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Pilates 101 “put”, “pull”, “relax” your shoulders down”?

Have you ever heard in your Pilates session “put” or “pull” or “relax your shoulders down”?   Have you ever thought about what muscles you are using to do this with? 

 When peoples shoulders are wrapped up around their ears there are a couple of things that might be happening.

1. A persons breathing may be the cause if they are not breathing in through the nose and into the deep portions of the lungs.

2. 2nd culprit are tight Upper Trapezius muscle and other various neck muscles due to a variety of movements/postural habits such as holding a bag on the same shoulder, having hands on steering wheel especially during tense times and a lot of keyboard typing just to name a few. When someone or a Pilates teacher instructs you to “put your shoulders down”, the natural tendency of putting your shoulders down is to use the same already tensed muscles that one should be learning how to give these muscles a break.

So how should one go about getting their shoulders out of your ears? 

1. For one, check in on your daily breathing habits.  Are you breathing your inhales through your nose or mouth?  Only through your nose will you get the proper respiratory muscles working. While inhaling through your mouth is an automatic trigger to raise up the chest and shoulders.   Give it a try.  Place one hand on the top of your sternum on top of a shoulder and take an inhale through your mouth.  Did you feel how the shoulder/sternum rose up in your hand during the inhale?  Now with the same hand placement take an inhale through your nose and consciously direct the inhale into the lower part of your ribs (like you are blowing up balloons in the rib cage).  You should have notice that your shoulders nor sternum did not rise up to your ears.

2. If you have the breathing portion down.  The second thing you can work, is rather then pulling or relaxing the shoulders is to strengthen new muscles around the mid-back portion of the core that will automatically assist in “relaxing” or “keeping the shoulders down around your ears.”  Give this exercise a try.  a. allow your arms to hang down by your sides, b. bend your elbows so that your elbows are pointing down and the palms of your hands are facing away from you to the sides. While practicing your proper breathing. Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds.  Keeping the tips of your elbows slightly pressed forward, and continue to rotate/work your forearms so that your palms are facing away from you to the sides (rather then in front of you).  NOTE you want to hold this position keeping a wide open back another words, without squeezing your shoulder blades together (another culprit of tight neck muscles). Try about 3 repetitions of this movement.

What you are achieving is building endurance of some core muscles around the mid back so that your body will not have to be told to “relax” the shoulders b/c it will already have some muscles that can better hold your posture up well without neck and upper shoulder tension!

This information has been provided to you by Tracy Coe, Pilates Teacher and Whole Health Wellness Educator.  For comments, questions or more information feel free to post/blog back or email us at

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