Coach Caleb’s Corner –
Happier Shoulders in Two Simple Drills
Happier shoulders (to go with those Happy Hips from our previous Coach’s Corner!) can be yours in just two simple drills. It should be noted that these drills relate more to gleno-humeral mobility, which is the arm moving in the shoulder socket. Shoulder mobility is also affected by how your thoracic spine (upper back) moves, and we will address that area next time.
The first exercise might surprise you, because we won’t be mobilizing joints anywhere near your shoulders, but bear with me, it can work wonders. Lest you think I mixed up a couple potential topics and gave you a leg mobilizer instead of a shoulder one, let’s test your shoulder mobility first and then we can retest it afterwards and prove the effectiveness of the drill. We’re getting all science-y on this one with our test, correct, re-test strategy. Should be fun!
To quickly assess your shoulder mobility, stand with your back to a wall, loop your thumbs together in front of you and make loose fists with your hands. Keeping your elbows locked out straight, and your thumbs linked together, raise your arms up only as high as they’ll go without discomfort (and certainly without pain!). Take note of how high your arms get without also getting a strained look on your face or grinding your teeth or any other such nonsense. We want a true baseline for a range of motion you currently own. One of the cheats you might not notice you’re doing is bending the elbows, so be sure to keep them straight. Also take care not to over-arch the low back or let the rib cage flare – keep the abs engaged and keep the ribs in.
If your arms go all the way over head and you touch the wall behind you, well bully for you; you probably won’t see a drastic improvement with this drill because your shoulders are already pretty happy! If your fists didn’t make it all the way to the wall overhead, we might be able to get them a little closer. In any case, let’s move on to the drill and see what we can achieve. Now you’re going to stand facing the wall, leaning on it a bit with your hands for balance. Reach one leg back and point your toes so that you can tuck them under; touching the deck with the top of your toes and foot. This should give you a bit of a stretch in the front part of the foot/instep area. You can bend a bit at the knees now and pulse forward to deepen the stretch about ten times, then switch legs and repeat for ten pulses on the other side.
Go back to the first leg and repeat the process but this time, drop your heel out to the side so that you are targeting more of the outside part of the foot with those stretchy little pulses.
Once you’ve completed ten pulses on each leg with the heel out to the side, it’s time to retest. Turn around to put your back to the wall and re-assess your mobility again just like you did before stretching out your feet. You will likely notice a delightful increase in your shoulder mobility!
For our second course, we’ll leave the feet alone and address the shoulders more directly. As always, stay within a pain-free range of motion. This drill is a classic from days gone by that still keeps paying off. Enter the Egyptian; so called because you look a bit like you’re doing a King Tut dance when you do it. (Does anyone else remember that old Steve Martin sketch from SNL?) Start standing with your arms outstretched in a straight line from your shoulders to your fingertips, resembling the letter “T,” with your palms facing down. Imagine that your arms are being pulled in opposite directions; making them longer. Now turn your head to look at the fingertips of your right hand as you externally rotate the right shoulder to bring the palm up, and internally rotate the left shoulder while taking the left palm up and keeping the arm lifted as high as possible. Pivot your feet so that your toes point to the right as well. This is your starting position.
While maintaining this feeling of having “long arms,” pivot your feet 180 degrees to point to the left, rotate your arms and turn your head to reverse the start position; now looking at the fingers of your upturned left hand.
Switch back and forth, doing the “King Tut” a few times to lubricate your shoulders and arms. As you warm up into the move, try to increase the range of motion you are getting in the joint and make a muscular effort in the shoulders. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
If you give these a try, we’d love to know how it goes. Enjoy!