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a woman stretches her tricep while on a path

I often feel as though I’m destined for shoulder tension. Between sitting down most of my waking hours, having a larger chest, and having poor postural habits that I developed as a shy teen and am still working to undo, I experience neck and shoulder tension by the end of the day, every day.

I schedule breaks throughout to dance, do yoga, go for a walk, or lift weights. Still, it isn’t quite enough to prevent or relieve the muscle tightness, which often results in headaches, heightened anxiety, and other symptoms.

What does help is something that seems almost too simple to make any difference: shoulder rolls and circles. They’re so good at helping me feel better.

If you experience tightness or tension in your shoulders, I encourage you to try this less-than-five-minute routine that I love — I think you might enjoy it, too.

Shoulder Rolls

First, sit or stand with your arms hanging loose at your sides. Try to find some length in your spine, and then roll your shoulders to the front, up to your ears, back, and down.

Elbow Circles

Next, bend your elbows and place your fingertips on your shoulders. Without arching your back, reach your elbows forward, up, back, and down, as if you were drawing circles.

Arm Circles

Then, straighten your arms and reach forward, up, back, and down. Again, maintain a neutral spine while drawing imaginary circles with your fingertips.


I like to repeat the above sequence a bunch of times, for as long as it feels good. Then I reverse the direction. (Try 10 reps per position, per direction, if you’d like a starting point.)


 

When I get my fill of symmetric shoulder stretches, I mix it up. I’ll roll one side at a time, alternate sides, and even add side bends, knee bends, and forward and backward steps.

I’m amazed that such small, casual movements can snowball into an intuitive, dance-like routine that gives me not only physical relief but also a brief burst of joy. (Just try swinging your elbows around without cracking a smile.)

I’ve started doing this stretching series every time I take a break from my laptop, while resting between sets at the gym, and even while walking.

I know it won’t magically fix my posture or take the weight of my chest (or the world) off my shoulders. But it does give me faith that even if I’m destined to experience some shoulder tension, I’m not destined to suffer for it.

This article originally appeared as “The Simple Beauty of Shoulder Rolls ” in the March 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Maggie Fazeli Fard
Maggie
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. LOVE THIS! I also suffer every day from neck/shoulder tension headaches. Will definitely use these stretches every day!

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