Building Strong and Mobile Shoulders, Part 1: Mobility Tests
Shoulder soreness particularly affects athletes in sports that involve throwing or swinging, due to the high use of the joint. Athletes might be tempted to push through pain or neglect the joint altogether—but that can completely derail a training program, leading to further injury or a loss of valuable strength.
The shoulder is a complex joint, so great care must be taken when training with a wing not quite ready for flight. When I refer to shoulder pain, I am talking about soreness and dull aches, as opposed to sharp pains or severe structural damage. Any time you have a nagging pain, please seek the clearance of a sports medicine professional to rule out serious injury or complications. Once your joint integrity has been deemed healthy, you can get to work improving the function of your shoulder.
The shoulder is made of several joints and muscles that work together to provide the largest range of motion of any joint in the body. However, such a complex structure is subject to numerous possibilities for weakness and dysfunction. The key to identifying shoulder issues, and consequently the appropriate course of action to correct them, can be deciphered through two simple self-tests.
Mobility Screen: Apley Scratch Test
Place your arm overhead and reach behind your neck to touch your opposite shoulder blade with your palm. This checks whether your shoulder can move through the motions needed to properly throw a ball, including external rotation and shoulder blade movement (raise and rotate upward).
Reach your opposite arm behind your low back and move the back of your hand up to touch your shoulder blade. This checks to see if your shoulders can internally rotate and if you can pull your shoulder blade back (retract and rotate downward), which is important for stabilizing the joint.
If you have difficulty touching your shoulder blade, feel tightness or even pain on either test, then your mobility must be improved.
Stability Screen: Single-Arm Push-Up Position Hold Test
Assume Single-Arm Push-Up position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your opposite arm directly out to the side. Hold the position for 30 seconds without shifting your weight, dropping your hips or losing stability in your supporting shoulder.
This test assesses the strength of the shoulder-stabilizing muscles. If you fail to support your body for the specified time or sense pain, you need to improve your shoulder stability. If you can't support your own bodyweight, how will your joint handle throwing a fastball or even landing from a fall? The results likely won't be good.
Repeat both tests on each side of your body to assess balance and symmetry. Notice how well you performed on each test. Were you able to accomplish every goal? Did both shoulders yield equal results? If not, you have to address the issues with mobility and stability workouts, which I will cover in a future article. Check back soon for Part 2 of my series.
Jon DeMoss, co-founder of Synergy Athletic Performance in Dallas, is a strength and conditioning coach who specializes in working with rotational sport athletes. He also assists high school, collegiate and professional athletes to reach their potential and excel in their sports. DeMoss is CSCS- and USAW-certified, and he holds a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas.