In Part 1 of this series, we highlighted a simple self-test that sets a baseline for your shoulder health and mobility. This important test alerts you to any potential shoulder issues and suggests possible causes of movement restrictions. If the test gave you fits, read on to learn simple workout tweaks that can restore mobility to one of the most important areas of your body.
Several moving parts in the shoulder contribute to proper mobility. Making sure each part fits well with the others is imperative, since a defect in one area could produce more problems along the chain.
To improve shoulder mobility, you must first improve tissue quality in the major muscle groups of the upper body. Issues can be caused by hunching over your phone as you text, sitting slouched as you watch TV or overtraining the mirror muscles (guy in the cut-off sleeves, I'm talking to you!), resulting in "Upper-Crossed Syndrome."1 Basically, a muscular imbalance created by overly tight and short muscles in the chest and upper back prevent the neck stabilizers and mid-back muscles from properly balancing the aggressive pull from the front. The result is a rolled posture, with the shoulders hunched forward.
Myofascial release techniques, like foam rolling and massage, can reduce tightness and ease super stiff muscles in the chest and upper back. Once you've "kneaded the dough," you can stretch these muscles back to their original length. Read the myofascial release and stretching workout section below for specific methods.
The next step does not involve the shoulder, at least not directly. We are taking a detour to the thoracic spine, where the ribs attach. While other parts of the spine can move, the thoracic spine is designed to move. Many athletic skills, including throwing a ball and swinging a club, place a large demand on thoracic rotation, so it is crucial to have adequate mobility in this area. And since the thoracic spine serves as an anchor for the shoulder blades, a restriction in this area not only limits shoulder mobility but may also negatively affect shoulder stability. See the thoracic spine section below to learn how to develop proper extension and rotation in your thoracic region.
The final component of your shoulder mobility workout involves strengthening the muscles around the joint. When you improve mobility in a previously limited joint, you must strengthen the surrounding muscles to facilitate your newly-acquired range of motion. Greater mobility is only beneficial if it can be properly managed and controlled. Strengthening the motion seals it into the central nervous system, making the improvement permanent. Look at the integrated strength pattern section below to bring it all together and to make sure your shoulder mobility is working on all cylinders.
Mobility and Stretching
1) Foam Roll Peanut
2) Foam Roll Pecs
Sets/Reps: 1x30-60 seconds each side
3) Shoulder Blade Flossing
Sets/Reps: 1x5 each side
4) T-Spine Rotations
Sets/Reps: 2x8 each side
5) Wall Slides
6) Shoulder Flexion and Extension
Sets/Reps: 3x8 each side
7) TRX Inverted Rows
Source: 1) Phillip Page, Clare Frank, Robert Lardner. Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach. Human Kinetics, 2009.