3 Tips for Keeping Your Shoulders Healthy

Do this routine daily to maintain healthy (and strong) shoulders.

One of the most common injuries I see at the gym are shoulder injuries. Most of which I believe could be avoided if we incorporated a few easy practices into our daily routine. So, I put together my shoulder routine that helps me keep my shoulders healthy and strong.

Here we go!

1. Open up your T-spine

In my opinion, the most important thing that most people can do to improve shoulder mobility is to open the T-spine. The T-spine, or thoracic spine, is the portion of your spine between your lower lumbar (low back) and upper cervical (head/neck) spine. When the T-spine is flexed forward (maybe from being hunched forward over a desktop all day), the shoulder blades are not able to rotate fully and allow the arms to go overhead. This ends up creating restriction that can play out in a variety of ways from only causing a slight amount of discomfort in going overhead to fully blocking the movement altogether. It doesn't take long for injuries to show their dirty faces if this is not dealt with.

Here's how to do it:

a. T-spine extensions & rotations

There are a number of great tutorials out there on how to work extension and rotation of your T-spine using the foam roller and other techniques. I found this one (minutes 1:00-4:00) for a demonstration on using the foam roller for extension and this one (minutes 3:15-4:15) is a great example of rotations. Do a session of these once per day at least.

b. Maintain better posture throughout the day

Just google "how to improve posture" and you'll find countless articles and videos on tips to improve your posture (just don't buy any silly posture improvement devices please ;). To sum it up in a nutshell, sit up tall and pull your shoulders back. If you sit at a computer all day for work, make sure to get up frequently to walk and stretch.

2. Open up your chest and shoulder muscles

The second most important thing to keep shoulders healthy is to maintain the elasticity of the muscles around the upper back, shoulders and chest. This won't be a full list, but the pectorals (major and minor), lats, traps, deltoids, triceps and biceps are some of the larger ones and tend to cause the most problems if they are tight and short. The goal is to maintain elasticity and length in these muscles so they don't cause restriction around the shoulder joint. 

Here's how to do it:

a. Do your pre and post workout stretching

I have a daily routine that consists of stretching my chest, lats, triceps, biceps/forearms and shoulders. It doesn't need to be rocket science, but it needs to be consistent. Here is a great video of a handful of exercises that can be done before and after every workout.

b. Myofascial release techniques

I love Kelly Starrett's quote of, "every human being should be knowledgeable on taking care of their own body." I couldn't agree more. Use a lacrosse ball or foam roller and find tight muscle tissues that tend to happen around the traps, shoulder blades, delts and pecs. If you haven't had a coach show you how to use these tools, check out this book and get to work.

3. Use proper form

Finally, it wouldn't be a proper article if I didn't have a bullet point reminder on the importance of using correct form and technique. Correct form can refer to the range of motion, grip/stance, body positioning/alignment and speed/tempo of the movement. Every movement carries a different set of circumstances and every individual can do the movements a little differently based on their body type, experience level, goals with the movement etc. The goal is to use proper form and mechanics so you can get the most out of your workouts as well as reduce your risk of injury.

Here's how to do it:

a. Hire a coach (even if it's you)

There are so many options for this. Whether you are a member at a CrossFit gym and do group classes, hire a personal trainer or just record videos of yourself and critique your own form, you need to be held accountable to correct form. If not, you will suffer the consequences of increasing your risk of injury or leaving performance on the table.

b. Check your ego at the door

Oh ego, how I love and despise thee! Your ego can be your greatest friend and enemy at the same time. While it boosts your confidence and allows you to feel good, it also protects you and keeps you from working on your weaknesses. My best advice for checking your ego is to just focus on your effort and not what weight is on the bar or the number of reps completed, and certainly not on what anyone else is doing! If you can do that, you'll often be doing the best thing for your own health and fitness.

In conclusion

When it comes to shoulder health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having a routine of checking these items off on a daily basis is likely to keep us from ever having to step into a doctor's office with shoulder pain. For some of us, putting these things into practice might even turn up some PRs on lifts or movements we've been struggling with. 

One more time in review, a daily practice for keeping healthy shoulders would look like this:

  • T-spine rolling and rotations
  • Improve your posture
  • Pre & post workout stretching
  • Myofascial release
  • Hire a coach to watch your form
  • Check your ego

There you have it! Now go on and crush things! 

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