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Improve SHOULDER PERFORMANCE by prioritizing these 2 things

injury prevention mobility shoulder shouldermobility shoulderstrength Apr 07, 2024

Whether you are dealing with pesky shoulder problems that flare up every so often, loss of range of motion, or you are just looking to keep your shoulders healthy for all the things in the gym or life, there are two things that you should prioritize.

These are the two areas where I start with most of my performance training and physical therapy clients who are navigating shoulder dysfunction. 

1. Learn to move and control your shoulder blades

Your shoulder blades (formally know as scapulas) form the socket part of your shoulder joint. Their position will set the stage for how well your shoulder joint is able to perform. 

The shoulder blades have 2 jobs. First, they must be able to move freely along the ribcage to support shoulder joint movement. Second, they also require the ability to stabilize and anchor down when needed to increase stability in the shoulder. 

Your shoulder blades have 4 primary movements: 

1. Up (elevation)- This is like a shoulder shrug. This movement is necessary for the arm to move overhead and is combined some protraction and upward rotation for when we do things like overhead press. 

2. Down (depression)- Think shoulder blades tucking into back pockets. Scapular depression is needed for movements such as pull-ups where the shoulder blades will anchor down to create a stable base for the body to leverage a pull.

3. Back (retraction)- This is squeezing the shoulder blades together and this movement is necessary for rowing movements where we are pulling weight towards our body. 

4. Forward (protraction)- For this direction, shoulder blades glide forward along the side of your ribcage. This is the least trained direction but it is necessary for weightbearing movements such as planks or push-ups and then any pressing movement such as bench press, shoulder press etc... 

For healthy shoulder function, these scapular movements will combine together to allow movement of the shoulder socket as your arm moves in space. You need to the ability to move into and control all directions. 

A simple exercise that I like to use to begin to orient clients on shoulder blade control is an exercise called Scapular CARS. 


And when you are ready to progress your scapular CAR this weight-bearing version is to way to challenge your control. 


2. Maximize internal and external rotation of the shoulder joint (both mobility and strength)

Being a ball and socket joint- the shoulder should have tremendous rotational capacity. However, I find that dysfunctional shoulders often have a loss of shoulder rotation range of motion or they have poor control over their rotation (and sometimes it's both problems!)

When the shoulder joint loses its rotation range of motion, the joint capsule which is the deepest layer of tissue in the joint, starts to deteriorate. The receptors in your joint that communicate with your brain are located inside the capsule so when this deteriorate, it means that the brain isn't receiving as much information about the joint as it should. This is a recipe for injury and declining function. 

When there is a range of motion loss, we want to do some passive stretching followed by isometrics on either side of the joint called PAILS and RAILS. This is a tutorial that shows you how to improve internal rotation. 

In addition to improving shoulder internal and external rotation range of motion, we also want to make sure we have good control over those movements and that they are progressively strength trained. 

Rotational hovers are an exercise that I like to use to improve rotational control in various ranges. The goal is to lock down other parts of the body that can compensate shoulder movement so that we can isolate movement to just the shoulder joint. For this exercise you are going to pre-position yourself so that you are working rotational control at END RANGE.

Follow this tutorial below

And then finally, you want to make sure you are strength training the shoulder into rotation. 

This video shows an exercise that can be used to load the external rotators on the back side of the shoulder as you move into end range internal rotation. 


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