Shoulder flexibility is much more than having a comfortable range of motion. Get your shoulders stable, strong and flexible with University of Washington assistant strength and conditioning coach Daniel Jahn.
Keep focusing on shoulder stretches alone and you’ll end up with a loose but weak shoulder that produces pathetic hits and begs for injury. “Shoulder flexibility is important, but maintaining the balance between functional stability and mobility is really crucial,” Jahn says. “The shoulder is a delicate area of the body, because it deals with so much arm velocity when striking or throwing a ball—and it has a large range of motion. Athletes in overhead sports such as volleyball have to do lots of little things to strengthen the joint in addition to increasing flexibility.”
No need to worry, though. Jahn’s shoulder strength routine won’t make giant delts pop out of your new lace-trim cami. He explains, “The major lifts get you strong in the big shoulder muscles, but not necessarily in the joint. It takes twice as long to strengthen the joint as it does the muscle. So, an athlete has to spend a lot of time making sure connective tissues and ligaments are stable and strong enough to take the pounding of high velocity movements.”
The Huskies take a prehab approach to building healthy shoulders. “We do a little joint stability and mobility every day to prevent anything from happening,” Jahn says. “Don’t take a reactive approach—waiting until something doesn’t feel right—to start working the shoulder joint.”
Jahn’s proven strategy contributed to the Huskies’ 28-3 run to the NCAA semifinals in 2004, and their second consecutive PAC title and NCAA Championship in 2005.
After a quick full body warm-up, Jahn’s players complete the following shoulder routine. Use it daily, and you’ll be lacing pain-free kills all over the court.
1) EXTERNAL ROTATION STRENGTH AND MOBILITY
Studies have shown that the less external rotation an athlete has in her shoulder— rotating the arm out and back—the more susceptible she is to injury.
Jahn explains, “A lot of the small rotator cuff muscles that support the shoulder and decelerate the arm are on the back of the shoulder, which is the area involved with external rotation. Consequently, athletes in overhead-striking sports need to stretch externally and strengthen the small shoulder muscles to be successful and stay healthy.”
Washington ballers perform external rotation exercises from all different angles to ensure full strength, stability and flexibility. Jahn recommends internal rotations as well but says they are not nearly as important as external. Simply change the exercise’s direction of resistance to work internal rotation.
The Huskies perform 15-20 of the following external rotation exercises for a total of 100 reps.
Side-Lying External Rotation*
• With dumbbell in hand, lie on side with arm bent at 90-degree angle and elbow tight to ribcage
• Without changing elbow position or angle of arm, rotate upper arm so forearm moves away from floor
Side-Lying in Front*
• Slide elbow forward so it is in front of ribcage
• Keeping elbow suspended one fist-length away from body, externally rotate arm
Side-Lying in Back*
• Slide elbow back so it is behind ribcage
• Keeping elbow suspended one fist-length away from body, externally rotate arm*
*These can be performed with a partner providing light manual resistance
Standing Abducted External Rotation
• With elastic band in hand, stand with arm out to side and bent at 90-degree angle with palm and forearm facing floor
• Without changing angle or position of upper arm, externally rotate arm until forearm is perpendicular to floor
Rotator Cuff Stretch on Wall
• Place palms on wall at eye level with arms bent at 90-degree angle
• Without moving arms or upper-body angle, push into wall with hands to isometrically contract rotator cuffs
• Hold position for 30 seconds
2) JOINT STABILITY
Studies have linked volleyball players’ shoulder pain to scapular strength imbalance and instability. To prevent such pain and injury, the Huskies perform exercises that strengthen and stabilize these muscles.
Scapular Protraction-Joint Stability
• Assume push-up position with hands directly under shoulders
• Keeping arms straight, retract shoulder blades by squeezing them together
• Protract shoulder blades by spreading them apart
The Huskies begin with 20-30 reps and work up to 50.
3) LAT FLEXIBILITY
Jahn says, “Unless pain is the issue, an athlete who can’t raise her arm all the way overhead, or swing her arm the way she would to strike a ball, probably has an issue of lat tightness. The straightforward approach of static and dynamic stretches will correct this problem.”
Partner Lat Stretch
• Bend over and have partner in front hold onto your arms
• Sit back and allow arms and lats to relax
• Hold stretch for 20-30 seconds
Hanging Lat Stretch
• Hang from pull-up bar with shoulder-width grip
• Allow lats and shoulders to relax and lengthen
• Hold stretch for 60 seconds
Dynamic Lat Stretch
• Keeping arms relaxed, swing them overhead in large circles for 20 reps
• Repeat motion in opposite direction for 20 reps
The Hit Squad: Shouldering the Load
Jahn points to three hitters who have especially benefited from his shoulder program. The Huskies’ success has been due in large part to this trio’s dominating play at the net.
6’2” Outside Hitter
This sophomore started her collegiate career with a bang. The 2004 PAC-10 Freshman of the Year recorded 24 double-digit kill performances while averaging 4.1 kpg on her way to AVCA second team All American and first team PAC-10 All-Conference honors.
6’2” Middle Blocker
As a junior, Myhre’s 1.51 blocks per game made her the team leader, second in the PAC-10 and 23rd in the nation. When Myhre began playing for Washington, she had a painful shoulder issue that she corrected with Jahn’s routine. She went on to become a PAC-10 All Conference Honorable Mention.
6’1” Outside Hitter
Although she missed five weeks with a broken hand, Tomasevic racked up a team-leading 4.7 kpg and 5.65 ppg, earning a spot on the PAC-10 All-Academic second team. At the time of her injury, she was leading the Huskies in almost every statistical category and was ranked among the top-three in the PAC-10 in kills, service aces and points.