The shoulder is the most dynamic joint in the body and has an incredible amount of mobility which is great for doing athletic movements like throwing a ball or serving in tennis, but this incredible mobility comes at a price, a lack of stability. When at the shoulder you have to look at it as an entire complex of four different things. Really five if we consider the pelvis.
When you talk about the shoulder you have to look at all four of these joints and also not ignore the role of the pelvis and legs are playing in the standing position for if the base is unstable so is the roof! To keep this article short we are not going to look at the pelvis and legs but just keep this in mind as something to consider. And always remember we need mobility as much as stability. Before we can train stability we need to be certain the structures that need mobility are able to do so.
Without adequate thoracic extension and mobility you will never be able to achieve stability of the scapula or shoulder joint itself. This should be your first thing to look at. If you look at the picture to the right this is a very common posture seen today from sitting too much behind computers and poor postural awareness. This forces the shoulder joint itself forward of its optimal alignment and disrupts the timing and stability of the scapula needed when we lift our arm for movement. This posture creates stiffness that sees a loss of extension and rotation around this thoracic region that in turn creates pain and dysfunction in other areas. Correcting this must be your first call.
Using a small foam roller or a small towel rolled up under your back is great for encouraging thoracic extension. Gently drape your upper back over the roller and hold for 30 seconds breathing very comfortably. Click here to see a video of how to do this.
This second exercise works on the rotation mobility of the thoracic region. Click here to see a video of how to do this.
“The scapula is very unique in that it needs lots of mobility, but not too much, for it also needs stability, but not too much!”
The muscles in this area that focus on controlled mobility of the scapula include the trapezius, and very much the lower trapezius muscle. Another really important muscle for us when we look at the shoulder is the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior along with the lower traps as you will see soon are such important muscles because it is what keeps the scapula attached to the thorax and in optimal alignment.
Last but not least is the rotator cuff. These small stabilizer muscles work together to externally rotate and internally rotate the shoulder but they are very important in keeping the humeral head stable and centred within the joint. If we lose that stability, we get some extra mobility of the humeral head within the joint, and that begins to pinch some of the structures around it.
Before getting into the stability exercises for the scapula there are 3 key secrets pivotal to healthy shoulder function and they are:
We have already given something for the thoracic region so now here are some simple drills for the scapula.
The following drills are aimed at the serratus anterior and lower traps to help teach your body how to keep the scapula attached to the thorax and in optimal alignment while the arms move overhead. I have given you the instructions and pictures of two of our best drills to use to help these muscles work together but I suggest to click the links to watch the videos and see them in action.
This is a great way to learn how to retrain stability and control of the scapula. Click here to see the video of how to do this.
Repeat and perform 6-10 reps
Another version of the wall slide and this time we introduce the pushing pattern by using a foam roller. To be able to keep the foam roller from falling to the floor you must apply some pressure via use of a pushing movement. It is in this pushing action that the serratus anterior can be activated and again assist in retraining the optimal movement of upward rotation of the scapula. Don’t be frustrated if it takes you a while to get these right. And make sure you do not force things and use your breathing to encourage smooth fluent movement.
The next two exercises are progressions of stability and require much more coordination and can be easily converted into strength training once you master the technique.
All cable exercises are excellent in achieving both posterior tilt and upward rotation. Whereas dumbbells and barbells work via gravity trying to force the weight to the ground, cables we can manipulate the angle of resistance to assist activation of various muscles and posture. If you don’t have a cable machine, rubber tubing works great witht this as well. And this exercise is a classic for doing everything just stated. I also prefer this exercise to be used first as it is unilateral and allows more rotation of the thoracic spine instead of potentially locking the upper back up and creating more stiffness! Click here to see the video.
This would be the best of all the exercises we are going to show you in this article! It is that good. This one movement puts into practice all of the things we have spoken about already. The only thing it lacks is a fast and powerful ability that we will cover in the last phase. I like to think of it as the “swiss army knife” of exercise. It is also for this reason that it can be hard to learn, but the effort is well worth it for here is a list of the benefits to your body from the Turkish Get Up.
Click here to see the video.
Shoulder injuries and neck injuries are without a doubt the most complex and difficult to work with as there is just so many potential problems surrounding them. The first thing people think to do when they are injured is get some treatment, maybe massage and do some stretches. None of these things will address any stability problems or movement dysfunction that can only be corrected with exercise. This article gives you some ideas on how you can do this and go about achieving optimal stability of the shoulder and live a life pain free and without fear of injury or limited movement.
Nick Jack is a Rehabilitation trainer and Sports Conditioning Coach with over 12 years of experience in working with all types of injury and sporting athletes. He is based in Melbourne Victoria and runs a Personal Training Studio in Mitcham called No Regrets Personal Training. For more information go to his website: www.noregretspt.com.au