“Can I call in catatonic to work?”
Ever wake up like Igor?
All hunched over and barely mobile? I mean, you went to bed relatively okay. But, when you woke up, it felt like you were in a straightjacket of your own muscles. Shoulders hunched forward. Pecs invisibly stitched and cinched tight ‘til you could barely breathe. Maybe even your head felt a bit askew, your breathing – constrained, and your body and mind – tired. Ah, yes. I’m well familiar with this one. As are the litany of humans who commute and computer surf more than they should each day. We’re stuck in some awful position all day that lends itself to this awful malady. Our shoulders round forward (toward the steering wheel or laptop or phone). And, as a result, two things happen: the rear part of our upper backs (the shoulder stabilizing muscles) get all stretched out and weak, while the front part of us (our chest muscles) get vice tight. And, slowly, that’s where our muscles learn to remain. Overnight, they often tighten up even more, making mornings feel even worse than they usually do when the alarm goes off at nothing’s-happening-til-caffeine o’ clock. And it’s even worse when that pain and discomfort wakes us up intermittently in the night, interrupting our sleep cycle.
So, how can we improve our sleep and waking pain alike?
Well, some people might say, “Stretch it out, duh.”
And, that’s true in part. I’m all for a bit’ve nocturnal and morning yoga. It’s restorative, relaxing, and all that other stuff we mistakenly turn to pharmaceuticals for. However, if we hit reading rewind button for a moment, the problem wasn’t just tightness that needed to be stretched out. Sure, that’s part of it. We do (very, very desperately) need to stretch out our chest muscles. But the other half of this fix requires attacking those weak muscles at the rear of our upper body – namely the scapular stabilizers.
Simply. Alongside strengthening those muscles behind the shoulders, the aforementioned stretching’s necessary. So, let’s start with that. I prefer to do this bit of the regimen before any strengthening, ’cause I get better range of motion when I go to do the actual muscle building movements. Some fantastic go to’s I prefer are the tried and true pec stretches on the foam roller and in the doorway. But my recent latest fave is this lesser known one – what the yogis call “fish pose”:
(Protip: even if you can’t prop your elbows up, just tucking your arms underneath ‘n behind your back does thoracic sorcery for ya…)
After stretching the pectoralis major and minor, that tightness in the thoracic region will slowly alleviate.
Your shoulders should release from that protracted posture. Even your breathing may feel freer.
But, as mentioned above, the stretching’s only half of it.
Next comes strengthening:
(I love this pic ’cause she’s undoing her bad posture in the same place she probably got it.)
Just like the name (scapular stabilizers) suggests, by fortifying these muscles, you’ll help stabilize these shoulder blades ‘n plant ’em back where they belong. Between tightening these badboys back up and loosening up the front’ve your body, you’ll not only be walking around with confident posture. You’ll also feel better, rested, and more alert. (Not to mention – less like someone spent the evening Gorilla gluing your body parts into a Picasso character.)
Now, unfortunately for both you and me, this is like any other form of wellness: you don’t just do it once and then benefit forever. Much like you have to eat healthy consistently and hit the gym consistently to stay in shape, you’ve gotta do this consistently as well. Why? Well, do you just drive once in a while? Do you sit at your computer or get lost in your phone only once in a while? Nope. So, that means we’ve gotta constantly counteract the bad posture that comes with all’ve that. The good news, though? If you are following a physical fitness regimen, you can just squeeze your scapular squeezes and pec stretches in at the top or tail end of your workout (as a warm up or cool down). Then, at the day’s end, you can repeat it – saving the relaxing foam roll stretch for the very end – a beautiful segue into the serene sleep you’re about to enjoy.
So, for a more limber, comfy slumber, try this twofer out ASAP…
And wake up looking like you’re ready to conquer the day – not ring Notre Dame’s tower bell.