The shoulder joint is an amazing structure which allows us as humans to throw, pull, push and rotate our arm through a large range of motion. This joint is extremely mobile but is somewhat muscle-dependent as it lacks a strong surrounding ligament support system. The muscles that help secure our shoulder joint are the rotator cuff muscles and primarily consist of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and the subscapularis. Anatomical terminology aside, these muscles are part of the infrastructure that is responsible for the health of your shoulder joint. Exhibit weakness or inflexibility in any of these muscles and you’re bound to encounter shoulder tendonitis, bursitis or a potentially more devastating injury. Fear not, these muscles are easy to stimulate and require only a few minutes per day to activate, mobilize and strengthen.
Mobility is essential for allowing the soft tissues to align properly so the strengthening portion can be most effective. There are two spots that need to be addressed before we can work on the rotator cuff muscles.
1) Thoracic Spine – this area is located in the mid to upper back running along side the spine and between the shoulder blades. Lay down on a roller or conjoined ball then fold over the item. From here sit up by engaging the core and then relaxing. Perform this sequence 2 – 3 times before moving up the spine one vertebrae at a time. Remember, never roll directly on the boney structure of the spine, just the adjacent muscles.
2) Anterior Deltoid – this area is located in the front of the shoulder. Start by laying face down on a roller or large ball, targeting the specified area. Now raise the arm overhead then slowly perform a reverse snow angel until your arms are almost reaching into your back pockets before returning to the arm overhead. Repeat 10 times on each side. Remember, this technique can be performed against a wall should you experience a lot of discomfort on the floor.
Now that we have loosened up the area and allowed it to function more efficiently it is time to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles with a simple set of exercises, T’s, Y’s and I’s.
T’s – Lay face down with arms straight out by the side at 90 degrees so the body and arms form the letter “T”. Make sure the thumbs are pointing up at all times. Now squeeze the shoulder blades together by raising the arms a few inches off the ground, hold for 2 seconds then relaxing and repeating for a total of 20 repetitions.
Y’s – In the same position we now shift our arms up to form the letter “Y”. Again, make sure the thumbs are pointing up while lifting the arms and squeezing the shoulder blades for 2 full seconds before relaxing. Repeat for a total of 20 repetitions.
I’s – Lastly, the body position remains the same but the arms reach all the way overhead so the biceps are next to the ears with the thumbs facing up. Now pinch the shoulder blades together and raise the arms overhead for a 2 second pause before relaxing. You guessed it, another 20 repetitions.
These mobility techniques can be performed for a combined 5 minutes while the rotator cuff strengthening exercises should start with 1 set of 20 repetitions and then increasing to 2, 3 or 4 sets over the course of weeks or until the athlete exhibits the control and muscular endurance to perform properly. Stay on top of these techniques and your chance of injury goes down drastically.