Welcome to part one of the Bulletproof Shoulders series.
When it comes to restoring and bulletproofing your shoulders, you must first address any restrictions and movement issues. Typically, what happens is once we adopt a chronic forward shoulder position (think slouching with shoulders rounded forward), the anterior musculature of our chest, shoulders and neck adapt to this position and lock us into this bad shape. From there, the musculature of our upper back becomes weak and underused, all resulting in impingement of the shoulder joint.
Impingement typically occurs when individuals with this forward shoulder position attempt to raise their arms above their head. In extremely simplified terms, due to this bad position, their shoulder blades are anteriorly tilted (tilted forward), resulting in the collision of the humerus and coracoid process. This collision inevitably pinches or “impinges” the bursa and rotator cuff tendons running between them, causing irritation, pain and inflammation. If you lack full range of motion overhead and experience pain or discomfort while raising your arms, you may very well be experiencing shoulder impingement.
Let’s begin by addressing the tissue restrictions surrounding the shoulder joint. This mobility exercise will allow you to open up this entire anterior compartment consisting of the pectoralis complex (chest region), anterior shoulder and internal rotators of the shoulder as well as some neck musculature.
Using a medium gauge resistance band, fasten one end to a stable structure and loop the other end around your hand. Begin the movement by extending your arm away from your body and turning in the opposite direction. Once you’ve established this position, begin with the palm facing toward the floor. Next, gently glide forward, adding tension to the band and turning your palm up to the ceiling. Repeat this in and out movement for two to three minutes per side. If you experience numbness or tingling during this exercise, lessen the tension and/or take breaks. Never continue though numbness or tingling. You should experience a nice, comfortable stretch along the pec and shoulder region and quite possibly the biceps.
Once we’ve addressed the tissue restriction and have created some “slack” in the system, it is now time to groove our new pattern. This stability exercise will allow us to strengthen much of the upper back as well as the external rotators of the shoulder and will better equip us with the necessary strength and stability to maintain a healthy posture.
Begin by standing with your back to a wall. Your feet should be hip width apart and approximately six to twelve inches away from the wall. Now, lean back against the wall, squeeze your butt, keep your rib cage down and keep your abdominals engaged. Do not allow your back to arch away from the wall during this movement. Raise your arms up against the wall and create a ninety degree angle at your armpit and elbow. Lastly, externally rotate at the shoulder by rotating your arms back until the back of your hand touches the wall. If you can’t touch the wall while maintaining optimal form, just work within your range. In time, you’ll get it. Perform this external rotation movement twenty to thirty times for four to five sets, resting 90 seconds between sets.
If you’re suffering from shoulder impingement and/or lack of overhead range of motion, practice this drill on a daily basis. Stay consistent. You’ll be surprised at how adaptive our bodies really are.