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Oftentimes when we embark on fulfilling the goal of building more muscle or strength in our upper bodies we forget to take the time to build a great foundation in the very tissues we are about to overload. In our efforts to ‘get results’ we can skip the mobility, breathing and alignment strategies we really need to create a strong foundation for lifting.
Gaining strength and muscle definition only happens when we are consistent over a long period of time, and I’m talking months and years, not days and weeks. So spending the time and effort to warm-up properly and to care for our movement mechanics is key in being able to lift consistently over the long term.
If you’ve found yourself in the pattern of getting excited about a muscle definition goal –> then doing too much intensity/weight/volume too quickly –> then finding yourself super tight, with injuries and dysfunction –> then feeling as though your consistency and enjoyment of the exercises is suffering, then this post is for you!
Today we are talking about 3 of my favourite upper body movement drills to set a strong physical foundation for lifting weights. These can be part of your warm-up before a lifting session, or at the beginning or end of your day. Start with 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise and see how you feel.
Targets chest, shoulders, mid back, torso.
Cues: Begin side lying with arms outstretched in front of your chest, one palm stacked on top of the other. As you exhale, slowly draw a ‘half moon’ shape with your top arm by tracing your hand gently and slowly over your head while keeping the fingers dragging along the floor.
Allow your hips and torso to move freely, practice deep diaphragmatic breaths into the sides of your rib cage and reach with the fingers as you go.
You’ll end up in a side lying position with both arms outstretched and the upper torso open towards the ceiling. Enjoy this deep chest, shoulder and mid-back dynamic stretch, then cycle the arm back over the head to return to the starting position.
Key Areas of Focus: Reach with the top arm and fingers to stretch from your armpit all the way to your finger tips. Breathe deeply into the sides of your rib cage. Go slowly to get the most out of this movement.
Targets the entire core, specifically the deep abdominals, back extensors, hips and shoulder girdle.
Equipment: Foam Roller + Mat
Cues: Set up your quadruped stance first: Put your knees on the roller and stack your hips right over top of your knees. Place the hands directly underneath the shoulders. Inhale to relax the core and pelvic floor, exhale to gently engage the pelvic floor and abdominals. Reach one arm out front and the opposing leg out to the back. Try to maintain a neutral spine as you do this exercise, not letting the low back dip down as you extend your arm and leg. Return back to the quadruped position and repeat on the other side.
Key Areas of Focus: Pair your exhale and pelvic floor/core engagement with the extending of your arm and leg. Avoid dropping the belly and back to get your arm and leg higher. Height of the arm and leg is less of a concern than overall alignment of the torso. Keep the bottom ribs and front of the hip bones in line with each other.
Targets mid and upper back muscles, chest and shoulders.
Cues: Begin by assuming a quadruped position (on all fours). Root one hand down into the floor and open your other arm up towards the ceiling. Allow the torso to rotate and open towards the ceiling while also letting the hips rotate slightly as well. Pairing your exhale with the opening movement can be helpful. Return your hand back towards the ground and continue to reach behind your planted arm, gently resting on the outside of your shoulder for a second. Repeat on the same side for 10-12 repetitions before switching sides.
Key Areas of Focus: Rooting the stabilizing hand/arm/shoulder into the ground and into your core to avoid hunching the shoulder up towards the ear. Allowing the torso to move as freely as possible. Think about this being an easy, effortless movement rather than ‘muscling’ your way through it. Reaching the hand up to the sky and then through behind the posted arm.
Try the mobility drills above in your warm-ups by starting with 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise. When paired with consistent strength training, a progressively challenging program and great breathing and alignment, you’ll be well on your way to a strong upper body.