For better shoulders, sit like a dog

Dogs have long been the influence for many yoga poses.  There's updog, downdog, bird-dog, three legged-dog, and playful puppy.

But I think we're missing out on what the laid back dog is showing us in the above gif.  

The sitting dog can be a very useful posture.  Especially when you add a shoulder movement to this position.

Below is a great exercise that will help emphasize thoracic extension, increase lower trapezius activation, and improve shoulder strength.

Why is this better than standing or seated shoulder press?

It really comes down to the degrees of freedom in the body.  When you stand or sit on a bench you have many joints to compensate with. 

Don't have full shoulder flexion?  Why not hyper extend the hips and lean into your labrum.

Don't have the trunk or shoulder strength?  Why not compensate with your quads or calves to help create the power.

Don't want to extend your thoracic spine?  Don't worry, your low back can make up for that.

These are just a few of the things that can go wrong.

However, when you go into long sitting many of these options are either removed or very difficult to do.

Sometimes less options is a very good thing for the human body.  And that's essentially what the sitting dog posture does.

Downdog is the same pattern as the long sitting shoulder press

Take a look at downdog.  I added some arrows to try to make it more clear on how long sitting can drive more thoracic extension.

 (original  image source )

(original image source)

The red arrow is the passive pull of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves, plantar fascia). 

The green arrow is the active pull of the upper thorax extensors (lower traps, serratus anterior, anterior core, thoracic/cervical extensors, etc.).

Essentially, you're fighting your body's tendency to want to round/flex in this posture by driving extension in the upper body (among other things).

In a yoga class, you may head cues such as "create length in the spine", "spread the floor and push it away", or "drive your chest forward".  

These directions are used to make sure the green arrow is working and that you don't fall into flexion.

The Legs

Experienced yogis will know it's much more than just using the upper body to maintain spinal alginment.

Depending on your flexibility, you may need to bend your knees to allow for enough space to maintain a neutral pelvis.

The same applies for the long sitting shoulder press.  Very few people will be able to perform this exercise correctly with their knees straight.  

So make sure you bend your knees enough to keep a neutral pelvis and spine throughout the movement.

Don't know what's neutral or how to feel the right amount of posterior chain tension?

Try the L shaped handstand.  It's also a great way to practice maintaining spine and shoulder alignment while changing tension in the posterior chain.

Summary

The long sitting shoulder press is a great way to develop thoracic spine extension and shoulder strength while minimizing compensations.  It takes advantage of distal passive tension to drive local active tension.  A full ying-yang movement.

Due to the similarity of the postures in the above exercises (LSSP, downdog, L shaped handstand), each one will only improve the other.

Meaning, if you're a yogi, maybe you should try lifting some weight in the long sitting posture.  And if you're a weightlifter, maybe you should try exploring your body's length-tension relationships in the downdog.

"We get resourcefulness from having many resources.  Not from having one very smart one." -Marvin Minsky

Side Notes

Yes, I understand there's no such thing as sitting dog posture and that there are significant biomechanical differences between the dog and the exercise.  But I just wanted to use that gif.  

Even if you got nothing from this article, hopefully you at least got a smile from the couch potato dog.