Resistance bands are portable posture enhancers that are inexpensive to buy, easy to use and can slip into a bag or briefcase. Attach them to any heavy piece of furniture and use them to target your traps -- the large sometimes neglected muscles that help to move your shoulders, neck and upper back. You may not be aware of how stiff they are until they become a real pain in the neck.
Trapezius muscles run from the base of your skull and over your shoulders and shoulder blades. They help raise and lower your shoulder and shoulder blades, rotate your upper arms, pull your shoulder blades together, turn and raise your head and bend your neck. Repetitive movement, holding an awkward position, stress and lack of exercise put the traps at risk for strains, spasms and pain. Trapezius injuries can be caused by slumping in front of a computer with your back rounded, gripping a phone between your shoulder and your ear or holding a lot of tension in your shoulders. By working your traps, you'll improve your posture, increase the flexibility in your neck, breathe a little better and really rock a strapless summer or party dress.
Kneeling Reverse Fly
The kneeling reverse fly fully works your back and shoulders but focuses on your traps. Secure the bands to an object at head-height or slightly higher; kneel and grab the handles with your palms facing each other. Your arms will be extended in front of you, and you should contract your core muscles to stabilize your spine and prevent curving your lower back. Bring your shoulders down and think of your shoulder blades as drawn to each other to help you keep them in the correct position throughout the exercise. Pull your arms back and down, keeping them extended and gradually turning your palms up as your hands reach hip level. Imagine lengthening your spine through the top of your head so that your back remains straight without becoming rigid. Slowly reverse the move until your arms are extended in front of you again. The American Council on Exercise recommends beginning with one to two sets of eight to 15 repetitions. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds between sets.
Seated High-back Row
This simple exercise works your traps if you pay attention to the height of your arms during the pull-back part of the exercise as well as the position of your back. Sit on a mat facing the resistance bands with your knees softly bent and your feet flexed. Keep your back straight and your shoulders down throughout the exercise. Hinge forward at your hips just enough to grasp the resistance band handles with your palms down. Don't bend your wrists but do engage your abs and core muscles to help return your torso to the vertical position against the resistance of the bands. Pull the handles to your chest, flexing your elbows to your sides -- don't bring them into your body -- without raising your shoulders. Maintain a strong back. Arching your lower back will take the stress off the trapezius muscles. If you're working with a light resistance band to build endurance, try 12 to 16 reps in two to three sets with 30 seconds of rest between sets.
The American Council on Exercise offers a few tips to keep your resistance band workouts injury-free. Worn spots in the tubing or bands mean that it's time to replace them. Don't flirt with the possibility of a snapped band that could fly up and hit your face. Prolong the life of your tubing by working out on a nonabrasive surface like carpet, grass or wooden floors. Wear supportive sneakers to help you balance and to protect your feet. Check that the band is secured before you begin your workout. Work with relaxed knees, an open chest and engaged core muscles and maintain control when you stretch and release the band or tubing. Use the right resistance for your fitness level. Bands and tubes are color coded from the thinnest and lightest to the heaviest -- yellow, red, green, blue, black and silver. Newbies should build up their intensity gradually. Consult a certified trainer to help you select the correct number of sets and reps, and tweak your form for safe stretching.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .