In Pilates we talk a lot about length and “reaching into length.” In fact, length is touted as one of the MAJOR BENEFITS to a regular Pilates routine. So, is there a place for plugging in and staying put?
I’d argue that “plugging in” is key for one joint in particular: the shoulder. We want the shoulders, no matter the body’s set up, to be plugged in. For exercises when the body is lying in supine, shoulders down and shoulder blades hugging towards the midline offer stability to and length through the spine. For exercises lying in prone, same thing – shoulder heads rolled down and back, shoulder blades hugging towards the midline. Weight-bearing exercises? You guessed it, shoulders square, engaging through the shoulder and across the shoulder blades to reduce winging and create a stable place for the arms to bear the weight. Arms in straps? – good luck trying to get that right if you’re not “plugged in.”
So what does “plugged in” mean, muscularly? I like to tell my clients to use their armpit muscles. Sometimes I poke them just under the armpit at the ribs to help them find their latissimus dorsi or teres major. The pectoral muscles are also involved. But let’s simplify the cueing for today and see if we can get our clients to “plug in” to their shoulders like a plug into an electrical socket, instead of dangling off of them.
This cue comes from a great Pilates instructor and friend, Emma Wilson, who always knows how to blend good humor and hard work in her classes. It will be a favorite with your lady clients. Have the client imagine her most sparkly, sleek, slim clutch handbag. Then have her imagine she is holding two glasses of champagne (one for her date of course). Where does she put her clutch? Between her arm and her ribcage and then hold on like hell so it doesn’t drop!
As a cue, this one helps a client to pinpoint some key stability muscles while moving through exercises in which weight bearing through the upper extremities is required. It creates stiffness (readiness, support) through both the anterior and posterior shoulder muscle groups, as well as firing posterior oblique slings (latissimus dorsi, thoracolumbar fascia and even the contralateral gluteus maximus).
From a joint perspective, this cue will create the proper alignment of the shoulder joints, particularly the scapulothoracic joint during upper extremity weight bearing.
As an added bonus, this cue can help the client to work towards the midline, beginning with the extremities.
Imagine the worst shoulder posture you can think of. See it? Now what does it make you think of? It looks sad to me, like a frown. If you can picture the collar bone in this position, it is downturned, just like a sad face.
Now, turn that frown upside down!
Imagine a smile spreading across the collarbones and watch shoulder posture transform from sad and limp to happy and purposeful and upright!