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Warming Up with A Pilates Foam Roller: Shoulder Exercises

Updated on July 24, 2010

Pilates Exercises to Warm Up and Relax Your Shoulders

Foam rollers have become a common prop used in gyms and peoples' homes alike.  Though I most commonly see foam rollers used for passive stretching and massaging out muscles, there are many Pilates exercises which may be done on foam rollers, several of which are great for relaxing shoulders.

Scapular Reaches

For this exercise:
  1. Lie on your foam roller with your head at the top and your sacrum anchored to the bottom
  2. Bring your arms up so they are reaching reward the ceiling and your palms face each other
  3. Reach your arms toward the ceiling by lifting your shoulder blades away from the foam roller; as you do so, let your palms rotate toward your face- essentially you are rotating your hands (and entire arms) as though you are screwing in a lint bulb
  4. Bring your shoulder blades back down, wrapping them around the foam roller and thus lowering your arms a couple of inches
  5. Repeat 8 to 10 times

Notes: when doing this exercise, you should inhale as you reach your arms up and exhale as you lower them.  As you exhale, you should co-contract (engage your core muscles) so that this exercise offers abdominal work in addition to shoulder work.

Why this works on a foam roller:
Traditionally practiced on a mat, scapular reaches on a foam roller are excellent because the foam roller on which one lies allows for a greater range of scapular movement, thus rendering the exercise more effective.  The instability of the foam roller also forces one to engage his or her abdominals more.

Ribcage Arms

For this exercise:
  • Extend your arms toward the ceiling, palms facing toward each other
  • Inhale, then exhale and co-contract, making sure your ribcage is anchored to the foam roller
  • As you exhale, let your arms fall next to your ears
  • The key to this exercise is to let your arms fall next to your ears WITHOUT letting your back arch or the base of your ribcage leave its anchor point- to do this, you MUST engage your abdominals

Why this works on a foam roller:
Ribcage Arms helps you train yourself to move your extremities away from your center without losing your abdominal engagement or anchor points.  This leads to a stronger core and also helps you do subsequent, more advanced exercises more effectively.  This exercises also helps you loosen and increase the range of motion in your shoulders.  
Doing this exercise on a foam roller is useful because it’s much easier to feel whether or not your ribcage is lifting away from its anchor point- and that’s what this exercise is really all about!  The shoulder relaxation is just a nice by-product, in my opinion... but then again, I am overly focused on abdominal work.

Alternating Shoulder Shrugs

For this exercise:
  1. Extend your arms above your head as though you are doing ribcage arms (remember to keep your ribcage anchored! Hah!)
  2. Reach one shoulder blade up as you draw the other one down
  3. Switch
  4. Repeat a couple of times

Why this works on a foam roller:
Drawing your shoulder blades up and down alternately loosens them up and makes you aware of their position.  This makes it easier to keep them in the desired low and wide position for the rest of your workout- and hopefully for the rest of your day!  Doing this exercise on a foam roller is great, because you are better able to feel what your shoulder blades are doing and they have a greater range of motion.

Single-Leg Table Top with Alternating Ribcage Arms

For this exercise:
  1. Bring yourself into the starting position for Ribcage Arms
  2. Instead of bringing both arms next to your ears as in Ribcage Arms when you exhale and co-contract, bring only one arm next to your ear and simultaneously bring the alternate leg into Table Top Position (lifted off the floor, with your thigh perpendicular to the floor and your shin parallel)
  3. Bring your arm and leg back to the starting position, then do the same thing with your other arm and leg
  4. Repeat 8-10 times, keeping your ribcage anchored and staying stable on the foam roller- it should be moderately challenging!

Why this works on a foam roller:
Doing this exercise on a mat takes ribcage arms to another level because it requires coordination and extra abdominal work.  Doing this exercise on a foam roller makes things even more challenging because you have to co-contract even deeper to maintain balance with only one foot touching the mat.  If you find yourself rolling around, you know you need to work more on your breath and co-contraction!


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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      I'm so glad you do! I wasn't at all sure about it from the start... but then I found out it actually DOES something and got hooked @_@

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Great hub. Warming up is an important part of exercise. I love pilates.