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Creating Powerful Healthy Shoulder Solutions

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Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator DVRT Restoration Certification, Knees Over Toes Course, DVRT Rx Shoulder, Knees, Pelvic Control, & Gait Courses)

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When we introduced our Clean and Press test to our DVRT Level 1 certification over 10 years ago, I never anticipated it! You see the test was never about seeing how tough someone is, it was creating a goal, problem solving, creating a plan, and then executing it through a well organized training program. However, before many fitness pros even tried the test I would receive email after email saying how their shoulders were so bad they couldn’t even go overhead!

healthy shoulders

I thought of a quote renown physical therapist, Lee Burton, said about when people can’t get their arms overhead without pain, “this isn’t a fitness issue, this is a health issue.”

healthy shoulders

I like that idea because it isn’t about you being tough, it is about whether or not you are healthy. Take it from someone who use to be a high level athlete, they are NOT typically the same thing (being tough and being healthy).

Trust me, I get the frustration from feeling like you have TRIED to address your shoulders issues and create healthier shoulders. The endless number of mobility, stability and strength drills is probably too numerous for you to even remember all of them. I’m not suggesting you haven’t tried, I AM saying what you have been told largely by the fitness (even my fellow therapists get things wrong too) as means of building healthy shoulders isn’t what the research or experience is teaching us.

So, what should we be more mindful of in actually finding solutions for healthy shoulders?

Your Mobility Isn’t Typically About Your Shoulder Joint

The term “joint mobility” is a little bit misleading as we use it in most of our fitness environments. I find when people focus on joint mobility they are a bit too overly focused on the joint itself. They tend to not realize the HUGE amount of connective tissue that covers any of our joints. We have fascia, muscle, tendons, ligaments, that ALL can impact what type of movement we have in trying to have healthy shoulders.

It takes us clinicians quite a bit of training to be able to differentiate a joint restriction from other forms of issues that limit movement and even then we aren’t always 100% sure it is the joint itself. My point is mobility is really more about how your nervous system is able to control your body through space. This means that there are A LOT of factors that can alter your ability to move a joint like your shoulder. Such as…

-Fascial adhesions

-Scar tissue

-Tendon issues

-Neck nerve impingement (this is actually very common)


-Instability of the joint itself, but those that coordinate movement (in the case of healthy shoulders that means not just the shoulder joint, but the spine, hips, and even foot/ankle).

-Fear of pain

There is more we could get into, but you see how quickly we can get overly focused on just one thing? Often there are multiple things going on that are preventing us from having healthy shoulders and continuing to have the same issues over and over. So, what can you do in your training to really try to help the situation? Here are a few (not all of the strategies that we could possibly do) that can help!

Help The Neck

Neck issues are a common problem for healthy shoulders and it can stem from poor posture, stress, a poorly balanced training program, core instability, and more. In the context of things you can do yourself, these are some strategies that can help some of those neck issues but always look at your daily habits (including lifting and programming) if you find this is a big issue for you.

Build Better Core Stability 

Most people don’t realize that A LOT of shoulder issues are from lacking proper core stability. There isn’t just one form of core stability, it depends largely on your starting point. However, if we don’t have what is known as “proximal stability” our nervous system will perceive that the body is likely to get hurt and will turn the brakes on. Working on drills that provide better core stability as Shannon from Fitness Lying Down shows below can be a great way to accomplish those goals.

When Stretching Includes The Whole Body

I used to make the mistake as a young physical therapist to suggest that people just focus on stretching their shoulders if they had shoulder issues. I didn’t realize that wasn’t a very powerful way of building healthy shoulders because even I was caught up with the idea that if the shoulder hurt, train the shoulder.

As I learned more about the body, the less and less I followed such recommendations. There is SO much research showing when we integrate the body (because our whole body is connected), that we get better results.

shoulder health

you can see in throwing motions how much the whole body is needed and if there is break in the chain the shoulder ends up typically being the victim (or the elbow too!)

When I recommend any stretching now, it is done with the whole body and we use breath work to help take off the brakes of the nervous system like you see below.

These of course are not ALL the ways you can build healthy shoulders, but if you understand better principles then it will help give you direction with your goals. While everyone may not be able to get their arms overhead (there are always exceptions) I like to think we can help way more people become healthier in being able to do so!

You can check out Jessica’s DVRT Rx courses like her shoulder course 30% off with code “father” HERE along with our Ultimate Sandbags. Only a few days left to save 30% off our Force, Strength, and Burly USBs and get 2 FREE Workouts. Just use code “father” HERE