The shoulder. Often problematic. Often neglected and often misunderstood. The shoulder, or glenohumeral joint is responsible for most of the complex movement in the upper extremity. Imagine the stressors that get placed through the shoulders of a Major League pitcher versus a rock climber versus an Olympic weightlifter. All require high degrees of 1) mobility, 2) stability and 3) strength/power. That’s a lot to ask for one joint complex. The glenohumeral (GH) joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body. Because of its high degree of mobility, it has a low degree of STABILITY. If you are an active individual and don’t account for this inherent instability roadblock in your training, you will likely run into injury territory.
The key to bulletproof shoulders is simple. First, address your rate-limiting factors, ie. find what is tight and limiting your shoulder ranges of motion and get them moving. More often than not, the cast of characters involved is pretty short. The Upper Trapezius, Levator Scapulae and Latissimus Dorsi. Don’t worry, these are highlighted below.
These can be loosened up in a variety of ways with your foam roller and lacrosse ball.
1) The lats are one of the largest muscles in the human body. They originate from the fascia of the lower back and wrap around the armpit to insert into the arm. If you are active, especially in resistance training, these will likely be tight and limit your ability to get your arms above your head. Fighting against tight lats forces the muscles of your upper back and shoulders to fight an uphill battle to perform any overhead work. In the video here, our friend and colleague, Dr. Clay Sankey of TruMotion Therapy demonstrates a very effective way to open up the lats with a foam roller and resistance band for traction.
2) “I carry all my stress and tension in my neck”. If I had a dime for every time I heard this, I would have a lot of dimes. The upper traps and levator scapulae are some of the most common areas of trigger point activity. Tension here affects the mobility of the neck, shoulders and upper back. Get this area moving with this video demonstrating a windmill drill with your lacrosse ball.
3) Now that you have the range of motion library to accommodate healthy movement, it’s time to load proper movement patterns. My personal favorite is the bottoms up kettlebell press demonstrated in the video above. I prefer this exercise because it challenges full shoulder range of motion while demanding near perfect form and minimal need for outside cueing. It’s a very intuitive exercise with simple equipment.
This is NOT an exercise to max out on. It requires a high degree of stability and control. High repetitions, around 20-30 with low weight should be prioritized. Rule of thumb: if it hurts, you’re probably not doing it right. If this exercise causes you shoulder pain, seek first to optimize your technique with a lower weight. If that doesn’t help, you may need to consult with an expert. It’s an exercise that is almost impossible to cheat your way through without immediate negative feedback and is a great primer for almost all upper extremity activities. If you or someone you know has been dealing with shoulder pain, these two concepts may be the ticket back to pain-free living!
Content provided by Dr. Tyler Crooks