24 Moves with a Half Dome
Last year I started an Exercise Advent on Instagram (and will do another one this year) as a special thank you to my readers and followers, and hopefully to inspire you to move more during the busy holidays. Below you can find all the exercises from the 2021 Exercise Advent: Exercises with a Half Dome.
To follow along this year, follow Alignment_rescue on Instagram (I post there more than on Facebook). The fun starts on December 1st.
2021 - Exercise Advent
Day 1 - Calf Stretch
Just as many classes begin with Calf Stretch, so does this Advent! This is the most obvious way to use a half dome and probably the reason you own one in the first place. But there is more than one kind of CS depending on your objective. For eg., taking a step forward and maximising the pull between the top and bottom of the calf muscle mimics the requirements for climbing a hill; this can give you info as to the steepness of grade your ankle can accommodate.
In my practice I most often use CS as an assessment to determine how the tension in the back of your lower posterior leg is affecting the rest of your body (which would manifest as muscle engagement and body displacement). Once we discover that, we can start unravelling the compensations and get you aligned. It’s that simple, it’s that important, and the reason CS is Number 1. Calf Stretch is the obvious place to start your alignment journey (my course Rescue Your Feet explains all!).
Day 2 - Calf Stretch with a Hinge
Place feet side by side with one foot up on the dome and add a hip hinge; adding the upper back leg to the lower back leg stretch. The ankle on the dome will be the more neutral (N) one as the one on the floor is plantarflexed (PF) when the hips move back. So it’s surprising how much you experience the stretch in the leg on the dome, which shows how much the lower leg tension affects the hip range of motion! Doing this one foot at a time allows you to experience the difference side to side.
Day 3 - Soleus Stretch
This is like Calf Stretch with bent knees, to emphasise a deeper muscle in the posterior lower leg, Soleus. Make sure the knees move straight ahead and I like to bend both, sitting in a slight squat. This is similar to yesterday's advent with the single leg calf stretch/hip hinge; you are lengthening soleus on both legs but only one is with the added ankle dorsiflexion, so you can feel the difference. This is a deeper stretch (both in terms of muscle and in terms of how much the ankle has to dorsiflex, so it gets closer to end range of the ankle joint. (For this reason I find this much harder on the previously broken ankle and get far less range of motion on that ankle.) Remember the goal is not to push into the stretch as hard as you can but to see how far you can go without compensating such as knees falling in, arch dropping down, knee kicking backward. Unlike some exercises where you keep the shin vertical, you want the knee tracking forward here to emphasise the ankle dorsiflexion.
Day 4 - Double Calf Stretch
Now step on the dome with both feet, hip distance apart, feet straight. Have a chair or counter in front of you and bend forward from the hips (not the spine) and place your hands on the chair. Keep the arms straight and allow them to take the weight of the upper body so the back (and belly) can relax. Shift the hips back a little, keeping the knees straight. If the pull is too strong, find a higher thing for your hands to land on such as the kitchen counter, or a lower thing for your feet such as a folded blanket or rolled mat. Hold for about a minute.
Bonus: try shifting the hips side to side. This adds some adduction/abduction to the tensile load to the hamstrings/inner thighs! Now put Day 1-4 all together and you have a little series!
Day 5 - Level Up your List (round side)
After you learn to List on a flat surface, take it to the round side of a dome lengthwise (ie, flat side down), where the sides of your feet will not have their accustomed support but have to accommodate a curve. Do this next to a wall if you are new to this so you can reach out to steady yourself if necessary.
Start with both feet side by side and the knee of the dome foot bent. Press down through that leg into the dome, straightening the knee, activating your side hip muscles and float the floor foot up. Your ankles will probably work a little harder as the foot rocks over the surface of the dome. You can also list on a folded blanket, sand (if you are near a beach), or any surface that isn’t flat, hard and level. This exercise helps you to find balance in many situations when walking on surfaces that aren’t as predictable as your floor.
Day 6 - Shoulder Flexion
Start in a basic stance position with the ribs down to neutral (no chest up, shoulders back here please!) Holding the dome lightly between your hands, slowly raise the arms forward. This exercise benefits from an 18” dome and most are 12” so keep this in mind if you are very broad or have tight shoulders. It’s helpful to watch yourself from the side in a mirror. As your arms get to about shoulder height, watch the curve of your upper back closely; it’s very common to get the arms overhead by moving the spine and not the shoulders! Try it a few times, and try to keep the spine and abs relaxed (you aren’t holding the ribs down forcefully - the shoulders should just glide easily). Don’t be surprised if your arms don’t go straight overhead with the ribs down; just lower and lift several times in your correct range of motion, moving the shoulder joint alone. The half dome here keeps your arms in the sagittal plane (ie it doesn’t allow them to widen as they go upwards, which is another compensation for tight shoulders). You won’t find a solution to tight shoulders by using these common “cheats.” Repeat often!
Day 7 - Level Up your List (Flat Side)
Back to the List, this time place the foot on the dome lengthwise, but on the flat side, with the round side down. If you aren’t sure, do this next to a wall or something to reach out to steady yourself. Centre your foot and stand with both feet side by side, press down into the foot on the dome, activating the lateral hip muscles, and float the floor foot up. Try not to stiffen up - keep yourself loose and let the rocking motion of the dome provide opportunities for your body to find centre and still the dome under your foot. Some dome brands are firmer than others, and if you have a soft dome that flattens under your foot this will be easier. A dense dome will make it more difficult, so if that’s the case, place the dome on a folded blanket if necessary to dampen some of the rocking motion.
Day 8 - Shoulder Extension with Press
Take the dome between your palms again, but this time behind you. Hold it lightly, lengthen your elbows, reach your fingers back and start to press your hands into the ends of the dome, gradually increasing the pressure to your maximum comfortable ability. Imagine squeezing from your upper arm, like you are holding a clutch purse there. This is surprisingly hard, especially if you have a shorter 12” dome. Try it with an 18” one if you can find one (or cut a 36” dome in half). Hold for a few seconds, release and repeat several times. You can alternate with the Shoulder Flexion one from two days ago.
Day 9 - Shoulder Extension Raise
From yesterday’s exercise, release the pressure on the dome and hold it lightly. Then slowly take your arms up and away from your backside. Lift them as high as you can without changing the shape of your upper body, only shoulder movement. Keeps the elbows soft but not bent and try not to let them fall outward. The shoulder blades will not be 100% still, but nor do you deliberately squeeze them together. Lower and lift several times. This can be quite fatiguing for the shoulders and neck so when you have done enough, lower the dome and let your arms hang down and your head drop forward towards your chest for a few breaths.
Day 10 - Floor Bolster - Supine
Not many people think of the floor as a piece of exercise equipment - but it is! And surprisingly many of us need to modify the floor to be able to lie on it without tension and compression in many of our parts. Short, tight hips and spinal muscles can make lying on the floor uncomfortable for the neck, mid and lower back especially (see page 2 for examples). This isn’t just about comfort though - if you are in a less than optimal position, the exercises you are doing won’t be effective and can even exacerbate the situation. Start with the half dome flat side down under the shoulder girdle and a block/cushion or folded bath towel under the head. You may need more than this if your bottom ribs are still sticking up above the level of your pelvis.
This is a great position for Twist or Strap Stretch. Or you can just hang out and relax here. Try it on the reformer if you do Pilates, or for your Yoga Savasana.
Day 11 - Rib Mobility
Using a soft squishy ball is great on the ribs, especially if you are sensitive or just starting out. But bones like pressure, and a half dome is an obvious next step. Lie sideways and place the dome under the ribs like a speed bump in several places from the arm pit to the bottom ribs. Hold each position for 3-5 breaths. Of course, this is not recommended if you have osteoporosis - otherwise ribs should be springy and flexible and this can help them stay that way. Unlike something like an arc barrel, this concentrates the pressure on a few ribs and asks them to displace as the ones above/below expand and move out as you breathe. I love mobilising the thoracic spine/ribs this and other ways. The mobility of the thoracic spine and my journey out of hyperkyphosis is probably the most rewarding thing I've done in the past 5 years and it makes me feel younger than my 61.5 years.
Similar to yesterday’s exercise, this uses the half dome on the ribs and spine from the bottom ribs to the shoulders. If you find it hard to breath when resting on the dome, start with something softer like a rolled up mat or towel. The idea is to use the abdominal muscles to bring the ribs down to neutral lifting the head and shoulders. (It’s an ab exercise but not an ab curl!) Use a block under the head to release to between lifts so the neck gets a rest. The neck should stay long and if that’s difficult, place one hand under the head as you bring the ribs down.
Bring the ribs down, lifting the head, take a few breaths and then lower the head to the block and move the dome up a few ribs to repeat. I like to do this in at least four spots on the thoracic spine (rib cage).
Day 13 - Floor Bolster - Prone
Just as lying face up on the floor can expose muscle tension, if you have tight hip flexors and a rib thrust, lying prone can put uncomfortable compression in the lower back. Try lying face down flat on the floor for a few minutes and see how it feels. Now pop that half dome (or a rolled mat/blanket if you are sensitive) under the bottom ribs, just below the bra strap area. Stay here and take several breaths. The dome prevents expansion to the front and the breath will be able to fill the back body and increase the spaces between the ribs in the back where they attach to the spine, encouraging joint movement. So ironically, this is a more efficient mobilizer for hyperkyphosis than a back bend (or is a great place to do a small back bend from). Use a folded blanket under the pelvis to accommodate tight hip flexors. Teacher tip: if you or your clients have large breasts, I’ve heard this bolstering can be very helpful for prone exercises.
Day 14 - Neutral Spine
Over a lifetime or over a day, sitting time can add up. Chairs are an established part of our culture and impossible to avoid. Cars, busses, trains, theatres, restaurants - it would be impossible to sit on the floor in these places. Even if you can work from home in a variety of positions, many people have a traditional office and zoom calls to make and sitting in chairs is a reality for part or most of their day. In that case, I suggest sitting differently. There is nothing wrong with positions that the spine can make, but not if we spend 100% of our chair sitting time in one position. Tissues love variety.
Take your Half Dome and place it flat side up under your sit bones, rather closer to the front edge than the middle. Tip the pelvis forward so that the front of your pelvis drops down and the lower back will move forward. This is closer to a neutral spine. Keep in mind, Neutral does not = BEST. It’s just not flexed and not extended. It’s ground zero for spinal movement (clue!). Drop the ribs, ramp the head. If you spend a lot of time in a post tilted spine, this is going to be a nice change. Works best on a flat chair that isn’t sloped, so if your chair slopes down at the back, fold up a blanket and do your best to level it.
Day 15 - Seated Cogs
Remember the clue from yesterday? From that Neutral Spine position, rocking chair the bolster under you, keeping the head and eyes level. This will create an undulation through the spine. Move back and forth. I call this movement Cogs as each of the body masses (pelvis/ribcage/head) move in opposition like the cogs in the back of a watch. Just because you are stuck in one place (ie your office chair) doesn’t mean you can’t move parts of you, and this moves many parts. Start with small movements and increase as you feel comfortable.
Day 16 - Click Clack
Sort of like Cogs, but not exactly. In this version, we lean back at arms’ length and move the hips/pelvis and lower back and the main driver is the legs! Place your half dome on the floor flat side up and sit on the top with the sit bones slightly closer to the front edge. Hold onto the top of your shins with your hands and lean back. Your fingers have to grip to maintain their hold (finger strength is a bonus benefit). Keeping the arms straight, dig your heels into the mat as if to drag them towards you. This will generate an anterior tilted pelvis. Now push the toes away and the pelvis will tilt back into a posterior tilt. This move uses the legs to move the pelvis and spine and is a good isometric knee exercise too. Keep the ribcage and chest relatively still and move the pelvis under it. The ability to move the pelvis relative to the ribcage is a great skill to cultivate.
Day 17 - Lunge Prop for balance
Sometimes you need a bit more confidence for balancing poses, but not something so solid that you aren’t working at it. For positions like the Lunge, having a prop to the side of the front leg allows you to jiggle the pelvic position - the tendency is to lean the hip out over the kneeling leg, and so shifting the pelvis to the side where you have no leg under the pelvis can benefit from having a “post.” For standing poses, the 12 or 18 inch half dome allows you to have that extra help without stacking blocks. (ps I bought my half domes as 18” but they are hard to find. You can find 3 foot long ones easily and cut them in half. Then you can take one of those 18” long pieces and cut a 6 and 12 inch piece, one for a second room like the kitchen or bathroom where you stand a lot, and the smaller for your desk or when you travel).
Day 18 - Lunge with Half Dome under knee
If you have sensitive knees or kneecaps, having a half dome under the kneeling leg can be a big help. The pressure can be on the tibial tubercle (that bump at the top of the shin) or even the patellar tendon between the kneecap and the shinbone (I really like the feeling of pressure here). Caution is required if you have a firm dense foam. The shape of the dome is perfect for this purpose, unlike a flat soft surface like a folded blanket, so if you have a harder dome, try a rolled blanket instead.
Day 19 - Lunge to Stand
Using the dome in the same position as yesterday (and there’s a good chance you’ll need more height than this to start), stand up from the lunge keeping the trunk as vertical as possible. Chances are you will want to lean your trunk forward and use the front leg predominantly. See if you can keep the line from the kneeling knee to the head straight over the dome! If the answer is no, try bolstering higher and work your way down to the dome (or the floor) as your strength improves.
Day 20 - Quadruped with Knees Bolstered
Although the benefit of knee comfort remains, the purpose of using the dome here is different. When you are on all fours and you bring the bottom of the rib cage to neutral, it essentially brings your upper body forward (think of what ribs down looks like standing). See the inset photo for an example of how far forward the hands end up when the ribs are neutral. Because the floor does not allow your arms to be longer than the thigh bone, it ends up creating compression in the spine! Lifting the knees up allows you to have neutral spine (ribs down) for all your quadruped exercises without this compromise. Rhomboid Push Up, Bird Dog, Rocking, Squat Preps - try them all with this variation!
ps depending on the amount hyperkyphosis you may need more than a half dome to start. Thoracic mobility (see day 12) will help decrease the need for the bolster eventually.
Day 21 - Squat with prop under heels
If you cannot land your heels in a deep resting squat, or if (like me) you can but it results in a “plumber’s butt,” try popping a half dome under the heels, essentially taking your squat “downhill” which allows you to have a better upper body position, keep your pants up, and be able to rest here longer without having to balance on your toes. Try it in a Down Dog, allowing the heels to ground and not forcing the ankles into a deeper dorsiflexion that often requires internal rotation of the entire leg.
Day 22 - Dome under the sacrum
For exercises where the hamstrings are a barrier to get the legs to 90 degrees, the hip flexors are forced to work extra hard to keep the legs up which is tiring, or the knees have to be bent, which is not ideal for this exercise where the hips are rotating. Pop that dome under the sacrum closer to the tailbone end, and let the top of the pelvis hang back towards the ground. You are essentially lying downhill. This "borrows” some movement from the spine and lends it to the hips so you can have a greater chance at getting straight knees and legs to 90. (You can also do this with the heels against a wall if the hips are still on fire.)
Day 23 - Prone passive hip extension
Place the half dome flat side up under the top of your pelvis; the ASIS bones should land about middle of the top surface area of the dome, so the top part of the dome will be in stomach tissue (which can sometimes be uncomfortable - if it’s unbearable, use a rolled mat or towel instead). The bottom half of the pelvis is hanging off the dome, and sometimes the pubic bone can get to the floor, but don’t worry if it doesn’t. Allow gravity to load and passively (ie, without muscle action) lengthen those hip flexors! This is one of the exercises that I call *doing nothing is doing something.* Spend a few minutes a day here, it’s okay if you want to scroll or read or rest. Try putting a folded blanket under the bottom ribs as well. You’ll know you are on the right track if the dome is sloping downwards as seen from the side.
Day 24 - Supine Passive Hip Extension
The last exercise is a rest position, which you have earned. Place the dome under the pelvis, closer to the tailbone than the top of the pelvis, and rest with the knees bent. If you like you can loop a yoga strap around your thighs so you don’t have to hold them to keep them from falling apart. This is a baby inversion, which is lovely for your pelvic floor and abdominal organs and is a great place to rest for five minutes. Allow the pelvis to drop back so the lower back is closer to the floor. This is not a big stretch - it’s a gentle positioning. Let gravity do its thing. You can increase bolster height as your body adapts to more hip range of motion. But starting small is the key to that adaptation!