shallow focus photo of man stretching

4 BETTER MOVEMENTS FOR YOUR SHOULDER HEALTH

Have you ever had shoulder pain? 

How about tightness or lack of mobility?

I know I have been there, and it’s not fun. 

Back when I knew nothing about proper programming, or the body in general, I hurt my shoulder from bench pressing. 

This injury could have been prevented. 

How? 

Well first thing is better programming. 

Second I could have paid attention to my mobility of the upper back and shoulder joint, and the stability of my shoulder blades. 

I know, mobility work is not sexy. It’s not exciting or impressive. 

The truth is, sexy is not what keeps you healthy. 

It’s the boring stuff that no one wants to do. 

I want to point out that I am not a doctor, so this is not medical advice. The tips I am going to give are for tightness. These tips can reduce your risk of injury but not prevent it. If you do have pain, be cautious and I would advise seeing movement specialists like a physical therapist. 

What I can do is help you move and feel better and not be so tight.  

I was there, having tight shoulders made everything feel harder to do, even sleeping. 

With this article, I want to give some insight on what you can do to help keep your shoulders feeling good, and performing better. 

So here are 4 movements for you to try and incorporate into your warmups, and recovery days. 

1. THORACIC ROTATION

First movement I want to talk about is thoracic rotation. The thoracic spine, your upper back, is designed to rotate. 

The thoracic spine is responsible for 80% of trunk rotation. When this part of the body gets tight, the low back, shoulders, and neck have to compensate and work harder. 

In sports, it’s easy to see how the upper back should be rotating but it’s also very important in your day to day life. 

Great example is when you are in the car. You are driving and you have to rotate and  reach back to hand your kids a toy or drink. If you lack mobility in t-spine to perform this movement, you risk taking your eyes off the road to reach back. 

Or worse, your kids throw a tantrum because you could rotate and reach back. 

As you can see, it’s highly important to have the ability to rotate in the upper back. 

So how do you train for this? 

Mobility exercises are a great way to get started.  I will give you two different ones, one with no weight, and the other with weight. 

Try both and see how you feel. 

First of the rotation exercises is called a side-lying windmill. This exercise I have with most of my online clients. 

It’s a fantastic exercise to gain mobility for the thoracic spine, and help stretch the chest and shoulders. 

If you do a lot of sitting around, I highly recommend this exercise. 

Go and check out the video below on how to perform this exercise. 

The second exercise incorporates a kettlebell, and does multiple things, it’s called the kettlebell arm bar.  

This exercise can improve thoracic rotation, scapular stability, and shoulder mobility in the glenohumeral joint. 

I have this in the rotation category, but in reality it has multiple benefits. 

The load of the kettlebell is what makes this exercise so great. 

Mobility is more than stretching, it’s also a way to strengthen the joints and the surrounding tissues at the end range of motion. 

When you load a stretch with a weight, you are strengthening that end range of motion. 

Go and check out the video for instructions on how to perform this exercise. 

For both exercises you can do 1 set of 5 reps for each side. 

2. THORACIC EXTENSION

Extension of the thoracic spine is your second movement you need to incorporate.This is when your upper back extends back. 

Another way for you to visualize is think about puffing your chest out as much as you can while also bending backwards with just your upper back. 

If you sit at a desk most of the day because of work, you will feel really tight trying to extend your back. 

The lack of extension in your upper back can cause issues with your shoulders, neck, and even low back. 

Without proper extension of the upper back, you will also find a variety of exercises very difficult to do and potentially risk being injured. 

With proper warm up and training to have mobility in the upper back, you can avoid feeling tight in this region. 

A part of extension of the upper back also involves the shoulder blades. The upward rotation of the shoulder blade is highly underrated for shoulder health. 

More specifically, the serratus anterior, is a muscle that is weak for so many people. 

When I started to strengthen this muscle, it was a game changer on how my shoulders felt. 

It’s all about you moving and feeling better, so with that said here are some exercises to help with thoracic extension. 

Your first exercise is a bodyweight exercise that will do both extension and flexion of the spine. This exercise is known as the cat/cow, well known in yoga, but I like to introduce it in the beginning of the warmup to get some blood flow to the muscles of the spine. 

For this exercise, really pay attention to your breathing, and keeping tension in the core and glutes. 

Here is a video for you to view to get an idea on how it is performed. 

Go slow with these and perform 1 set of 10 reps. 

This next exercise involves weights, which will reinforce the extension of the upper back and shoulders, targeting the serratus anterior for strength. 

The nice part of this exercise, it feels like a stretch and strength exercise at same time. This exercise is the pullover. 

There are a few ways I like to do the pullover, one way is for strength and hypertrophy, and the other is for stability used as a warmup. 

The video below shows both, but what really helped my shoulders feel better was the bottom up kettlebell pullover. You have to go very light and slow and really pay attention to the shoulder blades. 

Start with a set of 15 reps on each side of the bottoms up pullover. 

For the regular pullover, I like higher reps as well for these, 3 sets of 15 reps. 

Give these exercises a try and notice how your shoulders feel. 

3. SCAPULAR STABILITY 

If you want to have healthy shoulders, you have to think about the functionality of your scapula, also known as shoulder blades. 

I am sure you have heard of your rotator cuff muscles before, but there’s more to it than that. 

The rotator cuff muscles consist of 4 different muscles wrapped around the shoulder blade and shoulder joints. Each one has a job to keep the joint aligned with the shoulder girdle, where the humerus goes into the socket of the shoulder. 

The primary job of these 4 muscles is to keep the humerus inside this socket. Stability is defined as being stable, or resisting unwanted movement. 

When you are at the gym, you can observe guys doing a lot of rotation work with bands. While it is important to strengthen these muscles, I would say it’s more important to focus on stability, specifically around the shoulder blades. 

I will provide an exercise for you that I like to incorporate in my warmups and recovery days, and that is  Y, W, T, I’s. 

The good thing about this exercise is that you can do this with bodyweight and with weights. 

I will warn you though, bodyweight alone is tough, especially if you are new to exercise. When you do use weight, I would start with 1 or 2lb weights. 

Go and watch the video below for the form and intention of this exercise. There are other ways to do this, and in this video it was bodyweight only. 

Start with 3 sets of 5 reps for each movement with a 3 second hold for each. Slowly increase the holding time and keep constant tension. 

4. SHOULDER ROTATION

Lastly, the shoulders should be rotating through its full range of motion for keeping them healthy. 

The shoulder joint is meant to rotate in all directions, and you need strength at the end range of motion to do this comfortably. 

There are many exercises that incorporate rotation in the shoulder joints, but one exercise comes to mind that does both internal and external rotation at the same time. 

That exercise is known as around the world or halo exercise. 

A kettlebell is the common tool for this exercise, and that is what you will see in the video below. 

But it can also be done with a sandbag, and if you have the opportunity to perform this exercise with a sandbag, I would prefer that. 

The sandbag just feels more natural in comparison to the kettlebell. 

Go and check out the video on how to do this exercise, it is also lowkey a core exercise, so double whammy for you. 

Pick a lightweight, and do 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each side. Take it slow and watch your breathing and posture. 

Overall these 4 movements for your shoulder health is what you should be doing in your routine. I gave some of my go to exercises within those movements,but If you find some exercises within those movements that you feel better with, I say go for it. Play with other exercises and see what works best for you. 

If you have any questions or need help with your routine on how to move and feel better, email me at cory@caruthersfitness.com

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