Stability Exercises For The Shoulder
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.
- Firstly the scapulothoracic joint and how the shoulder blade relates to the thoracic spine.
- Secondly the glenohumeral joint, which is how the humerus and the humeral head of the shoulder interact with the scapula.
- Third the AC joint,
- And last the SC joint, which is at the front.
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.
Thoracic Extension & Mobility
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.
Two Simple Exercises To Correct Thoracic Dysfunction
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.
- Sitting on the floor with your butt on your heels and one forearm on the floor
- Place the other hand behind your head
- Now try to rotate around as far as you can without your butt lifting off your heels
- Make a note of any difference between left and right and do 5-10 continuous reps slowly. Do both of these drills every day and after any long periods of sitting.
Scapula Mobility & Stability
“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:
- Optimal Thoracic extension and mobility
- Posterior tilt of the scapula
- Upward rotation of the scapula
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.
Lower Trapezius Wall Slides
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.
- Start with your arms against the wall as if in a plank position standing up.
- Position your arms so that you are in a V angle. This encourages greater activation of the lower trapezius muscle.
- Position your scapula in perfect alignment and begin to slowly slide your arms up the wall
- The key to this exercise is to feel your scapula wrap around you as your arms lift up without losing your posture and posterior tilt of the scapula.
- You may feel you need to step into the wall as your arms slide up which is fine
- Lastly make sure you can control the movement on the way back down as this is where most people will lose form.
Repeat and perform 6-10 reps
Serratus Anterior Wall Slide
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.
- Stand with your hands against the foam roller that is against the wall
- Set your posture as per previous wall slide exercises
- Gently push your arms into the foam roller and begin to slide your arms overhead
- Make sure you feel the scapula wrap around as you lift your arms up
- Slowly lower your arms making sure not to lose your posture on the way down
- Sets / Reps: Perform 6-10 reps slowly with good form
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.
Single Cable Pull With Weight Shift
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.
- Standing in a split stance knees bent feet a comfortable distance apart leaning forward with 70 percent of your weight on your front foot feet a comfortable width apart.
- Draw your belly button inwards initiate the movement with your trunk simultaneously pulling the cable handle towards your shoulder and rotating your trunk in the same direction. Allow your pelvis to rotate naturally transferring the weight from your front foot to your back foot as you shift through the movement.
- Reverse the motion until you reach the start position.
- Sets / Reps: 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps with slow tempo.
The Turkish Get Up
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.
- Greatly improves shoulder stability and thoracic mobility at the same time!
- Improves overall body stability and integration between upper and lower body
- Promotes reflexive stability of the torso
- Encourages great mobility of the hips and thoracic spine, the two areas most people are lacking
- Improves the body’s ability to coordinate and enhance balance from lying to standing
- Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and glute strength
Click here to see the video.
- Lying on your back on the floor holding a single kettlebell at arm’s length above your shoulder.
- Drawing your belly button inwards perform a sit up whilst holding the dumbbell overhead using your opposite arm for assistance.
- From the sitting position bend one knee and place your foot on the floor whilst tucking the opposite leg behind your knee.
- Push off your leg to rise to standing.
- Reverse the movements lowering under control then repeat
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.
About The Author
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
Hi, I’m Michael; Chiropractor, Dad, science enthusiast, active weightlifter and keen sportsman. I work with busy and active people who are struggling with pain to find relief from their symptoms so that they can return to an active lifestyle, get through their work day and their workouts without having to pop a pill so that they can feel happier and healthier in their body.