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Episode 208: Quickly Improve Shoulder Function

Video Highlights

- Drills for both sensory and neuromechanics.
- Improve sensation to improve shoulder function.
- Improve nerve function to improve shoulder function.

Today we’re going to go through a quick sequence of exercises to improve shoulder function.

Today we’re going to go through a quick sequence of exercises to improve shoulder function.

You’re going to have to follow me, you’ll probably have to revisit this one several times because we’re going to be moving quite quickly.

I want to show you some basic rules of how the brain works in relationship to shoulders. I get asked about shoulders literally multiple times per day every single day of my life, so I spend a lot of time trying to help people figure out how to work on them.

I’m going to give you some basic delineations to begin with.

Number one: If you are just experience range-of-motion issues, and not pain, we’ll probably work directly on the shoulder.

If you are experiencing range-of-motion issues and pain, we will work on the shoulder some, but we will also work on the opposite side of the body. There’s lots of stuff in our other blogs about why sometimes working on the opposite side of the body where you’re experiencing pain is a good idea neurologically, so that’s something you want to check out.

Now, let’s just start off with basics.

We’re going to start off saying, “Hey, how is my shoulder currently functioning?”. Let’s just look at some different ranges of motion. Lock your elbow, thumb’s going to be on top. Bring the hand up in front of you. Reach across your body as far as you comfortably can without unlocking the elbow and also without rotating. Just an idea of your range of motion. Now slide the arm all the way out to the side, again controlling your spine, again get an idea of how far we can comfortably move.

Drop the hand down by your side. Rotate it so the thumb is on top. Come all the way up, trying to touch your ear with your bicep, but if you get stuck here, or here, or here, that’s perfectly fine. Just get an idea of your current range of motion.

Next, stand like a scarecrow. I want you to try to externally rotate your shoulder as far as you can, and now internally rotate as far as you comfortably can. Just get an idea of where you’re at.

Now, having done all that, remember, we’re going to say right now that this shoulder is not painful, but is instead just sticky and I’m trying to prepare it for some pull ups or some push ups, or something I’m going to do with weights.

Now, the first thing I’m going to do is use a basic rule of neurology which is sensory before motor. Very often, your brain needs to know where things are in space before it will allow you to move it freely.

We’re just going to take about 20 or 30 seconds and rub the shoulder, all right? You want to get all the way up onto your trap, the front of the shoulder, back to the arm, and I recommend also getting down into your elbow, down into your wrist. Just make sure that you’re rubbing the skin three dimensionally; this is not supposed to be painful, you just want to be thinking about what are you feeling there? All right? Give it about 10 more seconds.

All right, now having done all that, shake it out, and we’re going to re-visit our range of motion.

Arm at the front, control the chest. See if you can go a little bit further. I got a little bit more cross-body range of motion, definitely a little bit more horizontal abduction, now back down here, thumb on top, come up, see if that’s increased the freedom of movement, and recheck your external and internal ranges of motion.

In my particular case, I have a little bit of sensory, really good. My brain says, “Hey, I know where your shoulder is now. I’ll give you a little more freedom”.

One of the things you want to remind yourself of is this: If you always have better range of motion and strength after a little bit of sensory work, make that a part of your regular routine. Before you’re going to do anything, any other exercises, make sure that your brain knows where things are by giving a little skin [step 00:03:12].

The next thing we want to look at now is motor priming.

The way that we’re going to do this, is we’re going to use what are called nerve glides. Now, we’ve talked about a lot of these in previous blogs; I want to make sure I go through the basics with you.

What we’re going to be doing is putting tension on specific nerves, utilizing specific body positions. The nerves that we’re going to be tensioning are specific to shoulder movement, shoulder activity.

We’re going to do four different ones. Now, I don’t want you to overdo these. The primary idea here is we’re going to create just a little tension. Whenever we create the tension in the nerve, you will feel it, also very specifically in different fingers or different areas of the shoulder and arm as a weird paresthesia, a little tingling, a little like your arm’s falling asleep.

You want to keep that at a maximum of 3 out of 10 intensity. In other words, do not overdo these. Keep your reps very very low, all right?

Our first one is going to be what’s called the median-nerve glide.

You’re going to take your hand down. I want you to open your hand and fingers, pull your wrist back into extension, lock your elbow. Now from the shoulder, turn to the outside. We’re going to pull your shoulder blade down, lift out a little bit. At this point, you should be getting a pretty good little pull into your fingers, particularly your thumb, index, and middle finger. Now tilt your head away. We’re just going to pump the shoulder blade. We’re going to lift it up and down. We’ll take the pressure off, pressure on, pressure off, pressure on.

Do that about five times. Relax, shake it out.

As soon as you finish that, retest your range of motion. Get an idea of, “How am I doing? Did that improve me? Did that not improve me?”, because what I want you to understand is that there are some of these nerve glides that may improve you, others that may not do that much for you, and I want you to be specific before you train your shoulder.

Muscular man doing shoulder presses with dumbbells on an incline bench.

That’s the median.

We’re going to do now ulnar.

All right, we will begin our setup the same way. Spread the fingers, pull the wrist into extension. Now, flex your elbow nice and tight. When I say tight, tighten up your bicep a little bit. Elevate your elbow so that it’s pointing directly ahead. Take the arm out to the side, turn your thumb forward, pull your shoulder blade down. At this point, you should feel it in your little finger and ring finger. What I like to do is just rotate my hand, or pump my shoulder, okay? The scapula, three or four times. That gives me that nice little tingling feeling.

Shake out any tension from that, and again retest your basic motion, all right? In both cases, I’m getting a little bit better from activating median nerve, ulnar nerve.

We now want to go to the back of the arm.

The nerve is called the radial nerve; it’s going to take care of all the extensors in your arms. If you’re going to be doing push ups, anything overhead, this is a really important one.

Again, we’re in good neutral stance. Hands down by the side. Take your thumb across, flex your wrist now, so we’re going the opposite direction. Lock your elbow. Turn your arm in, not your scapula, all right? Just turn your arm in, take it out to the side a little bit, press the scapula down, tilt the head away. You’ll feel this one typically through your tricep and your forearm. In this position, once we have it, we’ll use the scapula again. We take the tension off, put it on, off, on, off, on.

You have to maintain all of the different positions at the same time otherwise it doesn’t work. You can also do a few little shoulder circles, and I also like to add in some flexion and extension of the elbow.

Shake that out, and what do we do?  We retest.

Bam. All right, so things are moving really well for me now.

Obviously, radial is my best choice so far.  Very common actually. In many cases, anytime people do a lot of strength work will find that radial nerve needs quite a bit of flossing through the tissue.

Our last one, then, is going to be for our biceps.

To do this glide, you’re going to take your thumb, you’re going to grab it with the other fingers, push your wrist forward, all right? My arm is directly by my side, I grab my thumb, push my wrist forward, lock my elbow. Now from here, I’m going to stay tall, take my arm back behind me into extension. At this point, I’m going to pull my shoulder down. Woo! As I pull my shoulder down, I’ll feel usually some sensation here, but also down along the edge of my wrist.

Once I’m in that position, I have that pulled down, again, I’m just going to pump my scapula. One, two, three, four. I can also tilt my head away a few times. Again, aiming for 3 out to 10 tension. You shouldn’t be tingly for more than a few seconds after you release any of these drills. If you are, you’re doing them too hard.

Again, reassess. See where you’re at. Get an idea.

All of these are doing well for me. I could be going back and adding in sensory work prior to each of them as well.

That’s four basic nerve glides, all right?

There are others for the shoulders, but I want you to start with those making sure that you prime the area with sensation first, and make sure that you’re reassessing after each one of those drills to ensure that you haven’t lost range of motion. If you’ve lost range of motion, it’s probably not a good idea; you need to go back to what improved you again before you do anything specific in terms of training with that shoulder.

Last little bit on this is if none of those work, all right?

If you’ve done these nerve glides, you’ve done the sensation, and it does not improve your range of motion, or pain issues, you have to think about what we call the opposing area of the body.

In general, if I’m having right shoulder limitations, I’m going to think about doing the same kind of work we were just doing in the shoulder but on the opposite hip.

On the opposite hip, I can do different circles, I can get in a lunge position and do what we call close chain hip circles.

Different basic mobility drills for this hip. Often when I work the opposite hip, depending on what’s going on in your body, you’ll get an increased freedom of movement in the contralateral, or opposite shoulder. If that is unusual, or new to you, like I said, you need to go back and look at some of the previous blogs on that.

If you have specific questions about how to apply it, look for a Z trainer in your area, or contact us here, because we can give you a lot of information on working on the shoulders using other parts of the body.

I hope that you enjoyed this.

If you have questions, please let me know.

I told you I was going to go fast, but I wanted to make sure that you had a good overview of basic ways to prepare the body to go out and do different fitness things, or sports.

Remember, sensory before motor.

Once you’ve done your sensory, then you can go into your motor priming which is utilizing the nerve glides.

Follow up with a little different mobility work, and you should be good to go.


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