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 regard 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. A big player here are the lats, responsible for Int rotation and adduction of the arm as well helping to decelerate the arm when being thrown into layback at foot plant. Soft tissue work and some corrective breathing can help keep excessive tone out of them and help throwers get OH much more efficiently.


(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 usually 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 extension, 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. We can see this during the assessment when people having a dominant upper trap pattern tend to shrug to get OH. 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. This could be caused by joint issues in which case we would refer out, but if the culprit is muscular or soft tissue -we have got just the thing.

(T-spine Ext.)

(Bench T-spine Mob)

Lumbo-Pelvic Control – Weak anterior core control can cause an athlete to go into his lower lumbar to get overhead, causing extension in lower back 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)

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.

See ya’ in the gym.

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