posted on August 27, 2018
A tension headache can be the splinter in your side. It’s a busy day with a mountain of work to get done, when all of a sudden pain starts to creep up from back of your neck. After a while it circles around to the front of your head. You try to stretch your neck out a little, rub your traps, but the pain seems to go away only for a minute until it returns full force. Before you go straight to Advil for a solution, there is another way to reduce the pain and possibly cure your tension headache.
Let’s look at what it is causing all this pain. The most common misconception with tension headaches is that you have “tight traps.” If you have tight traps, all you need to do is stretch them out, right? Wrong. When it comes to tension headaches, the traps aren’t tight in the conventional sense of not being able to stretch, but tight in the sense that they are being stretched out fully all the time. Say you have a rubber band. Place the rubber band on your desk. The rubber band laying there is loose but when you stretch the band out, the tension builds. This is your traps in a tension headache scenario. This is not the case for all tight muscles, but there are certain cases where this is happens. Tension headaches are all about the position of your shoulders and head throughout the entire day. You might have seen a picture of that stereotypical person at the desk with the his/her head far forward, shoulders slumped and upper back slightly rounded. This bad position causes your upper pecs, front delts, and anterior neck muscles to get tight. How to fix this bad position?
The best way to fix your tensions headache is to get in a good position. The goal now is to know what a good position feels like but also to strengthen certain muscles that maintain that position all day. Here are my 4 favorite exercises/stretches to help relieve and ultimately fix those tensions headaches.
1. Chin Tuck or Big Proud Chest
This is probably one of the most common exercises, but I believe it is frequently performed wrong. Chin tucks can be great but, the first move you do is not tucking your chin. Arching your upper back should be your first adjustment. When lifting with Casey, he always tells me “big proud chest”. “Big proud chest” is what brings your back into that proper position. Now you are not technically arching your upper back but actually making it straight. Once the upper back is in alignment, tuck your chin like you are trying to make a double chin at your best friend across the room. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
2. Band Pull-Aparts
If done correctly, this can be a great exercise to help strengthen the muscles that put the shoulder in the proper position. This is a common exercise to warm up the shoulders before benching, but can also be a great tool to fix poor posture. Grab one of our thin red or orange bands. This exercise is not meant to attempt to hit a PR, meaning you should be able to multiple sets and reps with proper form. Often I see people try to create as much band tension as possible and as a result people use their triceps to pull the bad apart vs. their rear delts and lower mid traps. Grab one strand of the band while keeping the arms slightly bent, pull the band apart and squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. Think about your shoulders blades in hour back pocket. Maintain the same arm position the whole time. 4 sets of 15 reps.
3. Snow Angels
If you’ve ever had me as a personal trainer or been in my #powerful class on a press day, then you have seen these (and hate them). They are one of my all-time favorite exercises. Find a wall that you can lean against with a lot of room. While leaning against the wall, round your lower back so your entire back is against the wall. The upper back, shoulders and back of your head should also be touching. Now place your arms against the wall with your thumbs facing towards the wall. Apply about 50-60% percent strength against the wall. Now your arms slide up into a Y shape and the down to a W shape. I love this exercise because you can do it all day. You might be sore from the first couple sessions but I tell people if they want they can do this 3 times a day. Complete 3 sets of 5-10 reps
4. Donnie Thompson’s Shoulder Mobility
Donnie Thompson is a well-known powerlifter who was the first person to total 3000 pounds in multi-ply gear. After totaling 3000 he went to work with various physical therapists and world class athletes to help prevent rehab injuries. Donnie is good friends with our manager Casey.
This is great for overall shoulder health. While most people want to stretch their already overly stretched traps and back of the neck you should be stretching your upper chest. This movement is half a stretch and half a strength exercise. Place the band around the front of the shoulder. Step away from the band allowing the band to pull your shoulder back. Once there is a significant amount of band tension on the shoulder, rotate your shoulder in large circles. Go up, back, and then down and then all the way forward. 2 sets of 4 rotations each shoulder.
With all these exercises in your tool belt, now you need to piece it together into a program. Some of these exercises can and should be done every day. For example, snow angels and chin tucks should be done twice a day. Donnie Thompson’s mobility can be every other day. Band pull aparts should be done every press day. Even if you don’t suffer tension headaches at all, these exercises can help a wide range of shoulder problems. Try them out and see how much better you feel.