Finding it hard to build your upper body strength without injuries? Perhaps you should consider focusing on your shoulder health.
Your shoulders are very important and perhaps, one of the most overlooked group of joints and muscles. From helping out in everyday tasks like lifting or reaching for objects, to being a vital part of your body to build upper body strength, your shoulders do it all.
Good shoulder health is determined by two correlated factors: flexibility and strength. Having flexible shoulders increases strength and relieves the amount of load that your bones, ligaments and joints have to bear. If your flexibility is limited, poor shoulder blade/joint coordination is a common problem, building the foundation for more shoulder injuries.
You can do a variety of mobility drills and workouts to improve the flexibility, but you may want to know the limits of your flexibility first.
The shoulder reach test
There are a variety of shoulder flexibility tests available, but our favorite is: THE SHOULDER REACH TEST.
Perform the test without any bulky clothing and make sure you are in a comfortable environment - not too cold. The only equipment you need is a measuring tape or ruler. Raise one arm over your head and the other trying to reach your overhead arm behind your back as shown in the video. Once you have reached as far as you can, get your coach or physical therapist to measure the distance between your fingers.
The shoulder reach test is very basic, but it give a good idea of your functional range of motion. While your coach or therapist will have a better idea of your flexibility, for your own knowledge, your flexibility can be described as such:
Excellent: fingers overlap
Good: fingers touch
Average: fingers are less than two inches apart
Poor: fingers are more than two inches apart
Repeat the test on your opposite shoulder and over the course of several weeks to determine your progress after you perform a variety of stretches and exercises.
If you do sports like swimming and gymnastics, you may want to be more concerned of the exact measurement as shoulder flexibility can make a difference between winning and losing.
Stretching your shoulders
Having a knowledge about your range of motion is good. You know your limits to avoid injury, but regardless of whether you have good shoulder flexibility or not, it is good to keep stretching your shoulders.
Bigger movement exercises like snatches, hang cleans, presses, and even overhead presses takes a big tow on your shoulders and it helps to stretch or warm-up before attempting them. Try out the following stretches to activate your shoulders for various exercises.
Backward T-Y-I movements
When to stretch
It goes without saying that you should stretch before exercising to warm your shoulders up. But stretching during and after exercising also helps.
Stretching your shoulders between your exercise sets will help increase the flexibility of your shoulders and keep them safe from injury. It will also make them more muscular as it helps with recovery. As your body recovers faster and becomes fitter, you can lift heavier weights and challenge your body further.
Having a cool down routine that includes shoulder stretches along with the neck, back, and leg stretches will increase the flexibility of your body overall, making your body stronger and fitter.
If you are unsure, make sure you perform these stretches and exercises under the supervision of a certified trainer.
"You don't use it, you lose it!" - Prince Hew, Head Coach of BMT.
Remember this quote from our head coach, because flexibility works that way. As you grow older, you become less flexible and even more so if you don't stretch, So, time to get those stretches in!
Want to know more? Sign up for a free account and ask us a question in the comments section! Or simply join one of our sessions for a true BMT experience!