Improving Shoulder Mobility in OH Athletes

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

Improving Shoulder Mobility in OH Athletes - Top Joint Image

Today, we’re going to go over some of the things we look at during an assessment in regards to shoulder mobility as well the major players that affect it. These four big guys are:

  • Shoulder
  • Scapula
  • T-Spine (Extension)
  • Lumbo-Pelvic Control

Let’s review and discuss each of these.

Shoulder – When assessing the shoulder, I generally view from the side and back to look for 180 degrees of OH arm movement without compensation. In young populations soft tissue quality, not the capsule, is generally the culprit. Soft tissue work to the lats (internal rotators) and teres minor (posterior cuff) can really help.


(Deep Squat Breathing)

Scapular – When talking about the scap, the elephant in the room is “upward rotation”. If we can’t upwardly rotate adequately (anywhere from 55-60 degrees) and efficiently, we’re going to impinge in the anterior portion of the shoulder as well as try to get the rest of the way there using all the wrong stuff (lower lumbar, upper trap dominance etc). The role of the scap is to properly position the arm in the glenoid during movement. The most common cause of bad scapular positioning is an imbalance between tight upper traps and a weak Lower traps/serratus (people tend to shrug from having a dominant upper trap pattern). Here are a few great ways to wake up the serratus while calming down a cranky upper trap.

(SMR – Upper Traps)

(Band Serratus Jabs)

(Prone Trap Raise)

T-spine Extension – Many times upward rotation isn’t only a matter of what’s happening at the shoulder and scap. A kyphotic (rounded) t-spine will put the scap in a disadvantageous position to move efficiently. The bottom line is… if you don’t have the ability to extend at the t-spine, you can’t efficiently posteriorly tilt and upwardly rotate the scap.

(T-spine Ext.)

(Bench T-spine Mob)

Lumbo-Pelvic Control – Weak anterior core control can cause extension in lower back to get overhead instead of good scapular movement. When assessing, view from the side and check for “cheating” (flared out ribs, extension in back) when the athlete is attempting to bring the arms overhead. Strengthening the core will give the thorax a good stable platform to allow the scap to move on instead of cranking into the lower back. Tall kneeling cable push presses are a great exercise to work on anterior core strength as well as resisting unwanted rotation in the lower lumbar.

(Tall Kneeling Cable Push Press)

With great OH shoulder mobility, it’s not about addressing one issue.  Like the core, all systems need to be firing together.  Remember one affects the other.