My Top 3 Exercises to "BULLETPROOF" the Shoulders!

Updated: Sep 18, 2019


The shoulder is extremely complex and is composed of a dynamic system of articulations. With its extreme amount of range of motion (ROM), it requires a balance between mobility and stability. There are also many structures that greatly influence the dynamics and biomechanics of the shoulder. There can be many underlying causes of shoulder pain or injury. So to say one exercise is better than the other can be misconstrued.

The glenohumeral joint is just one component of the entire shoulder girdle. Therefore, we need to look at how the entire shoulder complex can be targeted to best optimize the mobility, stability, and strength through movement. My top list of shoulder exercises and tips are coordinated to make the biggest impact in these 3 components to best “Bulletproof” the shoulder. These exercises will ultimately develop adaptation and resiliency.

1. Mobility

As I stated in the video, passive measures will not do the job. This will only lead to passive outcomes that are temporary and short lived. Those knots you feel around the shoulder blade are a signal for change. Who is requesting that change? The Glenohumural (GH) joint most likely. The GH joint is the “ball and socket” of your shoulder, and it has a ton of ROM. Therefore, it requires active usable control over all of those ranges (mobility). Your brain is smart, if you lose mobility in the Glenohumeral joint, then it has to impart stability to make up for it. It will normally do so by adding in those nagging trigger points around the shoulder complex. It will also create compensations and poor movement patterns. Those knots or trigger points are usually relfexive changes in muscle tone (imparting stability). It may feel good or “hurt good” to lay on a lacrosse ball, but those knots will likely come right back, unless you make an active change in your mobility.

Also, if your shoulder only experiences one or two positions for the majority of the day, then it becomes accustomed to only those ranges. All other ranges of motion will not feel safe. This can put you at a higher risk of injury and decreased performance with anything involving the shoulder.

-Glenohumeral Controlled Articular Rotations are the are key for building Articular Strength and Neurological Control! Watch the video for a short tutorial (Skip Time Code 2:38)

2. Stability

As we are going shoulder movements, the rotator cuff mm. works to stabilize the humerus in the glenoid fossa. It does this by keeping certain directional tension to centralize the ball (humerus) in the socket (glenoid fossa). Although the rotator cuff group of muscles do produce internal and external rotation, banded exercise drills are not very specific to the true action of these muscles in motion. The bigger muscles (prime movers) such as the pectoralis major, lattisimus dorsi, deltoids, etc. create the majority of movement. The rotator cuff mm. are strongly working to create centration of the joint (coordinated activation to keep the joint in place).

Banded internal and external rotation drills are not a waste of time, but I see more potential in the utilization of movement-based exercises that give the stabilizers that specificity. I give an example of the bench press, which has a specific bar path. Why not work through that plane of motion if you bench press a lot? Your most stabile position is typically in external rotation for most pressing movements. So it makes sense to have a reactive drill that will cue external rotation stabilization while pushing through that plane of motion. Creating stability through all planes of motion would be the most beneficial obviously, but try focusing on your limitations. This will make your most challenging movements easier to stabilize.

- Shoulder Stability Banded Drill to create rotator cuff stability and joint centration through movement (Skip Time Code 6:32)

3. Scapulo-Thoracic Articulation & Positioning

The Scapulo-Thoractic (ST) joint allows the scapula to glide along the posterior wall (rib cage). If you do not have good scapular control through retraction, protraction, elevation, or depression, then this may increase your chances of acquiring a shoulder injury or dysfunction. The scapula has to glide along the rib cage in order for these motions to occur. More importantly, it needs to upwardly elevate in order to avoid most impingement positions. Many coaches will cue a retracted position, which is not a bad cue. We do want adequate scapular retraction, but it can come at a cost if maintained throughout certain movements. This is because; it prevents the scapula from upwardly rotating, often times leading to winging of the shoulder blade (flares away from the ribs).

In order to prevent this and other shoulder impingement issues, the push up plus comes in at number 3. I like to add a few different tricks to this exercise. With this movement, the target is the SA (Serratus Anterior mm.), which is primarily responsible for upward rotation and elevation of the scapula. I can never feel it being targeted with the basic push up plus. Therefore, I add in elevation while driving through protraction + exhalation (SA responsible for accessory respiration).

Follow these tips for a better Push Up Plus for better Scapulo-thoracic strength and control. (Skip to Time Code 9:30)

This blog is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to help diagnose or treat any conditions. Please seek a medical professional for your healthcare needs.


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