Today we’re going to be talking about how to save your shoulders if you play any kind of overhead sports.
It’s a beautiful day here in winter in Phoenix, so I wanted to do a little bit of shooting outside and actually talk a little bit about sports. One of the most common complaints that we are asked about is shoulder pain in some kind of overhead motion.
Now, if you play baseball, obviously it’s not a baseball, it’s a tennis ball, but if you play baseball or tennis or volleyball or football or anything that involves this kind of overhead motion that we see people doing all the time, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on with technique and also with the body that can cause shoulder pain or problems with performance.
So I want to cover just a couple of those basic things with you today, and then next week what we’re going to do are some exercises that will help you fix it.
So the first thing that we’re interested in, as far as throwing, is your scapula or shoulder blade. Now, the issue that a lot of people run into is number one, they were never taught to throw properly, and what happens is they tend to keep a very stiff upper body and as they rotate they believe that their arm needs to come up really high.
Well, yes, if we get our arm high in a throwing motion, in a tennis serve or whatever, we may generate more velocity but the problem is, if I keep my body relatively square and reach up, maybe a million times in my career, without having some kind of compensatory body motion, it can put a ton of stress on the shoulder because the scapula, or your shoulder blade, is supposed to be able to rotate up to a certain degree.
But basically, here’s what we’re talking about. If I bring my arm up, once I hit about 90 degrees or just beyond that, it’s possible, particularly if my shoulder blade is really stiff, that my humerus, which is this bone here, can actually start to run into a lip or ridge on the shoulder blade. This is commonly called impingement syndrome, and you’ll hear a lot of people complaining about, ah, I have this painful motion right about here.
It’s kind of sharp. And usually what we see with athletes is, over time, they change their mechanics in order to avoid that. So one of the first things that we try to focus on is restoring mobility to the shoulder blade. Now, it’s sometimes mobility and sometimes strength, but we’ll get into some exercises to work on that in just a minute.
The other thing that we oftentimes see with basic throwing technique, and we try to correct all the time, is that most people, whenever they’re doing anything overhead, do not have sufficient body lean away. What I mean by that is if you watch the best athletes in the world, and we actually have one of our advanced certifications called “Skill and Style,” where we look at what are called motor primitives or sport motor primitives, and we say, hey, what are the technique commonalities across all sports, particularly for people doing something overhead?
Well, the very best performers and the people who are able to do it the longest have very similar mechanics, and what you’ll typically see is this arm will come up to about 90 degrees or a little bit more, but in order to get the extra reach, the body leans away. What that winds up doing is keeping the shoulder in a more protected position that then allows you to do that again hundreds of thousands or millions of times over the course of your lifetime without beating up your shoulder so much.
So, what I’d like for you to do with me is we’re going to explore a few exercises. Whenever we start throwing or doing anything overhead, one of the other key pieces is eventually you will go into what’s called a Big L position. The Big L is basically 90 degrees here, 90 degrees here, so if I was throwing a ball, I would be at 90 and then eventually come through with that motion. If I was going to a tennis serve, eventually I’m going to go through that 90 degree position. So we want to explore your shoulder mobility while in that 90-90 position.
So the way that we’re going to do this is you’re going to join me now. Bend to 90. Bend to 90. Now I want you to focus on your shoulder blade, and I want you to lift your shoulder blade up. I want you to pull it back as far as you can, pull it down as far as you can, and then push it forward. You want to be keeping everything else nice and still as you do this.
You can see that as I get more comfortable with it, I’m just going to explore that range of motion and I’m going to turn it into circles. Let’s take quick look at the shoulder blade motion we’re looking for from the side, so again, starting from my 90-90 in neutral position, I’m going to lift the shoulder blade, pull it back, pull it down as far as it’ll go, push it forward.
So that’s the nice, clean, simple, circular motion that we’re looking for in order to mobilize your shoulder blade. Now from here, what I want you to do, is I want you to keep this same position in front of your body, but now I want you to drop your arm into, this would be called internal rotation. Keeping everything the same, you’re going to once again explore these different circles or different motions that you can make.
Now, from here, I want you to take the arm out as far as you comfortably can, and repeat that same movement. And you can do three to five in each direction, and just see how comfortable it feels. I want you to think of these as movement explorations, not exercises. You’re just trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do.
Now once you’ve done that movement here, I want you to now come out to the side, and you’ll repeat the same series of three. The only challenge when you take the arm out to the side is instead of having the shoulder blade going forward and back, we’re now going to be moving it in and out. We’re doing the same thing: up, back, down, and out, but we’re now in a different plane.
So we do three to five in this position, then we drop it and do the internal rotation position. You want to be more careful here, because this is going to put the shoulder in a little more compromised position, and then you’re going to drop out and do the same thing. Again, just movement explorations. That’s all I’m asking you to do.
The last piece for today is to realize that anytime you’re going through a sports movement, it’s not just your shoulder. It’s the rest of the body as well. So one of the movement explorations I have our athletes do is, once they’ve gone through three to five, three to five, three to five, and then the same series out here, neutral, internal, external, I say, “Now I want you to think about your sport.” So let’s say I’m a tennis player.
When I’m going through the service motion and I’m throwing that ball up, where’s my head? My head’s up and in extension, and if I’m keeping my eye on the ball as I come through, my head and neck are going to be in extension as I’m requiring shoulder movement of my body.
So what I’d like for you to do now is I want you to think about, okay, how can I hold my neck differently while I do the same exercises? As an example, we’ll come back up to this position, keeping everything in neutral. What I want you to do now is I want you to rotate your body a little bit, look up, keep your eyes up, and repeat the same series of motions.
Again, three to five, and you’re just exploring to see how it feels. You want to then go into the internal rotation, once again exploring, and then the external.
You can play with this, changing different body rotations, different head positions, and what you’ll find is that in every position, you’re going to have some different challenges in regards to mobilizing the shoulder because our brain can generalize movement to some extent, but it’s very specific at the same time. So we really have to play with the positions in which we actually do our work if we want to be good at them.
So this is it for this week. We’re going to, again, think about improving scapular mobility. Next time we’re going to talk about some lateral bending.
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