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Shoulder Prehab 101

It’s no secret that our shoulders bear a heavy burden when it comes to the work we do in CrossFit. From pressing weights overhead, to hanging from a pull-up bar, and every movement in between, our shoulder joints never get much of a break. Add to this the fact that most of us live our lives with less than ideal posture – thanks sitting – and it’s no surprise that nagging shoulder injuries are among the most common seen among CrossFitters.

Related: What is Sitting Really Doing to Me?

If you’ve ever experienced lingering shoulder pain, or even a more severe shoulder issue, you know how debilitating it can be, since it’s hard to force ourselves to not use a shoulder in our daily life. Luckily, there are things we can do to “bulletproof” our shoulders, and prevent irritating shoulder pain from keeping us on the sidelines. When it comes to injury prevention, there are a couple terms we have to get comfortable with first. Mobility is a joint’s maximal ability to move through a full range of motion, pain free. Stability, on the other hand, is how well we can control movements through that range of motion. The 4 exercises we’ll look at today focus mainly on shoulder stability, and creating strong joints that are better suited to handle our day-to-day both in and outside of the gym.

Luckily, there are things we can do to “bulletproof” our shoulders, and prevent irritating shoulder pain from keeping us on the sidelines.

Related: How can ROM make you fitter?

1.) BAND PULL APART’S ON FOAM ROLLER

For this exercise, start by lying on a foam roller that’s long enough for both your hips and head to be resting on the roller, while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Hold a blue or red band directly over your chest, with hands starting shoulder width distance apart and palms facing towards your feet. There should be a small amount of tension in the band at the start, but not too much. Then, keep your elbows locked out as you spread your arms out to a T, making sure the band is contacting the chest right at the sternum. Pause for 2 seconds, then slowly return back to the starting position to complete the rep. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps each.

2.) BANDED PVC ROWS

The setup for this exercise starts by looping a blue or red band around the rig at shoulder height. Place a PVC through the other end of the band, and grab the PVC with hands at shoulder width. Take a few steps back from the rig until there is slight tension in the band with your arms outstretched, and bring a slight bend to the knees. Pull the PVC directly to the sternum, pause there for 2 seconds, then slowly return back to the starting position. Make sure to pull the PVC all the way to your chest, instead of leaning forward with the chest to make contact. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps with palms facing up, and 2 sets of 10 reps with palms facing down.

3.) BANDED PVC PULLDOWNS

This exercise utilizes the same setup as the previous one, with the band looped around the rig and a PVC through the band. Lay down on your back with your head closer to the rig while grabbing the PVC overhead, keeping the knees bent to plug the soles of the feet into the ground. Engage your abs and lift head and shoulders off the ground. Keep your elbows locked out and pull down on the PVC until it contacts your thighs. Pause for 2 seconds, and return arms slowly back overhead. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

4.) DUMBBELL OVERHEAD CARRIES

This is most likely my favorite shoulder stability exercise, as it forces us to stabilize the midline simultaneously as the shoulder. A strong midline is essential for proper movement mechanics in anything we do in CrossFit, and therefore will help with injury prevention across the board. The concept for this exercise is simple, lock one moderate weight dumbbell out overhead and walk. Pay close attention to form here however, by keeping the core tight and bicep close to the ear, without shrugging up the shoulder. The dumbbell should find a “slot” where it is much more comfortable to carry, since it is stacked directly over the shoulder. Continue to keep the elbow locked out, walk a set distance, switch hands, and walk back to your starting point. Perform 3 sets, resting between as needed.

These exercises will help bring more stability and control to all of the movements the shoulder is involved in, but we must not forget the importance of our mobility exercises as well. Our shoulder can only be as stable as it is mobile, since we must first have the ability to get into good position, and then learn to control that position.

Related: 4 Simple Shoulder Mobility Movements

Perform these prehab exercises once or twice a week when you have time before or after workout, and you’ll be well on your path to more injury resistant and pain-free shoulders. Feel free to do two or three of these exercises in a superset, and remember to move slow and controlled, these aren’t for time!

–Jay Alexander

Coach/Trainer

jay@crossfitslipstream.com