6 Moves To Release Tight Shoulders & Improve Posture
Beautiful posture can help us make a great first impression, feel confident in our bodies, and move through our day with openness. The psychological effects of good posture can also improve how we perceive our lives and ourselves. A key element to unlocking amazing, easeful posture that many of us have been missing is to understand exactly what's happening in the shoulders.
When we have poor posture, the muscles of the neck and shoulders are working overtime to support the head. When we feel our shoulders creeping up toward our ears, we often try to correct it by pulling them down and back. However, this actually contributes to the inefficient movement patterns that we are trying to fix. Pulling our shoulders back and down to give the illusion of good posture actually compresses and locks them even more. This causes the wrong muscles to fire and pulls on the neck—a recipe for tension and misalignment.
Tension comes from overworking the wrong muscles or asking muscles to do jobs they're not intended for in the body. Instead of exacerbating the problem by pulling on the neck and shoulders, we should focus on aligning the spine to create efficient movement and proper joint function in all of the upper body.
To create space in the shoulders, focus on lifting the ribs off of the hips and opening both the collarbones and the back. The goal is to have wide collarbones and wide shoulders at the same time, giving space for the muscles of the upper body to work efficiently. Having a forward head strains the shoulders, so gently pressing the head back into alignment is also vital for proper mechanics.
If you're eager to unlock that perfect alignment, try the exercises below. You may also notice mental and emotional benefits beyond just your posture—for me, approaching the world with open shoulders and free-flowing movement helps me feel ready to give and receive.
This can be done several ways—either against the wall while pressing the head back, side-lying, or sitting up with a ball or band. For the standing version, stand with a resistance band held between your hands, with the palms facing up. Bring elbows to your sides bent at 90 degrees. Keep upper arms against your body, but allow them to spiral out—like they're rotating—as you pull hands apart. Only go as wide as you can while keeping shoulder blades stable. Then resist back into starting position.
This exercise opens up the sides, back body, and lats to allow length and space throughout the torso. Sit with the legs bent to the right side of the body, and place the left hand on the mat. Lifting the right arm up and over the head, lengthen through the sides and arch toward the floor. Repeat with the left arm, reaching up and away from the floor, arching toward the legs. Repeat on the other side.
Lie facedown with your arms stretched out, in line with shoulders like a T. Float your arms up about 2 inches as you reach your head, neck, and shoulders forward and up into a very small arch. Reach your arms back to hips as you slightly increase the arch. Return the arms to the T, then lower the torso and arms down to return to starting position. Repeat.
Lie on your right side with your arms extended forward on the mat at shoulder height. Slowly draw the left fingers along the right arm and across the collarbone to come into a twist with your upper body. Allow your head to stay heavy on the ground and follow the left arm as it opens. Keep your legs pointed to the right as the shoulders eventually open up and the left arm releases open. Take deep, full, opening breaths.
Start on all fours, toes tucked under, spine reaching long, and shoulder blades wide across back. Exhale, deepen your abdominals to spine, and float your knees off the mat a few inches. Make sure to keep spine neutral as you lift. Hold the knee lift for two breaths, deepening the belly on each exhale, then lower knees back to mat. By integrating the shoulder girdle into the core, the shoulders are able to keep soft and open without tension.
Similar to knees off, in opposition reach, the muscles that hold the head back, lower traps, and core are all working together. Begin on your hands and knees on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back, focusing on keeping your pelvis and torso even and still. Inhale and reach your fingertips away from your toes until your spine lengthens. Exhale and engage your deep abdominals as you return your arm and leg to the start position. Repeat with your left arm and leg, and continue alternating sides.
These moves are great if you're on the go and looking for a little posture pick-me-up—they can be done anywhere and with minimal equipment.
Erika Bloom, veteran Pilates expert, fitness aficionado, and founder of luxury wellness brand Erika Bloom Pilates, has her namesake studios in New York City; the Hamptons; Greenwich, Connecticut; Los Angeles; and Turks and Caicos. Bloom’s long-standing and unique method couples the principles of contemporary Pilates with alternative mind and body therapies for a balanced, holistic approach to well-being. She holds dozens of certifications including 600 hour Pilates mat and apparatus, therapeutic yoga, Klein, Alexander, Feldenkrais, Protocols of Osteoporosis, Muscle Imbalance Assessment and Correction, Nutrition, and Gait Analysis. She has been featured in Vogue, Self, Brides, and Editorialist.