Shoulder Mobility: How to Get It And How To Lose It

If you're reading this, chances are that you have already lost mobility in your shoulders. Or, perhaps, you never had it to begin with. Well, today you will learn how to take better care of your shoulders.  

Having limited range of motion in your shoulders makes a variety of movements quite difficult; even painful. Overhead squats, snatches, jerks, pull-ups, muscles ups, and more all involve healthy shoulder mobility. If you've ever tried to perform an overhead squat with tight shoulders, you know what I'm talking about. 

So how did your shoulders get to be so tight? Assuming you have not been injured recently, the muscles around your shoulders have simply been denied the opportunity to recover properly. Continued repetition, without proper mobilization and recovery, leads to tight muscles and restricted range of motion. When you workout, your muscles are broken down. Tiny little tears occur within your muscles and need to be repaired. This is a natural process, nothing to be worried about, but your body needs a little help from you in order to heal these tears in the best possible way. Without this help, the repair process leaves your muscles feeling very stiff.  

When your body tries to heal a muscle, it does so by throwing a whole bunch of minerals at the site in order to build it back up. It does this as soon as the tear/injury occurs. If you are immobile for too long after a workout, these minerals build up in places. This leaves you with calcium deposits and scar tissue in certain parts of the muscle that doesn't stretch very well. Thus, the next time you go to use that muscle, it will feel very stiff and you will notice a significant decrease in your range of motion.  

So how to fix this? Mobility! I am a huge fan of triggerpoint therapy. This practice is similar to foam rolling, with a few added elements to make the process even more beneficial. Basically, it involves finding areas of tension and releasing them, allowing for the whole muscle to release and move better. Doing this after a workout also gets your blood flowing, so as to avoid those mineral deposits and help your muscles recover.

Regarding the shoulders, there are three main areas that should be mobilized on a regular basis if this part of your body is to move as it should.

Lats

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Your lats can be found by raising your arm up into the air, and feeling for the muscle right outside your arm pit. This muscle extends down the side of your body, but we are going to focus on the upper part for now. Take a massage ball and lay on your side. We are going to find two places on this muscle to place the ball, in between the pink dots shown to the right. The first is going to be at the lower end of the muscle. For women, a nice indicator is right above your bra line. As you are finding this area, be gentle. Once you've found it, settle in, and take that arm overhead with the palm facing upwards. Then, keeping your arm straight, bring it across in front of your body. Reset and repeat for six repetitions. When you have completed this step, move up until you are right below your shoulder and repeat for another six reps. Move to the other side of your body once you are finished.

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Pecs

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To work the pecs, use the same massage ball as you did for your lats and place it on the front of your body between your breast bone and the deltoid. It should be placed about where you see the green dot. This is a small area, so you will know if you are in the wrong spot. Lie on your stomach, and be gentle as you are finding your placement. Once you have found it, bring your hand into a fist by your head with your elbow at 90 degrees. Then, bring your hand around your face. Do this for six repetitions as well, moving on to the other side when you are done.

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Thoracic Spine

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The muscles surrounding the thoracic spine are often forgotten. They do, however, play a huge role in your ability to properly take your arms overhead without arching your back (a very unstable position). For this exercise, you will need a much smaller massage ball. A lacrosse ball, or something of that size and density will do. Place the ball on your upper back, right next to but NOT on top of your thoracic spine (see blue dots). Next, find a wall to lean against. Putting a slight bend in your knees will help you lean into the ball/wall and get enough pressure to release the muscle. Then, on whichever side of the spine you decided to place the ball (we'll say your right side), bring that arm out to the side of your body. Slowly, bring it across the front of your body. You will only be able to get so far with that right arm, so use your left to pull it the last little bit into your chest. This last little bit is very important, so don't neglect it. Again, do this for six repetitions in one spot. You should be able to find about three spots on either side of your spine, starting about mid-back and ending at your traps, always moving up your back rather than down.

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These mobility exercises will greatly increase your range of motion. However, consistency is key. One round of mobility will not solve all of your problems. You can, however, see quick improvement, and most feel immediate relief. But to be rid of your shoulders problems for good, you must practice these movements on a daily basis. I suggest you spend some time mobilizing these areas before and after your workouts, as well as once or twice on your rest days. Do not exceed three times a day unless otherwise directed (there is such a thing as too much mobility).

Try these out for yourself and tell me what you think!