If you grew up in a cold climate, chances are you spent a few winters making angels in the snow. But did you know this childhood pastime could be flipped around and transformed into a movement that improves shoulder mobility, back strength, and posture?
Reverse snow angels are exactly what you would imagine they’d be: an exercise done lying on your stomach while moving your arms in a semicircular motion. While the standard variety is great for leaving your mark in a snowy backyard, reverse snow angels will challenge your rotator cuff muscles, posterior deltoids, upper and lower back, and even your glutes, core, and biceps. Even better, they don’t require any wintry precipitation to do — just a bit of floor space and a mat will suffice.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of my computer lately, and my posture has really started to suffer. I decided to try doing reverse snow angels every day for a full week to see if it would have any effect on my upper body mobility and strength.
Keep in mind, what works for me may not be the best choice for you — I generally recommend varying your workouts to include different exercises each day. If you’re just beginning a fitness regimen, consider meeting with a certified personal trainer to ensure good form and appropriate programming.
How to do a reverse snow angel
Roll out your mat while we review how to do a reverse snow angel correctly:
- Lie down on the mat in a prone position (on your stomach, face down) with your arms extended straight above your head. Your fingertips should reach toward the wall in front of you, with your thumbs aimed towards the ceiling.
- Engage your core and glutes, squeeze your inner thighs together, and slowly lift your head, shoulders, and chest off of the mat. Keep your chin slightly tucked and your eyes focused on the floor, a few inches ahead of you.
- Keeping your head, shoulders, and chest elevated off of the mat, slowly bring your arms from an overhead position towards your hips, making a semicircle with your arms on both sides of your body. Allow your shoulders to rotate naturally – your palms should face the floor as your arms begin to move, then face the ceiling when your arms have reached your hips.
- Return your arms to the overhead position with control.
- Continue for a set of 10-12 repetitions, or until you reach muscle fatigue.
As we mentioned, reverse snow angels are great for improving strength and mobility in your posterior chain (aka, the back of your body). However, if you’ve got any lower back conditions like slipped or bulging discs, performing the reverse snow angel can increase pain and other symptoms — especially if your form is off. Discuss the exercise with your medical team before hitting the mat.
I did a reverse snow angel every day for a week — here’s what happened
I shut down my laptop, cleared away some space on the floor, and aimed to do 3 sets of 10 reverse snow angels every day for seven days straight. Here’s what I observed:
It aggravated my lower back
I deal with some pretty nasty back pain thanks to genetic degenerative disc issues, so any type of spinal extension (or arching through the lower back) tends to produce significant discomfort.
Unfortunately, that was the case when I tried the reverse snow angel, especially in those first few days of the week. After day 1, I needed to go back to my physical therapy exercises to find a bit of relief. Because I was experiencing pain, I decided to drop my reps from 10 to 8, and my sets from 3 to 2.
I also reduced the amount of extension through my spine, and kept my head, shoulders, and chest a little closer to the floor. This seemed to do the trick, and by day 4 my back pain had subsided. By day 6, I was back to completing 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
I felt more stable when bench-pressing
I upped my bench press by a few pounds recently, which is always a plus. However, the downside to a heavier bench press is that it often coincides with some shoulder impingement on my right side. It’s minor and usually goes away, but still — any pain can be a sign of injury and faulty movement patterns.
This time though, I didn’t notice any of the telltale shoulder pain I usually get when going for a new personal record. In fact, my bench press felt more solid and stable than it had in a really long time. This alone was enough to justify keeping reverse snow angels in my warm-up for the long run.
My shoulders felt looser during barbell squats
For me, the hardest part of barbell squatting has never been my leg strength. Instead, it’s getting my arms in the right position to hold the barbell on my back — correct form requires enough mobility through the upper body so that you can hold onto the bar with a completely neutral wrist. It’s a lot more challenging than you’d think.
By the time I got to day 5, I found that my shoulders felt a lot looser when I got underneath the barbell to squat. My wrists still weren’t in a totally neutral position, but they were a lot closer to where they should be.
I noticed a change in my posture
Like anyone who spends a lot of time on computers and cell phones, my posture leaves a lot to be desired. Pair my days in front of screens with plenty of bench and overhead presses in the gym, and the result is shoulders that are rounded and consistently tight.
I’d been given the usual “I, T, Y” exercises by my physical therapist, but admittedly, my compliance hadn’t been great. Adding in a few sets of reverse snow angels every day really highlighted how badly my posture had deteriorated, and how much it could be improved. I could definitely tell the difference by day 7 – I was standing, walking, and sitting much taller and with more support than I had the previous week.
The verdict? While I may not do them every single day, I’m definitely going to keep reverse snow angels in my normal routine. Even though they aggravated my lower back at first, the improvements I saw in my range of motion and posture are reason enough to modify the exercise’s form and continue reaping the benefits.