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Whether it’s due to pain or a decrease in performance, understanding shoulder mechanics can be a very complex enterprise. This four-part series will help you systematically break down and correct the main drivers of shoulder movement.
Part 1: Improving Thoracic Extension
In this first video, we are seeking to improve our thoracic spine’s ability to extend. We spend most of our day in a forward flexed position which can be the root cause of our shoulder pain. When our thoracic spine stays flexed, it begins to have a downstream effect on the functions of other parts of the shoulder.
Our first step in addressing shoulder pain will be with the static child’s pose with a dowel. For this movement, you will need a dowel and a bench. From a kneeling position, place the dowel in your hands with your palms toward the ceiling and arms at shoulder width apart. Place your elbows at the edge of the bench and walk your knees back so they are under your hips. From there, the goal is to drop your head below the plane of the bench while simultaneously flexing your elbows—think about squeezing your shoulder blades together and dropping your sternum to the floor.
To ensure that you are improving the thoracic spine’s range of motion and not the lumbar spine’s, keep the lower back in neutral for the duration of the stretch.
Part 2: Strengthen and Improve Scapular Retraction and Depression (1:15)
In the second part of this four-part series, we are going to go over the importance of training the muscles that retract and depress our shoulder. The high face pull is a great variation to load the lower trap muscles, which are going to help anchor our shoulder blades in a better position.
To perform this exercise, place a band or rope at shoulder height. From there, walk back until there is tension through your upper back, and your shoulders and scapula are flexed, adducted, internally rotated, protracted, and elevated. Then systematically begin to reverse each of those movements until you are in a loaded position of external rotation, extension, retraction, and depression.
Part 3: Stretching Muscles to Hold Shortened Position (2:30)
In the first two parts of this series, we worked on improving thoracic extension and scapular positioning in order to set the stage for balancing the glenohumeral joint, or the ball and socket of the shoulder.
The goal for this exercise will be to stretch the often unaddressed latissimus dorsi muscle, a major player in internal rotation of the shoulder. This underhand lat stretch is going to take the latissimus dorsi muscle to a full end range of motion in an attempt to offer some relief from its constant static position in the shoulder.
To perform this stretch you’ll need a horizontal bar, ideally around waist height. Begin by grabbing an underhand grip—this locks the shoulder into external rotation and will allow us to fully oppose the function of the lat. From here we are going to slowly and carefully sit back into the stretch and begin to rotate the pelvis away from the shoulder as we drop that hip toward the ground.
Static stretching is a very individualized process, but a common principle should be stretch to strain and not to pain.
Part 4: Bringing It All Together (4:27)
This last exercise of the four-part series ties together all of the previous exercises. Having worked on those, you should be adequately prepared to begin loading shoulder dominant movements.
The kettlebell bottom under press, a unique shoulder stability drill with a lot of moving parts, can be an awesome corrective exercise if you can get it right. It can also be a good screening tool for identifying potential shortcomings in some of the movement patterns that we’ve tried to correct in the first three videos of this series.
You will need a light kettlebell (KB) to perform this exercise. With the KB placed securely in one hand, position your feet shoulder width apart and raise the KB to your shoulder with your elbow tucked in. Begin to press the KB overhead while making sure to keep the elbow tucked in. This will force you to load more into the rotational plane of the shoulder and minimize the amount of abduction. Doing so makes you use more stability from the rotator cuff and less strength from the deltoid group.
As you complete the first half of the movement, make sure your palm is facing forward as the shoulder internally rotates. Then, as you begin the descent, tuck the elbow in first to externally rotate the shoulder, and align the wrist and elbow for the duration of the bottom half of the movement.