Improve Your Shoulders with the Elbow Walk

There is no doubt that many people have cranky shoulders. This is especially evident when they try to lift their arms fully overhead, or when they’re trying to military press with proper form. When you see a guy or gal excessively arch the lower back when pressing weights overhead, it’s likely that compensation is due to a lack of overhead shoulder mobility.

During my first year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at USC, I got to fully dissect a cadaver. I’ll never forget the week I spent on the shoulder region. Once you see how many muscles, ligaments, vessels, and structures are jam-packed within the shoulder, it’s amazing we could ever lift our arms overhead without pain. Furthermore, the timing and sequencing of muscle activation the nervous system must coordinate while reaching overhead is pretty astonishing.

Indeed, when you consider the plethora of structures within the shoulder complex, and the motor control that’s required for smooth, full range of motion movement, it’s no surprise why a lack of overhead mobility is a widespread problem in the fitness community.

It’s worth mentioning here that there can be 100 different reasons why you lack overhead mobility. And this is also why there are over 100 different special tests used by physical therapists and orthopedic doctors for assessing the shoulder complex. But there are a few common problems that most people need to correct.

One of my favorite corrective exercises to improve overhead mobility is the elbow wall walk. The benefits of this exercise are numerous, but there are three primary goals when you do it correctly. First, it activates the shoulders’ external rotators, which helps pull the head of the humerus into its ideal position. Second, the exercise activates the serratus anterior, a muscle that’s essential for upward rotation of the scapula. Third, the elbow wall walk teaches your client to reach overhead without extending the lumbar spine.

Test Yourself

The elbow wall walk is a terrific shoulder activation drill to perform before upper body training or Olympic lifts. Nevertheless, if you or your client has problems with overhead mobility it’s important to determine if this exercise provides the benefit you seek. You’ll perform 3 sets of the elbow wall walk, and each set should last 45-60 seconds.

  • Do you lack the ability to reach your arms fully overhead? Perform an overhead reach and have your buddy take a picture of your end range of motion. Measure the shoulder joint angle using one of the many Smartphone apps. After that, perform the elbow wall walk, and then retest (and remeasure) your shoulder joint angle to determine if it improved.
  • Shoulder pain when reaching or pressing overhead? Find the overhead position that causes discomfort, and rate it on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being “emergency room” pain. Perform the elbow wall walk, then retest the overhead position and see if the pain intensity has decreased.
  • Poor shoulder stability when holding weights or a barbell overhead? Perform the elbow wall walk, then retest the exercise to determine if your shoulder stability has improved.

The elbow wall walk requires a TheraBand or some type of light resistance band that can be wrapped around each hand. Be sure to “walk” the elbows up the wall very slowly during this drill, and follow the cues outlined in the video below.

Give this activation/strengthening drill a try and it will likely decrease shoulder discomfort and improve overhead performance.

Stay Focused,
CW

Align Your Pelvis to Increase Performance

The term “core” is thrown around a lot these days. Most people think of the core as being the abdominals, or midsection. But if we consider the classic definition of the word, which is “the central part of something,” it means your body’s true core is the pelvis. The pelvis is where the upper and lower segments attach, so it’s the central part of your body.

This also means that if your pelvis is out of proper alignment, it can create unwanted compensations up and/or down your body’s chain. Indeed, problems in the pelvis can cause knee or foot pain, and it can cause low back or shoulder pain.

What’s relevant here are three of the articulations within the pelvis: the two sacroiliac (SI) joints, and the pubic symphysis. These joints make it possible for parts of the pelvis to rotate or tilt, due to the attached muscles being shortened (i.e., overactive) or lengthened (i.e., weak/inhibited).

Now, it’s important to mention here that these joints don’t allow for much motion. In fact, some clinicians still question if they can move at all. But anyone that has a hypermobile pelvis or SI joint pain will tell you they can move. And when they move the wrong way, pain and poor performance follow.

The Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) teaches courses that focus heavily on restoring pelvic alignment. I’ve taken their Myokinematic Restoration and Pelvic Restoration courses, and I recommend them to any progressive trainer or clinician.

Nevertheless, becoming proficient at assessing and correcting pelvic alignment can be a complicated task. There are a myriad of muscles, ligaments and tendons in play, and any one of them can be the culprit. Physiotherapist, Diane Lee, is one of the experts that’s giving seminars to help progress this area of practice. I’m talking here about something called “muscle energy techniques,” which simply means you’re activating key muscles to improve function within the body.

Test Yourself

Before we get to the muscle energy technique that I use to restore pelvic function, it’s important to begin by testing yourself (or a client) so you’ll know if the drill worked. I recommend tests similar to the ones I outlined in the Ultimate Glute Development article I wrote last week.

  • Stiff hamstrings? Do a standing toe touch assessment, then perform the pelvic alignment correction and immediately retest it.
  • Knee or low back pain? Do a movement that causes you to feel the discomfort, then perform the pelvic alignment correction and immediately retest it.
  • Need more hip mobility for the squat, lunge or deadlift? First perform the pelvic alignment correction, and then test if your hips/low back feel looser during the exercise.

For the following Pelvic Alignment Correction, you’ll need a PVC pipe or strong dowel, as well as a basketball or light medicine ball that’s a similar size.

When should you do this drill? First in your workout. It doesn’t make any sense to warm-up, with even a light jog, if your pelvis is out of alignment. To paraphrase Gray Cook: Don’t put fitness on top of dysfunction.

Give the following drill a try before your next sprint, squat, deadlift or jump session, and your hips and alignment will probably feel much better.

Stay Focused,
CW