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5 Exercises for Pain Free Shoulders

by Ben Thompson

If you have trained in the gym before, chances are you have experienced anterior shoulder pain. Alot of the time we find the pain is caused by poor shoulder mobility and weak scapular retractors and external rotators. 

This can be brought on by high volumes of pressing and rowing that causes the internal rotators of the shoulder to tighten.

Before we continue, we must note the type of shoulder pain we are referring to is from general tightness not shoulder pain from a specific injury.

Recommendation: If you have hurt your shoulder, we recommend seek advice from a medical professional.

Upper Body Cross Syndrome 

Upper body cross syndrome is a way to describe a pattern that occurs in the upper body, particularly those that train in the gym and then sit at a desk for most of the day. Tightness of the pectoralis major and minor, along with tightness of the upper trapezius and levator scapular is what occurs (See Figure 1).

This tightness causes muscles like the lower and middle trapezius and deep neck flexors to be inhibited and weak, leading to a muscular imbalance.

Now you might be thinking, why does this make my shoulder hurt? 

Simply put, this pattern pulls the shoulder forward and often causes the biceps tendon to become impinged.

The most effective way of fixing this is performing mobility drills to stretch the muscles that are tight and performing strength exercises that will strengthen the weak muscles.

Figure 1: Upper Body Cross Syndrome

1) Shoulder Dislocates

The shoulder dislocate is a great exercise to stretch the internal rotators of the shoulder. To perform this exercise, slide the grip out as wide as you need to move smoothly through the range.  As the dowel passes over your head, go slow through the portion where you feel the greatest stretch.  

Over time the goal is to move the hands closer, so they are just outside of shoulder width. 

2) Subscap Stretch

The subscapularis muscle is responsible for medial rotation of the glenuhumeral joint. In most cases of shoulder pain, this muscle is involved.

To stretch the subscapularis, use a dowel to take the shoulder into external rotation. 

Watch the video below for a demonstration.

3) Prone Bilateral Trap 3 Raise - 30 Degree Incline

The Trap 3 Raise is a great exercise to train the scapular retractors. The movement is to be done with a controlled tempo and is not an exercise that is done with alot of weight. 

To start the movement, keep your arms straight and retract your shoulder blades. Lift your arms up at a 45 degree angle and keep your thumbs pointing to the sky. 

It is important to not recruit the upper traps when performing this exercise.

Watch the video below for a demonstration.

4) Cable Facepull

The cable facepull is great to strengthen the upper back and improve posture. To start the movement, set the cable height at about chest level and grab the rope with a pronated grip. Retract your scapular and try pull the middle of the rope to your nose.

Watch the video below for a demonstration.

5) Cable External Rotation from the Hip

The cable external rotation is a great way to train the external rotators of the shoulder. To perform this exercise, set the cable at hip height with a single handle attachment. .

Stand with good posture, retracting your scapular as you place your other hand on your hip. Pin the elbow to the body and externally rotate your arm outward, using your shoulder as the pivot point.

Pro Tip: Start with your weaker side as it will dictate how many reps you perform on your stronger side

Watch the video below for a demonstration.



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