Doing mobility drills is all the rage right now. There are people all over stretching, foam rolling, etc. There is definitely a time and a place for these types of modalities. They can all provide benefit when they are implemented correctly.
The shoulder is a common area that lacks mobility. Whether it be from repetitive overuse with activities in the gym or through sport or lack of activity, immobility can strike any person.
Far too often, individuals think that cranking their shoulder and arm in all different directions will help them improve their mobility.
This is not only ineffective, but can place increased stress on structures such as:
When performing any type of movement, whether it be mobility, motor control, or strength training, we want to be as effective as possible to get the most bang for our buck with our exercises.
First off, we need to assess if we have a true mobility limitation.
Try these movements to see:
-Arms should be able to reach table.
-Low back should be flat to table.
-Reach down and behind your back.
-Should be able to reach inferior angle of opposite scapulae
-May not be able to fully perform for overhead athletes.
-Reach up and behind your head.
-Should be able to reach superior angle of opposite scapulae.
-May not be able to fully perform for overhead athletes.
These are 3 quick and easy tests to determine if you have adequate shoulder mobility. As mentioned above, if you play an overhead sport ie. baseball, volleyball, swimming, etc., you may have bony changes that may contribute to limited ranges of motion.
If there are limitations in mobility, here are the top 4 mobility drills you can perform to help improve your shoulder mobility.
1. Standing Latissimus Dorsi Stretch
This stretch targets the latissimus dorsi. This is a common muscle that limits overhead motion. Limited mobility in this muscle can affect the shoulder, neck, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, etc. It can directly affect any type of overhead movements for sport or for lifting as well as impact function below the shoulder as well with effects on shoulder external rotation.
Key points with the Latissimus Dorsi stretch:
-Grab a stable object with the arm you are looking to stretch.
-Fixate the scapulae to the rib cage with the opposite hand.
-Gently lean backwards until you feel a gentle stretch in your lats.
Far too often, people will attempt to stretch their lats like so:
The problem with this type of movement is that is places a significant traction force throughout the shoulder and not only stretches the latissimus dorsi, but can place increased stress on the rotator cuff, labrum, etc. Areas we don’t want to stress with mobility drills. The question can be raised that the effectiveness at improving mobility to the latissimus dorsi is limited as well.
2. Standing Posterior Rotator Cuff Stretch
This stretch can be used to target the posterior rotator cuff musculature, specifically infraspinatus, teres major and minor. This is commonly used and seen with overhead athletes as well as in the weight training community.
The only major difference with the movement showed above is that more often than not, the scapulae is not fixated. As with the standing latissimus dorsi stretch, we want to make sure the scapulae is fixated to the rib cage to provide the most effective stretch.
In the video above, make sure to fixate the scapulae to the rib cage by pinning it using a door jam, corner of a squat rack/rig, or some other immobile object. Not fixating the scapulae can place unwanted stress elsewhere.
3. Pectoralis Minor Stretch
The pectoralis minor is another muscle that can greatly impact health and function at the shoulder. Due to its attachments at the rib cage and the coracoid process on the scapulae, it can anteriorly tilt the scapulae affecting the neck, shoulder, and thoracic spine.
A quick and easy static or dynamic stretch you can do is the Supine Pectoralis Minor Stretch:
You can also implement sliding of the arms up and down as shown in this Seated Wall Slide:
The benefit of being on your back is that gravity is placing a gentle stretch on the pec minor and incorporating active motion of the upper extremities helps with reciprocal inhibition of the pec minor due to activation of the posterior shoulder musculature.
4. Bench Thoracic Spine Mobilization
-Maintain a neutral spine/ribs down position.
-Sit hips back towards heels.
-Flex elbows and bring dowel towards you.
This last “shoulder” stretch can be used to help improve thoracic spine mobility, which is also important for shoulder function.
By placing the elbows on the bench and sitting backwards, you are placing a stretch on the latissimus dorsi. Then, through elbow flexion, the long head of the triceps will also have a stretch placed through it as well.
The long head of the triceps can also act to limit overhead shoulder flexion as well.
If you have limited overhead shoulder mobility, be sure to give the
Standing Latissimus Dorsi
Posterior Rotator Cuff
Supine Pec Minor
Bench Thoracic Spine Mobilizations
a try to help improve your overhead shoulder mobility.
Band walks can be seen throughout gyms and performance centers as a way to prep an athlete or client for the demands of the training session.
They can be used as basic strengthening for young or de-conditioned clients or as a general warm-up for higher level athletes. Far too often, lateral band walks aka hip abduction walks, are performed with poor technique.
Band walks or variations thereof are great ways to improve gluteal and core activation. When performed incorrectly, technique flaws can include:
Lateral Trunk Sway
Dragging of the Trail Leg
When these technique flaws are present, not only do they decrease the effectiveness of the exercise, but also ingrain poor movement patterns in athletes and clients.
Here are some tips to help clean up these technique flaws!
Lateral Trunk Sway
Clients and athletes can sway their trunk laterally for a variety of reasons ranging from poor body awareness to weakness on the stance leg.
One quick tip to improve this is by placing a kettlebell or dumbbell in their hand in the racked position.
By placing a kettlebell in the racked position on the stance leg, this can help to teach the client to maintain a neutral trunk position while moving the opposite leg.
Dragging of the Trail Leg
Dragging of the trail leg can occur when clients have weakness present in the stance leg as to not force the stance leg to work as hard.
A quick and easy cue to tell clients is:
“Don’t Drag Your Leg”
All kidding aside, another cue that works is to instruct the client to pick the non-stance leg up just enough to slide a piece of paper underneath.
By cueing the person to not drag the non-stance leg, this places more emphasis on the stance leg as well as helps to maintain good technique.
One of the most common technical errors when performing lateral band walks is when one or both knees going into knee valgus. This can also happen due to technical errors or weakness in the proximal hip musculature.
If someone is presenting with knee valgus, placing a band around the knees can help to cue them to maintain a neutral alignment.
If placing a band around the knees doesn’t help, verbally cueing the person to:
“Maintain the Knees Above the Ankles”
“Don’t Allow the Knees to Go Inside the Ankles”
Can help an athlete or client to maintain a good position.
Also, sometimes a band can be too strong/challenging for some athletes or clients. By decreasing the difficulty of the band can help to clean up form as well.
If you are performing lateral band walks with your clients and these technique errors are present, try these tips to help clean up technique and improve movement quality and performance.
The bridge exercise or variations thereof are common place in the rehab and personal training worlds. Physical therapists, personal trainers, etc. provide the bridging exercise for 3 sets x 10 reps until they are blue in the face. No doubt about it, the bridge can create glute and core strength.
The problem arises when the bridge is not progressed effectively. Having an athlete or client perform 3 sets x 10 reps of body-weight bridges will not get them better in the long run. Yes, initially they may see gains and improvement in strength, pain, and function, but without progressive overload, progress will plateau.
Progressions needs to be made in order for clients to continue to make progress and improve their function and performance on the court or field of play.
The bridging movement should be felt in the glutes and hamstrings. If it is felt in the low back, the athlete or client may not maintaining a neutral spine and/or may have decreased tissue extensibility in their hip flexors limiting passive and active hip extension.
Here is what a basic bridge looks like:
Bridges can be regressed to:
Band Assisted Bridging
Or progressed to:
Single Leg Bridges
Band Resisted Bridges or Hip Thrusts
Supine Barbell Bridge
If you don’t have a barbell, use a kettlebell, dumbbell, or weight plate to make the movement harder.
Also, performing barbell hip thrusters, single or double leg, are also another option as it increases the range of motion in order to perform the movement.
Single and Double Leg Hip Thruster
Weight can also be added to the hip thruster movement to make the movement more challenging.
Barbell Hip Thrusts
The main point with all of these movements is that good technique is performed. A neutral spine should be maintained throughout the movement and movement should be coming from a hip flexed position to a hip extended position.
Also, terminal hip extension should be achieved. If it cannot be, assess why and if so, refer out to a licensed medical practitioner or decrease the difficulty of the movement so the athlete or client can achieve terminal hip extension.
These bridging variations are great for clients with knee pain who may have difficulty loading their legs pain-free. By creating a more hip dominant movement with the movements above, this can still allow for a pain-free training effect.
If you are giving your athletes or clients countless reps of bridges, then progress the bridge to make it more challenging and to make your athletes and clients better!
There are aspects of the physical therapy and strength and conditioning worlds that are awesome. There are countless individuals out there working really hard to help people move and feel better. The passion that people have for the aforementioned fields as well as similar fields is amazing!
Far too often, physical therapists, personal trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches are prescribing their athletes or clients with the generic 3 sets x 10 reps for exercises. Now, don’t get me wrong, if someone has been progressing from 2 sets x 8 reps, to 2 sets x 10 reps, 3 sets x 8 reps, and up to 3 sets x 10 reps, then great!
Progressive overload is a wonderful thing! It helps to get people stronger and make progress in their rehab or training programs. The problem arises when it is always...3 sets x 10 reps! Not only is this boring, but it doesn’t allow the athlete or client to progress and make consistent gains if they are using the same weight and reps.
Individualize Your Programming!
Depending on the goals of the athlete, client, and/or rehab/fitness professional, reps and sets schemes can vary.
Whether someone’s goal is to be a powerlifter and are performing lifts in the 1-3 rep ranges, an athlete looking to gain strength using the 5-8 rep ranges, or someone training for a bodybuilding competition using 10-15 reps, the number of reps and sets needs to be taken into account to allow the person to get back to where they want to be.
In my opinion, no one should be deadlifting or squatting to absolute failure. If they are getting to the point where there is technical failure, then the lift should stop to avoid injury and reinforcement of poor movement patterns.
When performing deadlifts or squats, remaining under 6 total reps per set is safe as it allows for great technique since the lifter is only performing 6 total reps. The lifter isn’t attempting to grind out one last rep of 10-12 and their form is suspect.
For movements such as:
Single Leg Deadlifts
The system load is lower and an increased number of reps can be performed. Performing for sets of 6-12 reps is not unheard of.
Remember, going to technical failure is a much safer bet than going to absolute failure. As form starts to become less optimal, the risk for injury goes up.
Another way to adjust someone’s program is by assessing the total number of reps and tonnage being performed. For example,
2 sets x 10 reps @ 100 lbs = 20 total reps with a tonnage of 2000
3 sets x 8 reps @ 90 lbs = 24 total reps with a tonnage of 2160
4 sets x 5 reps @ 120 lbs = 20 total reps with a tonnage of 2400
In the aforementioned example, someone may lift more weight, but actually do less total work in regards to tonnage and total reps. In the 2nd example, the person is performing 4 more total reps with 10 fewer pounds, but with 160 more pounds of total tonnage.
In the 3rd example, more sets, but fewer reps than the first 2 examples. Also, more weight, and more total tonnage as compared to the 1st two scenarios. Depending on the person’s goals, reps, sets, weight, time under tension, rest periods can all be adjusted to affect progressive overload.
If you are consistently programming 3 sets x 10 reps for your clients or athletes, provide them with more value and adjust their reps and sets schemes to make greater improvements.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.