How to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy, Part 1: Mid-Back Mobility

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Shortstop Willie Bloomquist

With baseball season in full swing, you must pay close attention to your shoulders—especially if your position involves a lot of throwing, such as pitcher, catcher or shortstop. Constant throwing can cause your shoulder to become tight from overuse. If you don't address this issue, your shoulders could be more susceptible to injury, and you could land on the bench for an extended period of time.

Rotation Issues

When you throw, your shoulder internally rotates. To understand internal rotation, put your arms down at your sides with your palms facing forward. Turn your thumbs in toward your body to internally rotate your shoulders. If the structure that powers and supports this internal rotation becomes stiff or tight, you could suffer from shoulder impingement.

Shoulder impingement occurs when a tendon of the rotator cuff becomes inflamed and rubs against the bones, resulting in pain or damage. This injury will degrade your shoulder strength and upset your throwing mechanics, causing accuracy and velocity issues.

Improve Mid-Back MobilityScapula Diagram

When it comes to alleviating shoulder pain, athletes often focus on the symptom but not the cause. Shoulder impingement and a host of related issues can be avoided if you take a few simple measures, which I discuss below.

If you want to keep your shoulder healthy, focus on improving the mobility of your middle back. You might ask how mid-back mobility can help your shoulders. Next time you look in a mirror, move your arm and notice how your shoulder blades move. The scapula in the back directly acts on the shoulder.

Excessive throwing can cause shoulder issues, but poor posture can also degrade shoulder performance and cause problems. Fortunately, improving mid-back mobility requires only a few minutes each workout. Below are my recommended exercises. Perform them between sets during your upper-body workouts.

Foam Roll Thoracic Extension

  • Lie on ground and place foam roller beneath shoulder blades; keep knees bent and feet flat on ground
  • Place arms across chest, relax neck and tilt head back as far as possible
  • Inhale and extend arms overhead
  • Exhale and bring arms back to chest
  • Repeat arm movements for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2x10-15

Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

  • Assume all-fours position
  • Place hand behind head, keeping elbow in line with hand
  • Rotate shoulders to touch elbow to opposite forearm; keep hips and core stable
  • Rotate in opposite direction so elbow is pointed toward ceiling
  • Repeat pattern for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 each side

Quadruped Reach-Through Hand Slide

  • Assume all-fours position
  • Place back of left hand on ground, rotate shoulders and reach to right as far as possible
  • Rotate shoulders and slide hand to left to return to start position
  • Perform in opposite direction
  • Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 each side


Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a wide variety of topics, including injury prevention, nutrition and improving athletic performance.

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