Training Series: Shoulder Mobility

Welcome back to our training series and more specifically the mobility portion of our training series. In the last couple of weeks, we have discussed ankle mobility and hip mobility and have provided some techniques that we use here at ChiroFitt to help improve ankle and hip mobility.

From the lower body, we are going to move up to the upper body this week and discuss shoulder mobility. The shoulder is a complex joint that involves a significant amount more than what we consider our shoulder, more specifically our glenohumeral joint. The shoulder from a functional standpoint involves our mid back (thoracic spine), shoulder blade (scapula), upper arm bone (humerus), collar bone (clavicle) and our breast bone (sternum). The joint between the scapula and humerus, better known as our glenohumeral joint, is what most of us think of when we think of our shoulder. The glenohumeral joint similar to our hip joint is a ball and socket, which is very mobile and for good reason. However, just like our hips depend upon our lower back (core) for foundational stability to move against, our shoulder joint also depends upon foundational stability from the shoulder blade to move against.

As a result, we need to improve scapular (shoulder blade) stability often as a portion of improving overall shoulder mobility. In fact, poor scapular stability, or poor movement of our mid back (thoracic spine) can often be the direct cause for poor mobility or use of our shoulders. This again is a reminder of how our body functions as a whole rather than a sum of its parts. It’s also another reason why here at ChiroFitt we bring therapy and training together. For example, if we are experiencing shoulder pain, one might think that the problem is the shoulder or glenohumeral joint, whereas the problem frequently is related to poor thoracic (mid back) spine mobility or scapular stability that is impacting our shoulder’s ability to properly move and/or function. Therefore, if we do not address and improve the thoracic mobility issue or the scapular stability issue as a portion of our therapy plan, we will limit the shoulder’s ability to improve.

Another important point that needs to be discussed with shoulder mobility is the relationship of poor shoulder mobility to poor breathing mechanics. Breathing is not a voluntary action, which is obviously a good thing that we do not have to think about breathing all day long, especially when trying to sleep! As a result of breathing being controlled subconsciously, we often do not focus on how we are breathing. As a result of many factors including, but not limited to, stress, anxiety, fear, exertion, etc. our breathing mechanics will often become altered with us favoring chest breathing over belly breathing. When chest breathing becomes our more dominant form of breathing, we create excess tension in our upper back and shoulders, which can lead to poor shoulder mobility.

Shoulder mobility is obviously extremely important to confirm in our training clients prior to beginning training. We screen for shoulder mobility with our shoulder mobility screen. If a client does not demonstrate good shoulder mobility, we need to be careful with any exercises that require lifting overhead, as this can result in strain to our lower back as a result of compensatory stress of overarching the lower back to elevate our arm into an overhead position.

If it is determined that shoulder mobility is a priority of our training program as determined through our client assessment, including the Functional Movement Screen and offered as a part of our No Stress Fitness Strategy Session, here are some of our favorite techniques to help improve and maintain shoulder mobility.

Just as we did with the ankle and hip, we will start improving shoulder mobility with focus on the soft tissue around the shoulder joint through foam rolling, as shown below:

Foam Rolling Thoracic Spine

Foam Rolling Lats

Once we have our soft tissue work completed, we will follow that up with stretching exercises to help improve flexibility, for shoulder mobility we focus stretching primarily to the thoracic spine:

Thoracic Mobility with Rib Grab

Thoracic Mobility with Reach


Once we have rolled and stretched to improve flexibility of the muscles around the shoulder, the next step would be to do mobilization-based exercises to help with shoulder mobility:

Floor Slides

Crocodile Press Ups

Lumbar Locked Reachbacks

After introducing some mobility to the shoulder through the above exercises, the next step would be to do some stabilization-based exercises for the shoulder. Again, when introducing stability, we will begin from the ground and work our way up (with starting points being more specific to the client that we are working with, so that we can challenge our clients more appropriately).

Kettlebell Arm Bar

Get Up to Elbow

Plank on Elbows

Push Ups

Farmers Carry

Single Arm Overhead Carry

Another great stabilization-based exercise for the shoulder is the deadlift, which we reviewed last week in our hip mobility post. The upper body stability portion of the deadlift is often overlooked as many just view it as a lower body exercise as the lower body is responsible or pulling the weight from the ground during a deadlift. However, the upper body is working simultaneously to stabilize and hold the weight while it is being pulled from the ground, which requires proper stabilization of your shoulder, primarily your scapular (shoulder blade) region. We discussed these same requirements in an opposite way last week when we reviewed the row and chop, where the stability comes from the lower body and the movement comes from the upper body.

Once we regain stability, we can then target strength and power-based exercises for the shoulder. The primary strength exercises for the shoulder will consist of the press and the row. There are a number of variations for these exercises from positional change to equipment change, but overall, they are the foundations of building shoulder strength. We will review some of our favorites here:

Chest Press with Dumbells

Half Kneel Kettlebell Overhead Press

Half Kneel Single Arm Cable Row

Pull Ups

Here is an example of how we can combine a lower body strengthening exercise with an upper body strengthening exercise, to increase the overall demand and challenge and create a full body lift with a single exercise (hint: trunk (core) stabilization is extremely important in this exercise, we will be discussing stabilization starting next week):

USB Reverse Lunge to Overhead Press

Once we have established strength in the shoulder, we are ready to move onto power-based exercises for the shoulder. We utilize upper body plyometrics and battle ropes for shoulder and upper body power (which also require trunk and lower body stability and power):

Medball Slams

Tall Kneeling MedBall Chest Pass

Battle Ropes

So, you can now see how we have come full circle from regaining shoulder mobility through stretching and mobilization to maintaining those changes through improved stability, and finally getting to functional strength and power exercises that require good shoulder mobility to be accomplished without compensation and a potential increased risk of injury. As explained above the shoulder is complex in function and as such, we need to be sure that prior to loading the shoulder joint or lifting overhead that we have adequate function of the shoulder complex. Without confirming this, we certainly increase our risk of injury with popular exercises such as the bench press, military press, and pull up. This is why we screen our clients prior to training to verify for these potential limitations, which we will work to correct prior to having them complete exercises that may increase their risk of injury.

We hope that this discussion and the videos presented helped to provide you with some insight into how we train here at ChiroFitt. Our programs are designed specifically to you and your needs, helping you to reach your goals in the safest and most effective ways possible. If this sounds like something that you would be interested in learning more about, our No Stress Fitness Strategy Session makes this simple for you to do.

Who’s ready to live a longer, heathier, more vibrant, and active life? We are ready to show you how to make that happen. Next week will move from mobility into stability and introduce in to how we help our clients improve and/or regain their “core”. In the meantime, if you want to get a jump start on stabilization, check out our previous blog post(s) on the Trunk Stability Push Up and Rotary Stability, which discusses the importance of stabilization to our overall physical fitness.

Till Next Time…

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