Swimmers, wight-lifters, cross fitters and more – you need full overhead shoulder range to prevent injury and perform well – but how do you know if your shoulder mobility is up to scratch?
Do this easy test to see whet your overhead shoulder mobility is like!
All you need to do is lie on a bench, bed or table with your owns straight out in front (why it is often known as the superman test).
Action: Keeping your head down the entire time, raise both arms up as high as you can.
Now, you will need either a camera or someone else watching as you wont be able to see.
Pass or Fail?
For optimal range your arms need to be at least horizontal – See the photo above, the long red line is the horizon line and the other is the arm line. In this example, this is roughly negative 20 degrees of overhead range. This is a fail!
Shoulder stretching is an essential part of gaining a Pain-free, functional and strong shoulder. Whether you have had shoulder injury in the past, have tight shoulders due to poor work posture or you just want to have full range for an overhead squat – then these shoulder stretches and for you – all of you!
(Skip down the page if you want to get straight to the Shoulder Stretches!)
Following injury: regaining flexibility and range in the joints and soft tissues is an important aspect to the rehab process and if not addressed, you can develop other, secondary injuries such as sub-acromial impingement, postural dysfunction and any number of neck problems.
Poor posture: In today’s world, too many of us have sedentary jobs which require a lot of time sitting at a desk or behind the wheel. This leads tightness in muscles the pull your shoulders forward (namely your Pecs and Upper Traps) and weakness in muscles that hold your shoulder in a good, functional position (lower traps, Serratus ant etc). This is explained well by the Jandas Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Overhead squat and shoulder range: To hold a barbell overhead and squat down we need great mobility around the shoulder and hip to do this safely. The main muscle that affects this is the Lat (along with your Glutes and Thoracic extension) as the come all the way from your pelvis to your shoulder.
Ideally you should do these everyday – You can water it down and do it less often but you will not get thew best result and it will take longer.
1. Posterior capsule stretch:
Action: Pull your arm across your body.
Hold for 1 Minute.
2. Triceps and inferior capsule:
Action: gripping the elbow as shown, pull back and across.
Hold for 1 minute.
Tip: bend upper body away from side being stretched.
3. Sleeper stretch:
Lye on your shoulder with your arm in front of you and your elbow bent to 90 degrees. using your free arm, grip your wrist and rotate it down towards your feet until you feel a moderate stretch.
Hold for 1 minute
4. Streamline stretch:
This is a great stretch as it stretches, Pecs , Lats and thoracic spine.
No balls – You do not have to use a Swiss/Physio ball – I use the back of my couch.
Action: when on your knee place both arms on the surface and relax your shoulder and upper back down. you can adjust the force that goes through your shoulders by moving your knees further away or closer.
Hold for 1 minute.
TIP: to get more of a tricep stretch place your hands behind your neck with elbows on the ball/couch!
5: Lat Band Stretch:
The best way I have found for stretching Lats is using a band (a technique picked up from Crossfit) – now you can use a proper exercise band or a simple belt (yes one of the ones that holds your pants up) at home. Below is a nice simple video on how to do it:
The key to many neck and shoulder injuries, your thorax needs to be mobile and in control, otherwise everything working off it… eventually feels the hurt.
Thoracic mobility is one of the most overlooked aspects of injury prevention and although this part of your spine doesn’t have as much movement as above and below it, it is very important none the less and here are a quick few reasons:
1. A stiff or weak upper spine means other areas have to compensate and move MORE, leading to shoulder, neck and low back injuries and pain.
2. Because your ribs attach to the thoracic spine, if the spine is stiff, locked up or just not moving correctly then the ribs are not going to move optimally when you breathe – leading to a lower breathing capacity and less basal lung expansion (the most important area of the lung).
3. If you work at a desk or live on the couch, your thoracic spine ends up hunched over, your pecs get tight and you just feel stuck – this makes your shoulders sit forward, increasing the risk of sub-acromial pain and makes your head stick forward = causing headaches and neck pain.
So, to get you to 100% here is an exercise to improve thoracic mobility and improve every aspect of your movement – and it just takes 5 minutes!
Thoracic extensions: Mobilising into extension is my a definite go to exercise for all shoulder and spinal/back pain as this unloads all those areas. Extension in the thoracic spine is coupled with rotation, so if you gain extension, you also gain rotation!
Tools needed: There are specific tools that you can use such as Foam Roller and 1/2 foam rolls (my favorite), but if this is too much for the budget then you can roll up a towel very, very firmly and tape it up.
Position: Lying on your back place the roll under your upper back, starting above the curve of your low back. With your knees bent up and feet planted on the ground bring your arms all the ways up above your head so that you stretch your upper body right out and then bring then down to your side (like a big snow angel).
Bridging your bottom off the ground can add to the stretch!
Reps and sets: You will need to move the roll up your back to get the different levels. Spend 30 seconds on each level, extending your arms above your head towards the ground and then down to your side repeated.
Do this exercise daily and you will see a great improvement in not only thoracic mobility but in all aspects of your life including, from overhead gym work and your golf swing to looking over your shoulder when driving.
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