So it has taken me a little longer to get to this than I had planned, but here it is; What to do in the case of some poor shoulder positioning. This is going to help you improve your function, meaning better pendlay rows, better overhead squats and better just about everything involving your arms, as I mentioned earlier. It’s going to make your posture better, which is going to make you sexier and may even improve your confidence. The world looks better when you’re standing upright with good posture. For serious.
As a disclaimer: I am only really speaking about the typical abducted and rolled forward shoulders that we see in the dreaded D-bag/Bridal shoulder position. This is also known as “upper cross syndrome” but that makes it sound like you’re stuck with it. We’re going to unstick you. Keep in mind, there are plenty of other poor shoulder positions, but most of them just aren’t as common, especially among Crossfitters. Now then… Let’s get started!
So first things first, have someone look at you (ideally shirtless, or with some tight clothes on) from behind and assess where your scapulae are hanging out while you stand comfortably. If they look like the ones in this photo… then YOU are a victim of the D-bag/Bridal shoulder. Oh the horror. Here is what you need to do.
Do the following every time you’re in the gym (and if you aren’t in the gym regularly, you need to be doing this at LEAST 3x a week, and ideally 5x a week if you care about making progress):
Step 1 – roll your pecs out with a lacrosse ball (about a minute per side) – you can do this by leaning into a wall with the lacrosse ball placed just below your clavicle
Step 2 – Stretch out your upper traps and suboccipitals for a minute per side – Sit on your hand and tilt your head away from the side of the hand your sitting on, search around by keeping your head tilted and looking down at your left shoulder, or trying to touch your ear to your shoulder (without cheating and shrugging your shoulder up to your ear).
Step 3 – Use either the two lacrosse balls taped together, or if you’re feeling ambitious, the foam roller – place them at the apex of your mid back (thoracic spine) curve (this is usually between the shoulder blades and with the Lacrosse balls, they’ll be straddling your spine) between you and the ground. Place your hands on an empty barbell above your head in what would be your snatch or overhead squat position. You can reposition the foam roller/lacrosse balls higher or lower depending on how you feel. Spend a minute or two (depending on what you can tolerate) in this position.
Awesome. So the goal of these stretches is to break up some adhesions and help create some “slack” in your pecs, and traps/suboccipitals. This will also help open you up by adding thoracic extension and a stretch for your pecs. The next step is going to involve strengthening the elements of these movements that are stretched and weakened. Please remember… This is not Crossfit. This isn’t trying to move a large load a long distance quickly. This is trying to hold a mild to moderate load still for a long time – so I guess it’s kind of the opposite?
Why would I want you to train these muscles differently than your glutes? The main function of these muscles is to stabilize the scapulae, not to forcefully retract them – so we want to improve your muscular endurance, not your contractile power. Once you’ve achieved better positioning, it WILL make developing more contractile power easier though.
You are going to ADD these exercises to your pec and trap stretches and you are essentially going to be doing them indefinitely. Or at least until you have achieved better shoulder positioning, and the overhead squat is your new favourite lift.
Step 1 – Lie on a bench/chiro table/bed on your stomach with your head hanging off the edge. Lift your head up as high as possible while also keeping your face parallel to the rest of your body. You are still looking at the floor – NOT at the wall in front of you. Hold this for 30 seconds to a minute and then relax. Repeat once or twice more, depending on your tolerance.
Step 2 – If you’re really ambitious, you can combine this with step 1. While you’re lying there on your stomach, point your thumbs towards the floor with your arms out at your sides and lift them up off the bed/table/bench. You should feel the contraction between your shoulder blades. Hold this for 30 seconds to a minute and then relax. Repeat once or twice more, depending on your tolerance.
Dig it! There is all sorts of cool stuff you can do in addition to these stretches/exercises, but for now I would stick to this program. It’s simple, it’s relatively easy and it only takes about 10 minutes. You can spare 10 minutes to save your shoulders. Future you will appreciate it. Future you will also be crushing bodyweight snatches and smiling while she does it.
Dr. Adam Ball