Prevent Tight Neck and Painful Shoulders with Elbow Curls, Arm Circles and Cats-and-Dogs


Do you experience a tight neck and shoulders often and do you get tension headaches? Today’s lifestyle is “everything forward.” You sit at the desk with your shoulders, arms and head positioned forward, and with your lower and upper back rounded. The posture is similar while you drive your car: your shoulders, head, and arms forward, with rounded back. Then you come home and relax, slouching in the sofa, watching TV with your head and shoulders forward… The majority of your activities is “forward” and only very few activities, if any, put your body in its natural position with the sway lower back, the head positioned over the shoulders and the shoulders retracted back.

Our bodies are optimally functional when the posture is erect, with a slightly arched back, a curvature in the neck and a head positioned directly over the shoulders. The shoulders are aligned over the hips, which are directly above the knees, and they are directly above the ankles. This is the ideal that we always want to strive for, or the joints will experience additional and unnecessary stress during your athletic endeavors.

After many years of the “forward lifestyle,” our shoulders turn forward permanently, where the chest muscles are shortened and the upper back muscles are weak. Then when you play tennis and hit thousands of forehands, backhands, volleys and serves during your practice, the movement of the arm originates in the shoulder for each stroke. And because your shoulders are positioned more forward than they should be, you will experience stress on the shoulder joint every time you hit the ball and over time, you can develop nagging pains and overuse injuries. Taking care of your imbalances now will help you avoid future pain and it will greatly lengthen your tennis career.

The next three exercises — elbow curls, arm circles and cats and dogs — are simple to do, you can do them as often as you want and anywhere. They will re-establish the proper position of your shoulders and back, and make your spine more flexible and supple.

Elbow Curls

The elbow curls exercise doesn’t take much time and no equipment is needed. It strengthens, activates, and balances the shoulder and upper back muscles that are involved with the shoulders’ ball-and-socket proper function. Perform it regularly, even if you don’t have any problems. Keeping your shoulders functional and balanced will prevent future injuries.

  • Stand by the wall, with your feet parallel and hip-apart and your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders aligned over each other.
  • Keep your heels, glutes, upper back, and head touching the wall.
  • Curl your fingers into your palm and put the knuckles on your temples with thumbs pointing down, and push your elbows back until they touch the wall.
  • From this starting position, slowly bring your elbows forward until they touch in front of your chest, while keeping your knuckles on your temples. The knuckles will want to move around. Make sure that they stay in place after each repetition.
  • Keep your head touching the wall at all times.
  • Perform 50 repetitions. It can be difficult in the beginning, but it will get easier as your shoulder joints get more functional.
  • Do not hurry with the movement. Breathe deeply while focusing on the quality, and correct form for each repetition. Keep in mind that you are rebalancing your shoulders and teaching them to function properly.

Arm Circles

This simple arm circles exercise is very efficient for reestablishing proper function of the shoulder joint. If you have severe dysfunctions, you will find the exercise quite tough, when done correctly. It will strengthen the muscles of the upper back that are often weak and tight because of the constant pull of the shortened chest muscles.

Arm Circles

Stand straight with your head up and feet hip-width apart. Lift your arms to the sides of your body, parallel with the floor. Face your palms down and thumbs pointing forward. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. While keeping your shoulders leveled at all times, perform 6-inch circles forward in the direction of the thumbs and feel every muscle in your shoulders and upper back. After 30 circles, face your palms up and perform another 30 circles backward, in the direction of your thumbs. You may feel more tightness, soreness, and clicking sounds in your dominant arm. Perform the arm circles regularly until both arms feel even and your shoulders retract back.

Cats and Dogs

Your goal should be to adjust your posture to stay more straight and “backward” regularly. This simple cats-and-dogs exercise works your spine, hips, neck and shoulders in coordinated flexion and extension, and loosens up the stiff backs, necks, and shoulders. Depending on your lifestyle—how much you sit—you may need to do this exercise several times per day.

Cats and Dogs

  • Get down on your hands and knees, keep your weight evenly distributed, and align your hands, shoulders, hips, knees and feet in one line.
  • Visualize a happy doggie: take a deep breath and lift your tail (hips) and your head high up, while arching your lower back as much as you can.
  • Now visualize a smooth cat: breathe out and round your back as much as you can while dropping your hips and head low. The middle of your back should be at its highest point, creating a pleasant stretch across all your back.
  • Keep repeating the arching and rounding movement in a smooth continuous motion for 20 repetitions while breathing deeply. It will make you feel limber and energized. On the tennis court, a flexible spine will allow for better upper body rotation and your shots will be more powerful. Do cats-and-dogs regularly, and watch your tennis game improve.

In life, keeping your shoulder healthy will improve your posture and prevent tension headaches and other problems. On the tennis court, keeping your shoulders functional will allow you to strike your shots more powerfully. Functional shoulders reduce the risk of injury and you will be able to train hard and improve your tennis game at steady pace. Include the elbow curls, arm circles and cats-and-dogs into your fitness routine, and you will feel great!


Did you like the exercises? Similar and more advice is available in the e-books in the Tennis Fitness Love Store.

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About Suzanna McGee

A former Ms. Natural Olympia Bodybuilding champion, currently performance coach, injury prevention specialist, plant-based nutrition coach, author, speaker and raw vegan athlete. Loves to help others by sharing her knowledge, and to hang out with her favorite chocolate Labrador Zuzi. Find Suzanna on , Facebook and Amazon.