Improve Your Shoulder Range of Motion

This is a guest post by my friend Samantha Faulhaber. 

She is a FRCms, FRAs, FR Lower, FR Spine, Kinstretch instructor – all of which means she's a mobility specialist trainer pretty far down the rabbit hole of Functional Range Conditioning and That’s a teaching group that wants you to ask all the questions and find scientifically sound answers to everything going on with your body’s tissue management, which includes exercise.

She also has excellent taste in music. 

You should follow her on Instagram.

Do you even have a shoulder?

Jacksonville Personal Trainer, Jacksonville Personal Training, Jacksonville Fitness, Jacksonville Barre.

My basic client shoulder assessment involves at least 6 ranges of motion (ROM) –

  • Adduction

  • Abduction

  • Flexion

  • Extension

  • Internal rotation

  • External rotation

Here is a playlist to help you improve them!

I also recommend searching through my FRC colleague’s YouTube channel:

Ian Markow

When was the last time your shoulders saw all of those ranges of motion?

Can you reach all of them in a range that allows you to do whatever you want to do? Does it hurt at all when you do it? Or has it been so long that your brain forgot how to connect the body to a lot of those ranges? I demand my clients can do unloaded versions of the movements they want to load (with barbells, kettlebells, more of their bodyweight, whatever) before they can apply any extra weight to it. Yanking your joint into a range it’s not able to reach on its own is asking for trouble either in that joint or another one that takes on the burden of twisting your body to look like it’s reaching that range of motion.

The videos above probably aren’t “fun” unless you’re a person that really loves challenging your body, which I hope you are if you’re reading Pat’s blog. You just learned a lot about yourself. I hated swimmers with a fiery passion the first time I did them because they were hard. Generally things that are hard are a great indication that you need to do them more. Seek to strengthen weaknesses by gradually building outward from where you’re already strong.

Why the devotion to end range training?

End-ranges of motion are important because they provide the most feedback to your joint capsule, the deepest layer of your joints. Joint capsules are so important to your body that they rank with sight and hearing for speed that feedback from them reaches your central cortex. You have a huge amount of cortical space devoted to knowing where you are and trying to make sure you don’t fall down. The more good information you provide to those joint capsules, the healthier the overall joint will be and the better you operate as a human.

Feed Your Shoulders

We were evolved for a world in which movement was not an option. You could argue that we would be plants if we did not need to move for survival. Cellular health demands mechanical forces to exchange waste products throughout your system. Cartilage doesn’t receive blood flow and needs motion to stay healthy.

If you think of your joints like a gasket in your car engine, you need to make sure the whole thing is tended to or part of it will dry up, crack, and cause problems in the whole system. The more you do full-range, pain-free motion, the better off you are. You can get away with just a few rotations per day as long as you do them every day. You brush your teeth every day, now you know to brush your joints every day. It’s taking care of your body and will teach you something new every day about the way you feel.

Pain = No Gain. No Pain = Gain

Pushing through pain or discomfort will give you diminishing results and waste your time. Respect pain the way you would an open wound. If you keep poking at it, it’s not going to get better. If you just cover it up (with pills, or whatever) you’re still poking at it and it’s still not going to get better. It will probably actually get worse. Stick within ranges that your body feels comfortable in and load those with as much weight as your trainer advises you to do safely. Loading the pain-free ranges will improve the painful ones. Pushing into the painful ones will eventually make the pain-free ones painful, or other parts of your body painful. If the load-nonpainful-tissue plan doesn’t help the pain, you probably have actual joint dysfunction and need to see a professional. Make sure that the loads you use are light enough that they don’t create pain anywhere in the movement. If they do, lighten the load or do a smaller ROM.

Expand your ROM to give your body more options

Your body puts up with a lot of shit from you. Food that doesn’t exist in nature, sleep deprivation, fighting every natural impulse for whatever reason our brains have logic’d out. Help it help you by working to expand the options it has to work with to support you. If you’ve ever driven around Philadelphia (where I currently reside) you know that there’s a good chance you’ll run into a road block as you drive around. If you have no idea how to get around it, you’re stuck there. The more detailed your awareness of the area around you, the better you can deal with unexpected trash trucks and mystery cones in the road. Movements are spontaneously fired through the brain, taking different pathways every time no matter how similar your repetitions might look. The more detailed the maps of your brain, the more options it has to get from point A to point B, no matter if a car horn goes off near you, or your left toe is turned out slightly differently, or a trash truck pops up, or any of the billions of variables your body has to deal with every second of the day to accomplish whatever tasks you put to it.

Make a real effort a few times per week to push as hard as you can without pain into your end ranges and you’ll begin to expand them. Maintain those gains with low-tension rotations every day. Real mobility training to acquire ROM gains is so taxing on the nervous system I don’t advise doing a lot of work on the same joint each day. If you don’t feel drained afterwards, you’re not going hard enough to make change. As far as your tissues are concerned, you just lifted weights via internal resistance.

TL; DR – The best exercise for your shoulder is whatever uses the largest range of motion without pain.

You need to be pushed.  I can push.

Train with me.

Patrick Henigan