Modern life typically dictates a lot of sitting -- at the computer, in the car, during work meetings. The unfortunate result can be rounded shoulders, which puts potentially severe stress on the neck and spine. The other unwanted side effect of sitting for prolonged periods of time can be saddlebags -- those unsightly bulges most often present at the sides of the upper thighs. The answer to both of these physical challenges is straightforward: a consistent exercise program that includes both cardio and upper body strengthening.
Rounded Shoulders and Saddlebags: Two Different Issues
Rounded shoulders result from structural imbalances in the musculoskeletal system. If your life is primarily sedentary, for example, you might slouch and create a habit of poor posture without even noticing. When the upper body is allowed to flex forward on a repetitive, chronic basis, the shoulders will follow, resulting in a rounded posture. This puts tremendous pressure on the upper back and shoulder girdle and places the head in an unnatural forward-tilt position, which strains the neck. Rounded shoulders also strain the upper back muscles, namely the trapezius and rhomboids, weakening them and rendering them less able to provide their intended support. So think of rounded shoulders as a muscular issue. Saddlebags, on the other hand, are not muscle-related but rather are fatty deposits on the sides of the upper thighs that protrude and can be aesthetically unpleasing. Because you can't tone saddlebags, the solution is metabolism-boosting cardio, which burns excess fat on your entire body. You can't spot-reduce one area, but a cardio program can help you lose inches on your lower half.
Goodbye Saddlebags: High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an excellent way to burn calories and melt saddlebag fat. HIIT can be performed in various permutations. The key is to do a cardio segment that elevates the heart rate followed by a period of lower-intensity exercise, then more cardio. This rev up-and-repeat sequence can be performed as your fitness level permits. The cardio element offers variety: sprint intervals, climbing stairs, jump-roping, squat jumps and fast bursts on a stationary bike can be incorporated into your HIIT routine. Start slowly with HIIT and do brief cardio intervals to begin. The beauty of HIIT is that it can speed up your metabolism in a relatively short amount of time -- even a 15-minute workout can be amazingly effective.
Hello Happy Shoulders: Key Pilates Moves
To fix rounded shoulders, focus on the upper back muscles. Pilates offers many options for better posture and a healthy spine. If you can, invest in a Pilates ring. Stand with your feet at hip width and hold the ring gently between your palms. Straighten your arms and raise them until they're parallel to the floor. Roll your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Maintain this active engagement of the upper back as you raise your arms toward the ceiling. Return to the start position and repeat. The Pilates plank will also stabilize the upper back. Get into a pushup position but hold the pose for a few seconds instead of bending into a pushup. Breathe deeply and pull in your abdominals for better balance. From the static plank, push back into a Pilates "V" -- which resembles yoga's Downward Dog. Do not let your chest sink toward the floor. Instead, roll your shoulders back and engage your upper back muscles. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms firmly into the floor. Using a mat is recommended to avoid the danger of slipping on a slick surface.
Before You Begin
Exercise is good for you but take the time to check with your doctor before you start a new fitness regimen, especially if you haven't exercised for a while or are new to it. Listen to your body as you work out -- it will tell you if what you're doing is helping or making things worse. A sudden pain, for example, is a signal that something is not right; stop your workout immediately and seek medical attention.
- Anatomy of Movement; Blandine Calais-Germain
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- HIIT: HIgh Intensity Interval Training
- Pilates Props Workbook; Ellie Herman
- Teaching Pilates for Postural Faults, Illness & Injury; Jane Paterson
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.