Your head and neck make up about 7 per cent to 10 per cent of your body weight, according to Lorrie Maffey, a clinical musculoskeletal specialist with the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. And each of your arms is about 5 per cent of your body weight.
So if you’re reaching forward to type on your computer all day, or constantly bowing over your smartphone, “that’s a lot of weight pushing forward,” she says.
No wonder you’re stiff and achy.
To counteract that forward pull and strengthen your shoulders and upper back, Maffey recommends an exercise that’s as easy as dancing to the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. Her version requires moving your arms to make the shapes of the letters Y, T and W.
You can do this exercise while either sitting or standing. Make sure you have an elongated spine, with your vertebrae aligned one on top of the other like a tidy stack of boxes, Maffey says. Slightly tighten your stomach muscles, tuck your chin in just the tiniest bit, and bring your shoulders back, but not so much that they’re rigid.
For the Ys, take both arms in the air, elbows straight and hands flat, fingers pointing. Squeeze your shoulder blades for two beats. Next, move onto the Ts, bringing both arms parallel to the floor, and reach outward for two beats. Finally, bend at the elbows with your fingertips pointing upward, so your forearms form the outer edges of the W. Again, squeeze your shoulder blades for two beats. Repeat these Ys, Ts and Ws about 10 to 15 times, pulsing for two beats each.
As straightforward as this exercise seems, it’s certainly not effortless. If you’re not used to working out your upper back and shoulders, you’ll quickly start to feel the exertion. For a greater challenge, try doing these Y-T-Ws while in a squat or lunge position.
If you want a more discreet exercise that you can do in the office, simply put your hands on the armrests of your chair and push up, lifting your buttocks off your seat, Maffey says. Do this with an elongated spine, stomach muscles slightly tight and chin tucked just a bit. Slowly lower yourself back into the seat with control. Repeat this lift five times, or as much as you need. You’ll work your shoulders and stomach, decompress your spine and, importantly, get some variation in your posture. As Maffey and experts like her are fond of saying, “Motion is lotion.”