If there’s one lesson about blocking that I wished I had learned earlier, it would be:
YOU BRACE WITH YOUR SHOULDERS, NOT WITH YOUR ARMS.
Your arms are made up of some pretty glamorous muscles. Think about those bulging biceps or triceps that everyone wants to flex. And while strong arm muscles are important, the real key to being able to offer a stable brace for your tripod doesn’t start in your arms. It starts in your shoulders.
The latissimus dorsi is kind of the “butt of the back.” It provides a lot of the same services for your shoulders and upper body that your glutes do for your hips and lower body. And it plugs in across your shoulder joint helping to provide some of the strength and stability you need for things like bracing. And push-ups. And chin-ups. And… well… you get the idea.
Just like in your hips, your shoulders need a hefty balance of stability with their strength especially since your shoulder is THE MOST MOBILE joint in your body. In order to keep that joint in place and willing to stay there, you need to work on your shoulder stability.
WHAT IS SHOULDER STABILITY?
For the purposes of this article, shoulder stability is your shoulder’s ability to support weight and pressure transfer while your shoulders are extending. The shoulders can be extended out in front of you (think push up or plank position) or extended overhead (think pull-up or overhead press position).
If you can’t support weight through one shoulder (or both) without pain or shakiness from the outset, then shoulder stability is a good place to focus.
Sometimes, shoulder instability can be related to lat overcompensation or lack of range of motion in the thoracic spine. However, today’s article focuses primarily on pre-hab exercises that will challenge the stabilizers muscles within your shoulder that directly aid in bracing. And push-ups. And chin-ups. And… well… you know.
#1) BOOK OPENER
This is more of an upper back mobility exercise than a shoulder exercise, but prepping your shoulders for stability work is important. And the amount of mobility in your thoracic spine directly impacts your ability to utilize all those little shoulder stabilizing muscles. Feel for the squeeze at the bottom of your shoulder blade in the space between it and the spine.
#2) BIRD DOG
In a tabletop position like this, you’re asking your shoulder to stabilize the weight of your upper body as you move the other arm. This means transferring your weight across to that shoulder entirely. The bird dog is a good way to start because you’re not asking a single shoulder to bear the burden of all your weight (like in a single-arm push-up, say), but you are challenging its stability in holding a position as you move through a range of motion. Like maybe something might happen on skates.
#3) TABLETOP BOOK OPENER
This tabletop position is a combo between the side-lying book opener and the bird dog. We’re now asking one shoulder to stabilize dynamically — while it’s also moving — and the other shoulder to work on mobility. You might find that your end range of motion isn’t far here and that’s okay. Keep working on it!
#4) SIDE PLANK (LOW OR HIGH)
The next step up is to add more resistance to your shoulder stabilizers and the side plank does it. Start with your elbow on the ground first and building up to longer periods of time. Once you can do it on one shoulder for 30-45 seconds, you can move up to a full plank with your arm extended. Pay attention to keep your elbow or hand directly under your shoulder.
#5) SIDE PLANK REACH-THROUGH
The combo to end all combos. This movement mashes together all the challenges from the moves before it. Only attempt it when you KNOW that you can do the other movements without pain or massive instabilities.
As the videos say, these moves go in order of how challenging they are for you shoulder stability. Use the exercise specific to the level you’re currently at and throw it in your warm-up to start working on your shoulder mobility.
Say goodbye to Team Sloppy Shoulders.
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