Strengthening the muscles of the upper body is a vital component to overall health. Strong abdominals and back muscles stabilize the torso and facilitate good posture, while toned shoulders and arms can make tasks such as lifting and handling items easier. As with any exercise program, increase difficulty gradually as your strength increases, and stop and consult a physician or physical therapist if you experience pain.
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The shoulders are dominated by the deltoid muscles: broad, triangular muscles that cover the front, back and top of the shoulder joints. Strengthening the deltoids can help protect the vulnerable shoulder joints, which are notoriously prone to dislocation and injury. Shoulder touches from plank position are an effective, challenging strengthening exercise. From plank position, balancing your straight body on hands and the balls of your feet, raise your left hand up to touch your right shoulder and then lower it back down. Repeat with your right hand, touching your left shoulder. Aim to do the movement 20 times.
Toned arms help to make everyday tasks such as lifting and carrying easier. The biceps and triceps control the elbow joint, moving the forearms, while the triceps support the deltoids in moving and protecting the shoulder joint. Arm circles are a simple arm-strengthening exercise that targets these muscles. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and extend your arms parallel to the floor. Move your arms in quick, small forward circles, then switch directions when they start to tire and move them backwards. Stop and rest, then repeat two more times.
The abdominal muscles help to stabilize the torso, protecting the vital organs while allowing you to twist your rib cage from side to side. Full Boat pose is a difficult yoga pose that will deeply challenge your abdominals. Sit with your legs straight in front of you, hands just behind your hips with your fingers facing forward. Straighten your back, lifting your sternum toward the ceiling. Bend your knees, shift back slightly and lift your legs so that your thighs are at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Stretch your arms out in front of you toward your feet. You can hold the back of your thighs if it becomes too difficult. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted at all times. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then release.
The trapezius is a large muscle that runs across the upper back, shoulders and neck, helping the neck to turn and supporting the shoulders. Wearing a heavy purse or backpack may pull and strain this vital muscle. The trapezius can be strengthened with no equipment by doing wall angels. Stand against a wall with your feet wide, arms bent to a 90-degree angle with palms facing forward. Pressing the back of your body and arms against the wall, slide your arms straight up overhead. Repeat 10 times.