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Safe and Strong Shoulders in Any Position – Episode 307

Video Highlights

- A quick shoulder overview.
- 4 position template.
- Clearly demoed drills.

Today we’re going to talk about some of the unusual exercises to save your shoulders.

Today I’m going to roll together a bunch of different concepts from previous blogs and Z-Health courses. Mostly what I’m trying to convey to you today is a template approach or a concept that you can use to save your shoulders. When you look at the human shoulder, one of the things that we run into is it has this massive amount of range of motion available.

We can go forward. We can go back, out to the side. We can turn in, turn out. One of the issues that you run into in the body is that when you have an area with lots of mobility, sometimes a lack of strength, depending on the position that you put it in, can cause pain or movement disorders. Also can affect sports performance.

What we like to do with every joint in the body in Z-Health is we like to look at it and go, “How could we make it stronger in those weird positions?” Because regardless of your level of mobility, one of the things that we’re learning more and more about the brain is that if you’re unable to control a range of motion, very often your brain will perceive that uncontrolled range as threatening and you can start to develop some kind of pain or movement issues when you go into that range.

The tool that we’re going to use today is isometric strengthening. I’ve done blogs on isometrics before. You know if you’ve watched those it’s one of my favorite tools. It’s kind of out of style, but one of the reasons I love it is it is a fast, rapid way to increase strength in a given area and a given range of motion, and it’s also extremely safe compared to a lot of other methods because you’re not going to be moving.

What I want you to think about, you just do this with me, we’re going to think about our shoulders. I want you to stand up. I want you to take your shoulder out in front of you in the most comfortable position that you can, and I want you to think at first of having thumb up.

Position one, thumb up.
Position two, thumb facing the mid-line.
Position three, thumb facing out from the mid-line.
Position four, thumb facing the ground.

When you make those motions happen, I want you to do them again, I want you to focus on making them come from the shoulder and not the forearm. Thumb up, thumb to the mid-line, thumb to the outside, thumb to the ground, all creating rotation within the shoulder itself. That’s internal rotation, external rotation.

What we need to play with with our shoulders is getting stronger in all these different positions, because we can find ourselves in these unknowingly. For instance, you’re reaching in the back of the car, you’re trying to grab a briefcase. You reach back, you’re moving in this range of motion. You’re going thumb down. You reach into this position and then maybe you extend back a little bit, and very often people go, “That’s when I hurt my shoulder,” or, “When I started to try and pull it forward.”

Because many things that we do in the traditional environment don’t really allow us to get into those strange positions and train there to be stronger, so that’s usually where injury occurs. What you’re going to do is you’re going to think about, “All right, I want to train my shoulders in four different positions.” Those positions, again, are position one, thumb up, position two, to the mid-line, position three, thumb away from the mid-line, position four, thumb to the ground.

With that in mind, how do we apply isometrics? Isometrics are super simple. You’re going to start off using something that you can put some force into. In this particular example, again, I’m showing you a template approach, all that I’m going to do is think about pulling my arm across my body.

I’m in starting position one. Position one is thumb up. I’m going to pull across my body fairly hard for six seconds, focusing on my shoulder.

From there I’ll go to position two, relax briefly, and another six-second pull. As I do that six second, I’m consistently trying to increase the tension I’m creating.

I’ll then go to position three. Position three is what? That’s thumb away from mid-line. Again, in this position, a nice hard pull.

What I’m trying to feel is, how does it impact my shoulder differently? Each position of this little template is going to affect the muscle somewhat differently, and we need to be strong in each of these positions.

Position four, then, I’m going to go thumb down and once again do my six-second pull.

Obviously, just working in one range of motion with the shoulder isn’t going to be sufficient. Right now I’m working a fairly comfortable mid-line position. I would then want to maybe step into more of a cross body position and repeat that exercise. I’d then want to get into a full stretch position and go through my four primary positions once again, six seconds each.

That’s just in this horizontal plane. Could I go up over my head and do the same thing? Of course I could. For instance, let’s say I’m working here and I’m focusing on pulling my arm forward. Now I have position one, position two, position three, position four. As I said, each one of those is going to provide you some different stimulus. I could then turn backwards and repeat that same exercise.

What I want you to think about is you have four basic arm positions, and then you need to start exploring top, cross body, side, front, back, just any position that you can think of and work on those basic four positions doing six-second isometrics.

Finally, you want to then start thinking about working behind your back as well, because a lot of people struggle with reaching behind their back, et cetera. For that, you may find using a luggage strap or a rope super appropriate, because what I can do here is I can give myself a nice handle and then simply step on the strap, give myself some room, come into this position, make sure I have good posture, and I can work on my isometrics there, once again trying to work through my different hand positions.

Obviously, when you’re back behind you the hand positions are not going to be as important, but at the same time exploring all these different foundational contractions will go a long way to improving the stability and strength of your shoulder to go along with whatever mobility you have.

To summarize our basic shoulder isometric drills that we were just going through, let’s keep it super simple. Remember that we’re going to have four different rotated positions. We have thumb up, thumb to the mid-line, thumb away, thumb down. That’s going to be the most important piece of all this, is as you start exploring your isometrics, make sure that you’re doing six seconds.

You can go higher than that. You can go up to 30, 60 seconds, but six seconds in the literature is the basics, so six seconds per arm rotation position. That’s going to be four reps in whatever arm position you’re choosing. That’s 24 seconds. The reasons that’s important is, what we know about getting an area stronger, we want to accumulate somewhere between 70 and 90 seconds of pretty intense work. That means that if we were going, “Okay, this seems like a lot to explore,” you want to think about three or four positions per training session.

For instance, let’s say I have problems going up overhead. What I may choose to do is start off, do my four different rotation positions, one, two, three, and four, here. That’s one position. That’s 24 seconds of work. I then may go up to my overhead position pulling forward in my four positions and then turn away from that, turning backward in my four different hand positions.

If I do that, I’ve now accumulated around 70, 80 seconds of work. I can call it a day. From there, obviously in the Z-Health approach we would be assessing to see how it’s affecting your movement, affecting your pain, affecting your performance so that you could identify the things that are most important to you.

For now, like I said, as you start incorporating this, don’t go hog wild and spend 30 minutes just doing this. I would recommend aiming for three to four positions, different arm positions, going through the four different rotation positions as a starting point.

There’s your basic summary. Hope you enjoy this. Make sure that you use a rope or something that doesn’t have a lot of give in it. Bands can be okay, but they tend to shake quite a bit. To increase the safety of this I would really prefer for you to use something with a little less give.

Give these a shot. If you have any questions about them, please let me know. Otherwise, feel free to explore.

This is not a one workout or one training sessions progression. This should take you months to actually start playing with the different potential factors.

The side benefit in all this is your shoulder’s going to feel great, much more stable, and if you have pain or movement issues I think you’ll find these tremendously helpful.


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