Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 29 : July/Aug 2009  > Columns  >  Fitness  >  Free Your Blades



By Kazuko Ikeda

Free Your Blades


When training for any sport, you need to get your entire body in shape; however winter sports workouts focus primarily on the lower body, while ocean sports such as surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and the recently popular standup paddling, work your upper body more.

As a trainer, I run into a large number of people with shoulder and neck problems. Chronic shoulder or neck pain can advance and manifest itself in other ways such as debilitating headaches.

Office workers spend an inordinate amount of time in front of computers, causing stressed shoulders and necks, and mothers have similar problems. Sports involving the upper body can further increase this pain and take the fun out of being active, so this issue I want to focus on your scapula, or shoulder blades.
Recently in Japan there was a fascination with the shoulder blade movements of Olympic swimming gold medal winner Kosuke Kitajima. TV announcers referred to them as the “wings of angels.” The scapula are the triangular bones of the upper back, and Kitajima’s scapula open up to the left and right with amazing flexibility in the breast stroke.

How much movement do you have in your shoulder blades? Since you can’t get a good look at your own scapula, ask a friend to place both hands on this area as you try to work their hands up and down, followed by an opening and closing movement. Move the scapula up by pulling your shoulders toward your ears and then pulling them down. The up motion may be easier, but put extra effort into the down motion.

When closing the shoulder blades, think of pressing them into the spine. Conversely, the act of opening should feel as if you are pulling them away from the spine. Creating separation from the spine is more difficult.
Slowly work through 10 repetitions of these movements and have them conform to your breathing. Now roll your shoulders and take note of the movement of your shoulder blades. Finally, raise both hands to the ceiling and rise to your tiptoes, really stretching yourself.

This exercise is good for warming up prior to exercise and as a quick break from work. The greater your ability to create movement in your scapula, the more efficient your paddling will become and the less stress will remain in tight muscles. Your body’s physical condition is directly related to the mental health and your heart.

Nerves can cause muscles to tighten, while relaxation allows those same muscles to loosen. Simply being stressed out can tire you. So free your shoulder blades and free your mind.