Your shoulders are pretty cool joints. They can move at high speed to throw a ball or swing a racquet and are strong enough to support hundreds of pounds on the Bench Press, all while being the most mobile joint in your body.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Although you can move your shoulder in all sorts of directions, that doesn’t necessarily mean the joint is functioning properly. In fact, many of you suffer from shoulder tightness or a mobility issue from repeatedly performing the same motion over and over again like throwing a ball, or from poor posture caused by sitting down while hunched over.
For example, let’s look at the Overhead Press. Almost everyone can press a barbell or dumbbells overhead. But can you do it correctly? Well that’s a different story. Many lifters arch through their lower back as they move their arms overhead because shoulder and upper-back tightness.
This is the body’s way of finding the range of motion needed to execute a movement. If one area isn’t working properly, another will compensate to make whatever movement you’re attempting possible. This is called a false range of motion.
Tight and immobile shoulders can cause serious problems over time. Your shoulders might be put in a compromised position and be more susceptible to injury. Or the area of your body that’s forced to compensate might get hurt.
So even though it might seem like your shoulders are functioning properly, it’s important to do a quick check of your shoulder mobility from time to time.
Dr. Matt Stevens, physical therapist and owner of Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), provides two simple tests below to check your shoulder range of motion.
Shoulder Internal/External Rotation Test
How to: Sit on a chair with your back straight, core tight and shoulders pulled down and back. Without moving your torso, place the palm of your right hand on the back of your neck. Then place the backside of your left hand on your lower back. Without arching your back, try to slide your hands so they’re as close as possible. Your hands should ideally be about a fist’s width apart. Repeat on both sides.
Shoulder Flexion Test
How to: Lie on a table or the ground, bend your knees and place them flat on the floor. Tighten your core, pull your ribcage down and press your lower back into the table/ground. With your palm facing in and your elbow straight, raise your right arm overhead until your hand touches the table/ground. If you can do this without your back arching, then you pass the test. Repeat on both sides.
So what should you do if you find a mobility limitation? First and foremost, if you have pain or an injury, consult with a physical therapist or physician.
If it’s simply a mobility issue, here are a few steps you can undertake on your own:
- Improve shoulder stability
- Improve thoracic spine mobility
- Improve shoulder flexion
- Improve internal and external rotation, but don’t go crazy with this.
If you continue to have mobility limitations that you believe are affecting your sports skills or lifting form, then it might be best to consult with a strength coach or physical therapists who can run more assessments and identify the proper course of action.