If you’ve ever taken a class with me, you have heard me talk about your armpits more than once. I know it’s a little odd, but once you find what I mean, you feel a huge difference in how you’re doing whatever exercise you’re doing. But you may not understand what happened, so I thought I’d explain a little bit.
There are two main reasons why I’ll ask you to “find” your armpit.
The first is that your shoulders are hunching up into your ears and/or rounding forward.
This puts undue pressure in the shoulder and neck.
If, for instance, you are preparing to do the Hundred, you bring your arms from up toward the ceiling down toward your sides getting ready to pump them. If you initiate that movement from your hands, you will likely hunch your shoulders and roll them forward because the muscles are not engaged to properly stabilize your shoulder blade (scapula) and move the upper arm bone (humerus). When I ask you to initiate the movement from your armpit, I’m asking you to make that engagement happen.
This brings me to the bigger concept here.
Think about what joint(s) you’re trying to move – and what you’re trying to not move – when you do an exercise. Then focus on engaging the muscles surrounding those joints so that you use them rather than focusing on the whole limb or structure that moves as a result. This way, you are more likely to only move what you want to move and not what you don’t. Often this shift in perspective helps us use the smaller, stabilizing muscles better.
In our example, you’re moving your humerus in the shoulder joint. And you’ll feel if you move your humerus, your scapula will be affected because it, too, is part of the shoulder girdle. But, you don’t want to move your scapulae much in The Hundred. So you have to engage muscles that will hold them still as well as the muscles that move your humerus.
Yes, this is simplified, but you don’t need to be an anatomist to know that when you do The Hundred, you’re trying to move your arm in the shoulder joint and you shouldn’t shrug while doing it.
So, as teachers, we ask you to reach your arms long, we ask you to reach down the underside of your arm, we ask you to open your collar bone (clavicle), and a host of other things all to achieve that same thing.
The second main reason I ask you to find your armpit is to keep your scapula attached to your ribcage – they like to “wing” off sometimes.
We generally don’t think about the back of our body as much as the front because we can’t see it. But, think about your scapulae. They sit on the back of your ribcage. They should glide up and down, side to side, and rotate – but they shouldn’t come away from your ribcage.
Now, here’s where I have to (OK, get to…you know I love to talk about this stuff!) talk about a specific muscle.
Your serratus anterior is primarily responsible for holding your scapula against your ribcage (as well as other things). It starts on the underside of your scapula, wraps around your ribcage, and attaches into the front of your ribcage. So, if you think about the path of that muscle, it makes sense that it will hold your scapula against your ribcage. And, that engaging that muscle will feel like engaging your armpit.
(photo from svmassagetherapy.com)
In reality, both of these reasons I ask you to engage your armpit are about the same idea.
We’re working to achieve proper movement in your shoulder.
The muscles that control your humerus, scapula, and clavicle all have to work together to make the movement you’re trying to create. And because there are three bones and a LOT of muscles that make up your shoulder girdle, it is really easy to let the big muscles take over and let the littler ones “fall asleep” which make the bones move (or not move) improperly.
Improper shoulder movement is SO common.
And it can cause so many problems.
In fact, a HUGE percentage of people develop shoulder issues – like 90+%.
So, when it seems like I’m obsessing about your armpits, I’m really just trying to help your shoulder work better to help you find more power and prevent injury.
Plus, this is part of the bigger picture. The connection I’m talking about here helps you “connect” your arms into your torso. Stay tuned for my next post about how proper shoulder movement is related to your “core” and spinal safety…