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VIDEO: How to strengthen muscles at the back of your shoulder

In this week's exercise video, Newmarket athletic therapist Jen Mark focuses on the glenohumeral joint (GH joint)

The shoulder is such a dynamic joint. It moves in so many directions with a large range of motion. We must do our job to protect and strengthen the shoulder. 

The main joint in the shoulder, the one we are normally considering when we think of the shoulder is the glenohumeral joint (GH joint). This is where the humerus (upper arm) bone connects to the scapula (shoulder blade).

The top part of this joint is met with another small joint called the acromion clavicular joint (AC joint), which helps in support. We will focus on the GH joint today but understand that the AC joint works alongside.

The rotator cuff muscles help to support and move the GH joint. The bigger, main, movers of this joint are the deltoid muscles, pectoralis muscles, triceps, and trapezius. 

Once we have a stable and coordinated rotator cuff group, we need to expand to the other muscles, so they work in coordination and with smooth movement. We can easily injure any of these muscles when all are not working in harmony. 

This lack of control or injury causes imbalance. The humerus is then pulled in one direction or the other within the joint, leading to pain or dysfunction. Most of the time it’s the muscles in the front of the shoulder that are too short or tight and the muscles in the back are too long or not strong enough. Therefore, in the video I focused on the back of the shoulder.

You will notice that in the exercises in the video that some coordination is needed. Keep the resistance light until you can have smooth, coordinated movement. None of these exercises involve squeezing the shoulder blades. These are not rows. 

Keep the shoulder blade relatively still and focus on the back of the actual shoulder joint. You will feel a completely different sensation this way.

I want to point out the two exercises that involve a diagonal pattern. This is such an important movement for the shoulder and it’s one we tend to forget about in everyday life. Draw the sword is meant to work behind the shoulder. You will have to practise holding your shoulder down and back a bit to really move well.

Keep your hand travelling on a true diagonal. It’s tempting to turn the exercise into a lateral raise (coming to the side). You should see your hand cross in front of your face on the way up.

If your range of motion is limited, you can try this lying on your back, or work within your pain-free range until you are able to do more movement. 

The second diagonal exercise is a PNF movement. You will notice that the palm of my hand is turned in at the bottom of the movement. As I raise my arm along the diagonal pattern, I slowly rotate my hand so that once my arm is all the way up, my palm is facing outwards. The pattern repeats in reverse on the way back down, until my arm is at the bottom, palm facing in. 

Keep your attention and focus on the back of the shoulder at all times. You might feel some slight, referral work down the centre of the arm, but never in the front of the shoulder. If this is happening, you need to adjust your posture, the amount of weight or resistance, or step back into more specific rotator cuff exercises. 

Keeping the shoulder open in the front and strong in the back helps to reduce injury and increases performance for lifting and sport in a big way. 

If you are looking for more ideas, want to make sure you are working out correctly, or need treatment for an injury, let’s connect!


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