5 Shoulder Sparing Strategies

The shoulder is a very common area where people experience pain and difficulty with certain movements.  Whether it be lifting overhead or getting the arms in a certain position for lower body lifts, the shoulder can sometimes get beat up with prolonged training, poor training habits, etc.

In this week’s blog post, we will discuss 5 strategies to help spare your shoulders and keep you healthy and training pain-free.

1. Optimize Your Soft Tissue Quality

The shoulder is a joint that functions well when the muscles that cross the joint possess good soft tissue quality.

Specific areas such as:

  • Latissimus Dorsi

  • Teres Major

  • Pectoralis Minor

  • Triceps

As well as many others need to have good soft tissue quality structure in order to decrease strain on the shoulder joint and surrounding structures.

Performing Self-Myofascial Release using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, etc. can be a big help.

2. Improve Scapulohumeral Rhythm

Even if you have optimal soft tissue quality, making sure that the scapula and humerus move well is key.

If the scapula doesn’t move appropriately when the humerus is moving, it can create stress at the shoulder that can affect the rotator cuff, labrum, etc.

We like to see approximately 50-55 degrees of upward scapular rotation.

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Drills that can be used to improve or maintain adequate upward scapular rotation include:

Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion

-When shoulders reach shoulder height, gently reach forward and continue reaching until your arms are overhead

Yoga Push-ups Sans Pushups

-Think of pushing the ground away from you when bringing your arms overhead.

Feet Elevated Yoga Push-Ups

-Think of pushing the ground away from you when bringing your arms overhead.

3. Don’t Forget the Thoracic Spine

Improving and/or maintaining good thoracic spine mobility is key to shoulder function.  If the thoracic spine doesn’t move and function well, then the shoulder can suffer.

Here are some good thoracic spine mobility drills:

Sidelying Rib Roll

Sidelying Thoracic Rotation

Bench T-Spine Mobs

A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization

4.  Balance Your Pushing and Pulling

When athletes or clients present with shoulder pain, we like to check their training program to make sure there is a balance between their vertical/horizontal pulling and pushing movements.

When someone is dealing with active shoulder pain, I like to recommend that they balance their strength program with 1 pushing movement for every 3 pulling exercises.

For example, if someone has pushups in their routine,

I recommend that they perform 3 pulling movements.  Pulling movements can consist of vertical or horizontal pulling such as:

Tall Kneeling Batwings

1-Arm Cable Row

Pronated Inverted Rows

Once someone symptoms start to improve, I usually recommend that they continue having a more dominant pulling versus pushing program.  I advise athletes and clients to decrease to a 2:1 pulling:pushing ratio.

5.  Ditch the Barbell

Another tip I advise athletes is to switch up barbell upper body movements for dumbbell upper body movements. Whether it be barbell bench press or barbell overhead press, switching to dumbbell movements can help shoulders move and feel better.

Movements such as:

Dumbbell Overhead Press

Dumbbell Floor Press

There are more degrees of freedom when it comes to using a dumbbell vs a barbell.  Even if someone is not dealing with active shoulder pain, swapping out the barbell for a dumbbell can be a great way to stay moving and feeling great.

If you are dealing with active shoulder pain or are trying to keep it from occurring, try:

  • Optimizing Your Soft Tissue Quality

  • Improve Scapulohumeral Rhythm

  • Improve Thoracic Spine Mobility

  • Balance Your Pushing and Pulling Movements

  • Try Ditching the Barbell

Andrew Millett