Eric Cressey shares some of his favorite exercises for athletes who are at risk for shoulder problems
Choosing the right exercises for athletes with unique needs can be a daunting task. However, once you crack the code, correcting the underlying issues with your athletes becomes a joy.
With over 80% of the clientele at Cressey Performance consisting of baseball players, we’ve come to appreciate some of the unique demands of overhead throwing athletes. And perhaps no adaptation in these shoulders is more important to consider than the loss of scapular upward rotation.
Research has demonstrated that baseball players (and presumably tennis, swimming, volleyball, and track and field throwing participants) lose upward rotation of the scapula over the course of a competitive season. Very simply, this is a fancy way of saying that the shoulder blades can’t rotate up enough on the rib cage during overhead movement.
This is a big problem, as the scapula is the “socket” in the shoulder girdle’s “ball-and-socket” joint. If the socket is too low and the ball (humeral head) is too high, we can irritate the rotator cuff, biceps tendon, or superior labrum. This problem is exacerbated when the rotator cuff isn’t strong enough to help keep the humeral head down as the arm is elevated and when the lats get really gritty, short, and nasty from overuse. We’ll get to some great exercises for athletes who are at risk in a second, but first, consider how this shoulder instability happens in the first place—and how we should correct it.
We’ve all heard the analogy of the shoulder being unstable like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. If the golf tee can’t rotate up effectively, then the congruency between the two can’t be maintained, and that’s when shoulder instability develops. With that in mind, we need good exercises for athletes that teach the scapula to get up, and that means driving it with overhead reaching. Here are four of my favorite movements to accomplish this:
You can also work in lateral lunges with overhead reaches, spiderman variations with overhead reaches, and a host of other exercises to help build this upward rotation proficiency. Try out these exercises for athletes who are at risk for shoulder problems, and you’ll notice a huge difference in how your overhead athletes actually perform in overhead positions!
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