A significant amount of shoulder issues don’t actually start with the shoulder.
We very often need to look at the upper back, scapula and spine.
These structures combine to determine the “set up” position of the shoulder, which will determine the amount of stress the shoulder experiences through a movement. Think of your shoulders as sitting on-top of your scapulae – they influence one another heavily!
Try this yourself!
- “Dump” your shoulder as far forward as you can (protract your scapula) – think about moving your shoulder to touch the middle of your sternum.
- Hold the shoulder in this position
- Now slowly raise your arm up overhead as high as you can
What you should feel is a bone on bone block occurring in the shoulder. Not due to the ROM of the shoulder joint itself, but due to the “set up” position of the shoulder – courtesy of the scapula in this example.
Try one more example yourself!
- Arch your upper back, hollowing out your chest (kyphotic position) – think about ol’ mate Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, channel him.
- Hold the upper back in this position, and hold your RIGHT palm on the front of your LEFT shoulder, just on the anterior delt
- Hold your left arm infront of you, and slowly “row” the arm back so your elbow ends behind your body (elbow flexion & horizontal extension)
- Repeat a few times, imagine you’re doing a single arm row at the gym
What you should feel in that right palm is a little push, or poke forward of the head of the humerus as soon as the elbow is in line with your upper-back. This is known as glenohumeral anterior gliding, and aggravates the shoulder after exposure to load and volume. Now, I’m, not stating kyphosis as the root cause for this, but if definitely aggravates the issue – and 80% of the population are out there walking around with some degree of kyphosis.
These incorrect set up positions can result in constant, reoccurring nightmares for your shoulders in the form of:
- General pain
- An increased chance of sprain or strain
Here are some mobility drills to improve these positions by Dean Somerset:
- Side Lying Extension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQSQDLSdFjY
- Kneeling T-Spine rotation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7I5VqV3Iok
- Foam Roller T-Spine Extension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssATmMQOz6s
All of these are to address a lack of “Thoracic Extension”. What will also assist here are some of these activation/technique exercises:
- Firstly, setting the Scapulae: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVeKpyjFHBQ
- Band Pull Apart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lQdu_U4AAI
And our last tip, is to use less weight on your rows, and focus your attention on the control and activation of your movement. With. Every. Rep. Your shoulders will thank you for it!