Tight rounded shoulders and a super tight chest are uncomfortable and outright frustrating to deal with. And I’ve seen it in just about every beginner Pilates student I’ve worked with.

I blame it on sedentary jobs, hours spent sitting in front of a computer, and weight training. Don’t get me wrong, I personally enjoy weight and resistance training, but it’s crucial to maintain the flexibility and mobility of your torso as well.

That’s what I want to help you with in this article.

Awareness of proper positioning is crucial when performing upper body Pilates moves.

pilatesI’ll give you an example. This is why performing a simple push up is a difficult exercise for many people. They end up feeling immediate discomfort in the wrist.

One of the muscles rarely recruited or thought about is the serratus anterior. This muscle helps keep the lats engaged and shoulders squeezing. And this muscle is key when it comes to performing proper form in upper body exercises.

The cue I like to use with my students is, “Pretend you’re holding someone in a headlock and squeeze tight under your armpit”.

Here’s the thing. You can drop down to the floor and hammer out 20 push ups while paying no attention to your form — and you’ll end up with tightness where it’s not needed.

But if you use proper positioning, you’ll only need 10 to 15 reps to get the full benefit of the exercise.

While doing any bodyweight Pilates upper body moves you must engage the serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, shoulders and most importantly the transverse abdominus.

If that sounds like a lot to think about, you’re right!

But the movements are highly effective when done correctly. And that’s what Pilates is all about. It’s a waste of your time to do hundreds of reps if you aren’t firing your muscles in the correct way. It makes so much more sense to engage multiple muscles at once, so you can achieve lean toned strong muscles in less time.

Proper alignment of the spine and upper torso requires full body control. If you are able to get over 20 reps in one set, chances are you aren’t engaging a muscle correctly.

In the video below I demonstrate an upper body workout that you can start practicing right away.

Please pay careful attention to my points about how to properly hold your position with each exercise to prevent unnecessary use of your low back.

Here are the key points you should keep in mind when performing the Toe Reach and Reverse Bridge:

  • * Your hands should be palms down with fingertips facing your body or side. Don’t let them face away from you.
  • * Keep your chest lifted and open at all times by squeezing your shoulders together and drawing your lats down towards the small of your back.
  • * Don’t let your head sink down into your shoulders like a turtle. Stay lifted throughout the entire move.
  • *Pull your belly button in towards your spine while keeping your ribs pulled in and together.
  • * Lift the pubic bone up and tuck your pelvis under to lengthen your lower back. Avoid engaging your lower back the entire time by not letting it arch down.
  • * Your head stays in alignment with your spine — torso is parallel to the floor, and eyes looking up towards the sky. Keep your eyes facing forward the entire time and in unison with your torso’s position.

Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each side. You can repeat this movement 3 to 4 times per week.

The objective of this move is to improve strength and flexibility around the shoulder girdle. Any tightness or lack of mobility in the shoulders and torso are quickly noticeable. If there is too much pressure on your wrists, move your position down to the elbows.

Take it slow when beginning this move. Don’t expect to complete all 10 reps at once — you will need to work up to it. Your upper body will get a great workout and stretch. At the same time, your lower body will also fatigue very quickly.

Stay mindful while executing each move with control and awareness. When performing upper body Pilates moves in a bridge position, full body control is needed to prevent unnecessary use of the low back, neck and wrists.

Finally, doing this exercise between workouts or on your off days will greatly increase your shoulder mobility, which is great if you’ve been doing a lot of bench pressing or pull ups.