Shoulder injuries that lead to pain with overhead movements need to be corrected and then correct overhead biomechanics need to be engrained in order to remain pain free and build shoulder strength.
In order for your shoulder to function optimally, you need good thoracic (upper back) mobility. Too many people have poor upper thoracic mobility — tightness in the area between your shoulder blades — due to spending many hours at the computer, poor posture, not being active enough, etc. This can lead to problems in shoulder joints, rotator cuff issues and bursitis
We all need good extension through our upper backs in order to complete overhead movements without compromising shoulder joints. In order to improve your upper back mobility, here are a few exercises that can be done at home on a daily basis.
Foam Roller Extension
This will help improve your thoracic mobility into extension. If you're fortunate enough to have a foam roller at home or access to one in the gym, try this...
Sit comfortably with knees bent and bottom on the floor. Place foam roller below shoulder blades, hands behind head.
Keeping your bottom in contact with the floor, slowly breathe out and let your back gently extend over the foam roller. Hold for a count of 3-5 seconds and slowly rise back up to start position.
Repeat this twice and then gently roll the foam roller an inch further up the spine, repeating the extension movement twice. Keep inching the roller up the spine until you've reached the top of your shoulder blades.
Side Lying Thoracic Opener
This will help improve your thoracic mobility into rotation...
Lie on your side with your head supported and bend your knee to 90 degrees before resting it on a foam roller or firm pillow (this protects your lower back). Keep arms outstretched and hands stacked on top of each other.
Start to raise the top hand up and slowly bring it over to the other side of your body, letting your eyes follow that hand all the way, until you can't go further. Make sure your knee stays in contact with the foam roller/pillow and your resting shoulder in contact with the mat, otherwise you've gone too far.
Ensure you can still breathe comfortably and hold for 3-4 breaths, return hand to start position and repeat. Do this 10 times on each side. You'll find that by the last few reps, you'll be able to reach further than the start.
Only attempt this if you have relatively good shoulder and core strength. This is a good follow on exercise for pain free shoulders that require strength building.
In a standard plank position, make sure your hands are inline with shoulders. Spine (including neck) should be neutral and bum tucked under to engage the glutes, feet just wider than shoulder width apart.
Gently push one hand into the floor, keeping the body aligned and raise the other hand off to rotate around and reach up to the ceiling. Shoulders should be stacked (wrist, shoulder, opposite shoulder and opposite wrist all in one line) and no sagging at the hips.
Your eyes should follow the moving hand at all times. Return to start position and rotate with the opposite arm. Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
Give these a try and let me know how you go!...
Hanging is a great way to achieve healthy shoulders, I've noticed a massive improvement in my own shoulder/neck region where I have a history of injury. Over the past few months I have incorporated a mixture of passive; active and dynamic hanging into my training along with spending a lot more time on the rings working pullups; front & back lever regressions and lat activations. Not only has my once often rigid neck/shoulder region softened up but my grip strength has become symmetrical and increased in strength. My grip strength used to be about 36kg on my Right and 32kg on my Left (side of old injury and non-dominant side) and now is an equal 40kg each side.
You don't always have to do endless amounts of traditional external and internal rotator resisted exercises to achieve strong shoulders...in fact, if this is all you are doing you may need to find yourself another practitioner. Your shoulders need to be ready for life and in life we move in many ways and put our shoulders under all sorts of stresses and loads. You need to ensure you have optimum mobility and back this up with a good foundation of reactive stability in order to keep your shoulders healthy in the long term.
My training has also included plenty handstand practice (working my line against the wall); Turkish Get Ups - these too have improved massively, 6 months ago 8kg was the max I felt comfortable with on my Left and now I am an equal 14kg for at least 1-2reps comfortably and the Left feels just as strong as the RIght. Various other cable & kettlebell stabilisation and strength exercises have also formed part of my training.
For a more in depth read about hanging click on this link to Ido Portal's blog on hanging.
Of course, if you have a shoulder injury or have limitations in your shoulders please get assessed first before jumping into anything new.
I love nothing more than when a client has a lightbulb moment. I live for these moments! Here is one from yesterday:
Client: “I’m not sure if it was right but when I was carrying my shopping home yesterday I tried to focus on keeping my shoulder drawn back and down and gently squeezing my arm to my side like we have been doing in the exercise you get me to do. I noticed that my shoulder that usually aches a lot after my shopping trip was fine yesterday and thought I’d ask if I was doing the right thing?”
Me: “Hell yeah, you were doing the right thing! That’s what I like to call body awareness, AKA progress! That is EXACTLY what you should be doing every time you carry anything.”
Client: “Ah, I thought it must have been right as my shoulder didn’t hurt”.
The scenario ended with a HIGH 5! ☺
When we make our bodies more aware of good movement patterns and enforce it as a habit that is where CHANGE occurs! Those “AHA” moments are way more effective if the client is taught the biomechanics of a movement, along with the FEEL of it. These movement patterns are then trained and re-inforced in session. When this translates to their lives and they begin to make connections between WHY we are doing what we are in the gym and how it translates to their lives it is hugely empowering for each individual. It doesn’t always make sense when explained during sessions until the connection is made outside of the gym through body awareness.
I always try and train my clients for LIFE, to prepare them for whatever life throws at them and in order for them to achieve functional and pain free lives. Everything we do in-session has a purpose and a direct translation to their necessary function through life, whether it be through sport; certain hobbies; achieving basic pain free functional movement patterns or just being ready for the unpredictable!