Athletes participating in weightlifting, powerlifting, and functional fitness are all susceptible to injury. Weightlifters spend much of their training day with their arms overhead, performing exercises like snatches, jerks, and overhead presses. Bench pressing, low bar squats, and assistance work put a lot of strain on a powerlifter’s shoulder complex. Functional fitness athletes are at a higher risk for injury because they often do intense movements that weightlifters and powerlifters don’t do.
The shoulder is responsible for nearly every exercise we perform. The shoulder complex consists of multiple joints stabilized by connective tissue, all of which allow for a range of motion during movement.
Corrective and Strengthening Exercises
A dedicated approach to shoulder movement patterning and strengthening allows for overall development and injury resilience. If you’re not careful with your training, you can end up with injuries that will bother you or keep you from playing. Here are some exercises to improve shoulder range of motion and performance.
1. Retraction Rows
The shoulder blades must be retracted in most pulling, squatting, and pressing movements (not including pullers who embrace thoracic rounding techniques). The shoulder complex can be stabilized by retracting it, improving performance and resistance to injury.
2. Y-T-W Drills
You will often see baseball and football players doing these drills as they are professional overhead athletes (pitchers, throwers, and quarterbacks). These drills should be included in all weightlifting, powerlifting, and preventive shoulder programming. Greater range of motion, strength, and endurance, as well as better control over the muscles in the back of the shoulder, will result in greater stability of the shoulder joint when performing moves such as the snatch, jerk, and press, as well as other exercises that involve pulling or pushing overhead.
To do a retraction row, start by pulling your shoulders down before raising your hands. If your shoulders are in the correct position, your hands should not be able to go past them. If you have not yet improved your mobility and cannot raise your arms very high, that is fine. You can tell you have reached your limit if your elbows flare out or your shoulder blades start to fall apart. This exercise is focused on the shoulders and doesn’t require a large range of motion. If your upper body moves out of alignment or the muscles in your abdomen stop engaging, you’ve moved too far.
3. Multi-Directional Pull Aparts
Pulling your shoulder blades apart (scapular stability) strengthens the muscles in your upper back (posterior shoulder and rhomboids) and balances out the muscles used for pressing movements. When you hold the resistance band with an underhand grip, focus on the external rotation to help keep your shoulder blades retracted. It would be best if you had complete control over this movement at all times— it’s not something that should be done based on momentum.
If it feels difficult to engage the shoulder blades, try thinking of pulling from the elbows instead of the hands. This may help keep the shoulder blades engaged. One should not arch their back so much that their elbows and hands end up behind their shoulders. If they do, the tension moves off the shoulders. Imagine that your shoulders are even with an invisible circle around you that intersects your hips. Your hands should not go past the circle while performing the pull-aparts.
4. Seated Strict Press
The bench press with a neutral grip is an exercise that is performed while sitting on a bench with two dumbbells. The person doing the exercise will press the dumbbells up overhead. You can see an example below. Keep your shoulder blades pulled down and back and your core engaged while doing this movement. This move also challenges your core by teaching it to keep your torso in a straight line from a neutral posture. If you have trouble moving, slide forward on the bench, so your hips are not at a 90-degree angle.
When you reach the top of this movement, the critical focus is to keep your shoulders retracted and depressed. If you disengage your muscles, you will recruit more chest muscles and reduce the move’s effectiveness. Stand with your back against a wall and your shoulder blades touching the wall. Bend your elbows and bring your palms together in front of your chest.
The muscles in the back of the shoulder, traps, and scapulae work to prevent the shoulder from collapsing. The exercise known as the snatch requires the stabilizing muscles to work together to support the weight. The movement is known as “packing the back” involves retracting the shoulder blades and is often seen in weightlifting competitions. This means that the muscles are tight and close together throughout the movement. Keeping your feet parallel while lifting weights will make it easier to balance the weight and avoid injury.
Any strict pull-up should be done with the back, not the arms. Though pull-ups work the biceps, they are not meant to target them specifically. Doing pull-ups with the intention of targeting the biceps specifically makes them awkward and ineffective. While hanging from the pull-up bar, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine pressing your hands forward. From there, using only your shoulder blades, try to bring your hips to the bar — this should place your shoulders in a retracted position with the lats engaged. Once in that position, perform the pull-up.
The pull-up may appear to be more challenging than it typically is. If you received congratulations, it is likely that you performed the task correctly and without involving the arms too much. Doing pull-ups in this way will help you improve your other lifts.
7. Bottoms Up Overhead Squat
A weightlifter’s ability to keep a heavy weight steady from a narrow position enables the muscles around the shoulder blade to contract, rotate the arm outward, and stabilize with the help of the trapezius muscles. A good way to remember how to do proper external rotation is to pretend you are trying to bend the bar. When holding the barbell, your elbows should be up with your shoulders down. Shrug your shoulders and lift the barbell over your head. If you shrug your shoulders at all, you will notice your inner elbows start to face closer to the front. Keeping your shoulders packed will leave you in a better position to bear heavier loads.
BONUS: Influence of Scapula Training Exercises on Shoulder Joint Function After Surgery for Rotator Cuff Injury
The shoulder is an important joint in the human body. It has the greatest range of motion and flexibility. External forces easily injure shoulders. One of the most common shoulder injuries is a rotator cuff injury. For shoulder dysfunction caused by rotator cuff injury, traditional rehabilitation therapy is often applied to the shoulder joint, called the glenohumeral joint. The shoulder joint condition is not often considered, so it is difficult for therapists to have the best curative effect in treatments every day. Several handbooks have been published on scapula training exercises for patients with shoulder joint injury that emphasize the role of scapula motions in shoulder function.
New medical technology has made it possible to do minimally invasive shoulder surgery, which can help relieve the economic and social pressures on patients by allowing them to return to work. Early rehabilitation therapy is also beneficial. Radial shockwave therapy is a new therapeutic technique that has been shown to promote the functional recovery of patients with RCI. We compared the effects of normal rehabilitation therapy to additional scapular therapeutic exercise in patients with dysfunction caused by RCI.
Rehabilitation typically only focuses on the shoulder joint itself and ignores the important role of the scapula in shoulder joint disorders. Joint mobilization can only address the glenohumeral joint itself.
How the scapula moves and is positioned is important for how the shoulder joint works. Many scholars, including Solom-Bertoft, have observed patients in both the sitting and standing positions to evaluate how the scapula’s position changes before physician treatment. For example, the forward position of the shoulder blade might be made worse by the chest, head, and neck position. This position might then worsen infrascapular stenosis and infrascapular rotator cuff tendinopathy, which would then cause more pain. In 2009 and 2010, Ludewig and many other scholars analyzed the motion coordination system of healthy people’s scapulas and the scapula’s forward spin and downward spin. Their findings indicated that normal movement and the correct position of the scapula are important for shoulder joint function. The results of this research also found that the experimental group’s shoulder ROM was significantly improved after 12 weeks of treatment compared to the control group (P<0.05).
Liu Xiaohua and many other scholars  suggested that patients treated with calcific rotator cuff tendinitis after shoulder injury surgery should apply isometric strength training two weeks after the operation and resistance training six weeks after the operation, as long as the strength training does not aggravate the shoulder pain. Many scholars advocate scapulohumeral muscle strength training, especially training of the rotator cuff muscles, to improve glenohumeral joint stability and expand shoulder range of motion, as well as the curative effect of patients with scapula glenoid labrum tear.
Many scholars have found that keeping your shoulder still for a long time can tire the Serratus Anterior muscle, reducing how much the shoulder blade can rotate and how far it can stick out. This also causes the humerus head to tilt forward and up, which often leads to an injury of the acromion and rotator cuff tears. The serratus anterior muscle also helps stabilize the shoulder joint during outreach, so patients will need rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the muscles around the scapula after shoulder joint immobilization. The patients in the experimental group were given strength training for the muscles around the scapula in addition to the normal rehabilitation therapy, which included closed-chain stability training. We found that the patients in the experimental group had significantly better results than patients in the control group in terms of shoulder joint pain, daily activity, and strength test (P<0.05).
According to the CMS score, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of strength and range of motion of shoulder abduction and extension in the assessments carried out six weeks after postoperative rehabilitation treatment. The main reason for these differences in outcomes may be that the protective immobilization rehabilitation was mostly performed after the early RCI operation, and the content targeted for muscle strength training was not part of the therapeutic schedule. Another reason may be that most patients with RCI have problems with their supraspinatus. Hence, a relatively conservative therapeutic schedule was necessary for the training of outreach activity which may have made it difficult to detect improvements in muscle strength.
Before rehabilitating and treating patients, physiotherapists must first figure out the main causes of shoulder joint disorders. They need to develop a targeted rehabilitation and treatment schedule based on the cause of the disease. Most physicians neglect scapula movement in daily rehabilitation and treatment, which limits the effectiveness of rehabilitation and treatment. Physiotherapists are thus required to analyze scapula movement to develop a rehabilitation and treatment schedule for patients with shoulder joint disorders. Scapula movement and position are especially important for patients with an early shoulder injury. Scapula movement in the early period, as well as expanding the range of scapula movement, has a significant effect on the range of shoulder joint movement. The study results suggest that physiotherapists should give scapula exercises more attention during the rehabilitation and treatment of patients undergoing RCI surgery.