April 7, 2020  | By

By: Dr. Ali Kalinowski, DPT.

Staying healthy is of the utmost concern at the moment. Washing hands, social distancing, working from home are some of the key ways to keep yourself (and others!) healthy during these times. Unfortunately, times like these also tend to increase sedentary behavior. In my tiny studio apartment, I don’t have the space for weights or an exercise ball. This limits my at-home exercise program to some mini bands and body weight. Lower body exercises are super easy to feel a good burn (think squats, lunges, bridges, etc), but upper body exercises tend to be a little more difficult to get that “worked out” feeling without equipment. Of course, push-ups and their various modifications can get you an excellent chest and tricep workout, but what about your shoulders and back?

For those of you that don’t have dumbbells and kettlebells, how do you work your upper body? Are you getting tired of push-ups and planks? Variety is an important factor in an exercise regimen, especially if our supplies are already limited by this quarantine. Let’s take an everyday household product and add it to our mix of upper body exercises. A towel. Here’s how and why I love this:

Adding an isometric hold can increase the activation of additional shoulder and rotator cuff muscles. This incorporates an aspect of stabilization to the exercise and also gets us more bang for our buck by recruiting more muscles throughout the movement. You’ll feel that burn quicker without the need for lifting weights.

When setting yourself up for these towel exercises, maintain a firm grip on either end of the towel and imagine that you’re pulling it apart. This pull is not an all-out effort but pulling just enough so you feel tension across the towel to achieve moderate activation in your shoulders. Try out this upper body circuit for an easy at-home shoulder workout. Start with 15 reps of each exercise and run through the circuit 3 times.

Remember to maintain good posture throughout these exercises (upright posture, relaxed shoulders, ears aligned over shoulders)!

  • Rows: Perform a row while pulling the towel apart. Make sure you pinch your shoulder blades together at the end of the movement.

  • Pull Downs: While maintaining tension on the towel, drive your elbows down until they are by your side. Push your hands back up while keeping that tension on the towel.

  • Front Raises: With your thumbs pointing upward, gently pull the towel apart while you raise your arms overhead. Maintain the tension during the upwards and the downwards phase of the movement.

  • Shoulder Press: Keep your elbows directly in front of you as you raise your arms overhead. Tension for this exercise can be a little less to ensure that the activation is coming from your shoulders and less from the forearm.

  • Alternating Front Raises: Maintain tension on the band as you hold one arm as still as the other arm raises upwards and returns to neutral.

For more exercises, check out our on-demand Pilates videos, and keep your health on track by scheduling a physical therapy telehealth appointment today. You can reach out to us via email, phone, or fill out the form below:


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