Shoulder mobility (aka proper shoulder movement) is a hot topic amongst our WODprep athletes. Many athletes have the mindset, “If I could just get my shoulders more flexible all my problems with snatching, overhead squats, handstand push-ups, etc will disappear.”
Wouldn’t that be nice...
The number one thing we notice athletes doing incorrectly is performing a ton of static stretches on their shoulders. As a coach, these athletes come up to me and say, “Man! I stretch out my shoulders all the time but still feel tight.”
And I immediately consider banging my head against a wall, while my brain says on repeat, “Well that’s what happens when you statically stretch your shoulders.”
Static stretching = holding a position without moving. Like this:
Let’s change the cycle, shall we? By the end of this article I want you to ditch all those static stretches for dynamic ones, deal?
See, the shoulder wants to be flexible. It was born with full range of motion and then as we age it begins to lose that movement. The CNS (central nervous system) will prioritize safety first over range of motion. It won’t allow your shoulder to perform a certain movement if it doesn’t think it can keep that shoulder stable, safe, and in a sound position. So, unless we do our due diligence to maintain this proper function, we will all inevitably lose it.
Your body goes into protection mode in a whole bunch of different ways. Some common examples include locking into downward rotation, making lats overactive, etc. Your shoulders are essentially limiting your range of motion to protect you from yourself. Crazy, huh?
This is where dynamic mobility - or better yet - dynamic movement comes into play. In order to create new ranges of motion you must retrain the brain that it is “ok” to go into these demanding ranges of motion.
The basis of most of our movement correctives all involve exactly that: MOVEMENT. We want to eliminate simply hanging on the joint structure (static stretches). This can actually create a lot of stress on delicate parts of the joint. Instead, we typically take our clients through reps of a range of motion (ROM) that challenges their current ROM and their stability. Another way to think of it is increasing flexibility through movement.
Performing a stretch for a long time that creates that “pulling” or “stretching” feeling that we are all used to, but that’s not really what we want. That feeling is the body trying to bounce back from that range of motion. So instead, during a dynamic movement corrective we will lightly go into that muscle spindle, recoil “stretching feeling”, and then right back out. We want the brain to recognize that “It’s ok” to go a little further, “I didn’t get hurt.”
Long story short, next time you go to do your stretches, add some movement! Go into that pulling feeling and back out multiple times to rewire your brain and you will see a much quicker ROM improvement.
Stretch with movement like you are in a yoga class. Move with control, give a full range of motion, and practice proper breathing. Stay away from that splinting feeling that stops your breathing and makes your body tense up - this is neither ballistic stretching (short jerky movements) or static. This is DYNAMIC, mobility through movement. And it works.
Garry Dubbs is a long-time high performance personal trainer that specializes in teaching functional athletes how to move properly. He’s a WODprep coach and owns a gym in downtown Baltimore, Maryland called Pandion Performance Center. If you want to learn more about his mobility philosophies, check out the WODprep YouTube channel and download a free shoulder mobility guide here.