Do you swing your arms when you walk?
If yes, here’s a follow-up question: are you swinging your arms from your shoulders or from your elbows?
Put another way, do you have a gentle rotation of your ribcage and shoulders as you swing your arms while you walk?
For many of us out there, our upper backs–and consequently, our necks–tend to be rather stiff. This stiffness is reinforced by a lack of movement while we walk.
Definition of terms: when I say ‘neck’, I’m referring to the region from the base of your skull all the way down to the level of your collarbone. This includes all muscles that attach somewhere on the base of your skull down to the tops of your shoulders.
If you are experiencing–or have experienced–some unwanted tension and discomfort in your neck, shoulders or upper back, then the following series of exercises may help to relieve that discomfort.
But first, some background information to create some context for understanding: the gait cycle–that is, the repeated series of movements that our bodies perform as we walk–is pretty cool. Over the course of taking and finishing a single step–where one leg swings forward and then propels your body forward in space while the other leg swings forward–muscles on one side of the body need to engage and actively shorten while those same muscles on the other side of the body need to disengage (to an extent) and lengthen (in a controlled way).
When we (usually unconsciously) get into the habit of limiting how much arm swing and ribcage movement occurs, it can have a ripple effect through the body, altering how well certain muscles engage or disengage. (Translation: other stuff begins to get stiff and tight).
Conversely, adding arm swing and ribcage rotation can impact how much certain muscles remain in a state of tension, encouraging them to disengage. A simple example would be the muscles of your neck and upper back. In order for arm swing to happen, those muscles must alternate between ‘on’ and ‘off’, so to speak (which means they’ll become less likely to think that have to always be ‘on’).
So, on the one hand, you can simply make a point of adding a gentle arm swing to your walking stride.
And/or, sometimes we don’t go walking as often as we’d like to (unless you have a dog). In that case, the following can be helpful for getting your upper back to loosen up.
Also, if the muscles of your upper back and neck have been stiff for some time, or you’re looking for a way to kickstart the process of settling them down, these can be helpful.
Try 10-12 repetitions on each side. Possibly do a second or third round, if you’re feeling frisky and you have the time.
Begin first by trying these from a seated position. Once you’re feeling confident with the movements, try performing them standing.
Give these a try and let us know how it feels.
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