As kids we loved to play on the playground. We would hang on the bar, do somersaults, think of ways to conquer the rig without touching the ground. All these natural movements would help us have strong, mobile and stable shoulders. But as we got older the movement of our shoulders got worse and if you now have a job where you sit all day you probably can move your shoulders only barely. And then one day you show up at CrossFit and start to do hand stands, lift heavy objects above your head and return to the rig. Ever wonder how do your shoulders must feel?
Test them out!
Try to find our if your shoulders are opened. What does that mean? That they are fully mobile and you can lift your arms above your head without your spine compensating the movement. This is very important for any vertical movement.
Lay on the ground, feet together, point your toes, lower your pelvis, suck in your stomach and make sure your lower back is glued to the floor. Now try to touch the ground above your head with your arms stretched out, don’t bend the elbows. Stop reading and start testing it out!
Now let’s test this standing up. Yep, this time it’s harder because gravity is no longer helping you. Start by bending your knees a little and step away from the wall. Glue all of your back to the wall, lift up your arms and try to touch the wall.
Now move your heels to the wall and start over. What does this positing remind you of? A handstand, several variations of presses or hanging from the rig? All these movements need your body to be in one line, as in leaning against the wall – heels, butt, spine, the back of your head and arms above. You can see that I wasn’t really able to do it right because light shines through my lower back and the wall. This means my shoulders are not as open as they should be and I can’t move their full range.
If you don’t have full mobility, you will compensate by pulling out your ribs and bending your back. Your body simply always finds a way to “borrow” the range of motion somewhere else to bypass our weaknesses. But now imagine that you have a 60kg barbell over your head or you hold your own weight upside down. Who holds the weight? Are some vertebrae congested, do you feel pain in your back?
How to open your shoulders?
Don’t forget that you will also need strength for the above mentioned movements! There are countless ways to open your shoulders and I will show you three you can work on before or after you train, at home, at work, anywhere.
How long will it take? However long you will need. It’s a long run and your improvement will come slowly, but it will come. Be honest, patient and insistent.
Go back to steps 2 and 3. Find the position that limits you, push your spine against the wall and try to touch it with your palms. When you reach the position start swinging, 30-50 times and repeat this in 3 sets. And don’t forget, your arms need to be stretched out.
Hang yourself on the rig. Start slow, your feet touching the ground. Try to hold on for 30 seconds a time, 3 sets. Increase the difficulty up to 1 minute and 5 sets. And furthermore … To make the hand good for opening your shoulders, release them completely, pull yourselves up to your ears (your spine will be stretched and relaxed).
“Dislocates” or “pass throughs” … we do these quite often during our lessons. Do you do them right? Do you feel your spine move when you do them? You are correct to think that your spine should not move at all when you do these. If you struggle, lay on your stomach, put your forehead on the ground and repeat the movement.
Another important thing is progress – try to move your hands closer and closer. You should be able to have the shoulder width apart (your shoulders are the most mobile joints of your body and it can move up to 360 degrees). Try to put a weight on the wooden bar to help your shoulders get stronger. And if you are a robocop, try doing these with a bar.
Shoulders are super complex and they are moved by many muscles. Among the most important ones are the deltoid, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres major and minor. Shoulders are also stabilised by trapezius, latissimus dorsi, the interscapular muscles, and they are affected by our biceps and triceps as well. It just got wild, didn’t it. But what you should take away from this is that we want our shoulders to be strong and fully mobile. We want to protect it whether we lift a baby from the ground, when we fall or when we hang.