better support.

There is never going to ever be one be-all, end-all exercise that’s the magic pill because there are a lot of moving parts and pieces to the upper body and shoulder girdle that need to integrate and work as a team.  And the one exercise that makes the most sense to you, might not be the one that helps the next guy figure out the same thing…  But on every exercise incorporating good posture, breathing, and body mechanics will give you the opportunity to improve strength and mobility for better health.

If you are weaker in your “low center” chances are you’re using “high center” to support AND move.  How well does your car function when it’s high centered?  Guess what, your body doesn’t work too well high centered either.  Are you ready for a change?

Get the concepts first, and the right exercises will follow.  I’ve got a few favorites to help improve upper back mobility that I’ll share in future posts.  If you want an action step to get started, take the Centerworks Posture Quiz and see what you discover about your current posture habits.  It just might reveal some interesting clues you never knew were compromising your whole-body health and restricting your upper back mobility.  You don’t have to live with a stiff back and painful arms and shoulders (or chronic aches and pains anywhere).  Once you start improving your body posture and movement habits, it becomes easier to let go of stress where you don’t need it, and find support where you do.


Take the Centerworks quick Posture Quiz Today!

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Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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