AtA: Dynamic Stretches for Shoulder Mobility

Posted July 14th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What’s your favorite dynamic stretch to improve shoulder mobility? I’ve been doing your pull squats for my hamstrings the last few weeks and I can’t believe the improvement. I can nearly touch my toes with locked knees now, which is probably a 4 inch improvement in my range of motion. My shoulder mobility is absolutely terrible, though, and I’d like to improve it.

I’ve read about “shoulder dislocations,” where you hold a broom handle with both hands and a wide grip at your waist, and you bring it all the way over your head until you touch the small of your back. Do you have any experience with these exercises?

I want to preface by saying I am not a rehab specialist, and I should probably be embarrassed by how readily I will refer out a client or athlete if they are in need of corrective (ankle-taper) work. Knowing something about one field doesn’t confer expertise in all related fields, and this is something many ‘experts’ fail to realize. That said, I could offer you a few suggestions, but if you feel like you are in any way compromised due to injury or otherwise requiring rehabilitation, I encourage you to seek a specialist.

Another thing (which I am trying not to overstress) is that bodies are built differently, and what’s good for some may not help others. So I’m not just copping out; despite my best of intentions, there’s not a one-size-fits-all. We’re all built differently, and that includes the design and build of the shoulder (relevant to this discussion is, for example, the formation of the shoulder’s acromion). Just based on your genetic build (and what may have come later during development) you may have a significantly harder (or easier) time with one exercise over another due to the shape and construction of your shoulder. So even if you go it alone, you will need to experiment to find what is best for you.

Okay? Okay.

In the book I recommend windmills, where you stick your arms straight out to your sides and rotate them, just as in gym class. You can make these circles wide or tight as suits you, and it falls under the ‘dynamic’ sense of not reducing muscle elasticity or strength. These (as with the other things I recommend) do well by the most people. Give them a shot.

As far as dislocations, I myself do them on occasion, and I’ll recommend them from time to time as warm-ups for athletes, especially when we are doing sport-specific training. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest them to someone trying it solo since it is a difficult movement to judge the performance of unless you have someone watching you (or you have some 3-way model mirror going on). You can let your shoulder rise up on one or both sides or otherwise create oddities or imbalances in your effort to get it over the top, and that’s generally a no-no. You want to keep your traps flattened and rotators locked down rather than letting one (or both) rise up, and that can be difficult to do for many people. Alternately, you can do them with a band or a bungie cord so that you’re not forcing the joint, and focus on keeping your shoulders properly seated and aligned.

I’ve previously recommended a different type of broom stick stretch that may help you, both the internal and external.

I also dig scapula push-ups.

AtA: an Expansion of Stretching

Posted May 14th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Got a question though, about the stretching vs strength thing, could you elaborate on that a bit more? Or link to a good article on it? I want to be strong and crazy flexible and I am working on both. The book kind of glosses over the actual mechanics of it.

Going back and looking at that section, I’m surprised at my lack of citations for that information. It’s become so commonplace in modern fitness that it must not have occurred to me, despite upsetting the applecarts of pretty much every middle-school coach in the US.

I’m not entirely sure how much information you were looking for. Here’s a few of the articles I possibly should/would have cited (and likely may if I should do a second edition down the road).

Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors (Journal of Applied Physiology, 2000)

Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscle (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, NSCA, 2008)

Effects of Static Stretching on Energy Cost and Running Endurance Performance (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, NSCA, 2009)

If you were looking for something perhaps more accessible, there was a pretty good article in the NY Times’ Play Magazine not too long ago.

Anyway, though I was attempting to keep the book brief and concise, I still feel like I might have done a better job in that section. I’m not opposed to all static stretching. The example most obvious to me is the various forms of Yoga poses that hold positions, which in themselves may be valuable to health, strength, and/or flexibility. However, I wouldn’t bolt off and try to perform a workout immediately following yoga, or to use yoga as a ‘warm-up’ for resistance or interval exercise.

The objective of that section was to get people away from the longstanding notion of doing five or ten different held stretches in an attempt to ‘get ready’ for exercise, and to alternatively provide readers with a method for ‘warming-up’ the muscles and body, without depleting or inhibiting their muscular performance for what would come after.

Do you have any videos or animations for the “pull squat dynamic stretch” you mention in the book? I can’t visualize it and there’s nothing on google about it.

Made to order: