5 Most Important Components of a Strong and Healthy Shoulder

5 important components of a strong and healthy shoulder

Healthy Shoulder: How to take care of your shoulder like a profissional

In order to prevent protracted injuries, all athletes should be aware of the importance of a stable and healthy shoulder area. All our articles, which deal with the subject of shoulders, emphasize this point.


The 5 most important building blocks for a shoulder without pain

Let’s take a look at the five most essential components that will give you a strong shoulder as an athlete:

  • Specialized technology for sports
  • Mobility
  • Core Stability
  • Rotator cuff (RoM) control and strengthening
  • General muscle strength
Shoulder pain is a common and disabling complaint. In primary care, shoulder pain is reported to occur 14.7 times per 1000 patients per year, with a lifetime prevalence of up to 70%. With shoulder pain, recovery can be slow and recurrence rates are high, with 25% reporting previous episodes and 40 to 50% reporting persistent pain or recurrence at one year’s follow-up.

The causes of shoulder pain

Incorrect technique is often the cause of moderate performance or shoulder pain. This is often only apparent when signs of fatigue begin to appear. Coaches, however, can initiate appropriate measures for recovery.

As a general rule, technique training should take place immediately after a thorough warm-up (or even as part of it) when muscles and nerves are still fresh and strong. During the phase of fatigue, on the other hand, it is a good time to complete special exercises that don’t strain the shoulder, but improve movement. Take a moment to read this article from NHS if you want to learn more about the causes for your shoulder pain

Incorrect movement patterns as a cause of pain in the shoulder

One caveat is that you need to be extra cautious when you see compensation strategies. Stop immediately! In a nutshell: Practice makes perfect! Once you have learned a new technique, it must be repeated about 10,000 times before it is anchored in your head in such a way that the movement pattern unconsciously runs and becomes natural.

There are many ways to determine if your technique is faulty. To break down a process into smaller pieces, video recording is a great way to capture it in slow motion. The better the technology, the better the results, but ultimately it depends on the experience of the person evaluating. The use of a mirror is hardly effective, since looking into a mirror will change the shoulder’s position significantly. Consultations should be conducted with your trainer and a biomechanic, often also a physiotherapist, who has sufficient experience in your sport.

Avoid shoulder pain – paying attention to mistakes!

In every sport, there are a number of movements that are performed above the head that may lead to subliminal technique errors. Watch out for the following:

Tennis specification/Butterfly ball:

During an insufficiently trained trunk rotation, the chest gets straightened and opened. Be attentive to whether a blow is delivered too close to the body or too far behind it, and shorten the pull-through phase by whipping back the blow

Javelin/Water Polo/Baseball Throw

If a litter is made laterally of the body, the elbow should be behind the shoulder when pulling through. Insufficiently trained trunks rotate after opening the chest and before pulling through, resulting in wasteful propulsion power. When the upper arm follows the front chest line closely, the shoulder is subject to less stress. Thus, the less rotational force there is on the elbow joint, the less strain there is on the shoulder.

1. Sport-specific technology

There are five areas in which you can work. The primary goal is balance. And how do you achieve this? Through control. The higher your performance level, the more control you will need to maintain the balance. Something like a Formula 1 car, which requires a higher degree of balance and control than a road car.

A deficit in one area results in an imbalance of the muscles. This can lead to tissue damage and later end with wear and tear of the joint. Consider, for example,Β  a bicycle on which a spoke is broken. Slowly but surely, a deformation of the rim sets in, which creates an imbalance until in the end the entire bike comes to a standstill.

Usually, the higher the level of an athlete, the more he will depend on professional help to follow these principles. You will save yourself a lot of time and effort if you seek the advice of an expert for prevention, instead of just seeking him for treatment once the problem is there. With a regular sports medical examination, you can achieve a lot. These tests are performed by the doctor or physiotherapist in order to determine whether any of the following need to be addressed more.

2. More mobility in the shoulders

In terms of increasing flexibility, the goals are different for each of the muscles around the shoulder. The freedom of movement of the pelvis, trunk, scapula and humerus must be preserved with the large, powerful muscles. As for RoM, the critical point is to center the balance of forces around the humerus/humeral head; for the muscles of this area, freedom of movement is less important.

An increased risk may result if you have too much agility in comparison to strength and control. Wear and tear and cracks in joints are caused by strong shear forces. Particularly true for the GH joint, whose main stability is provided by its muscles of RoM, which are supported by capsules, ligaments, and cartilage.

An excess of mobility at the expense of muscle control puts a strain on the connective and supporting tissue and causes injuries such as tendonitis and a breakdown of the RoM, tears in the labrum, subluxations or possibly dislocation.

Never start a flexibility program until you have consulted a doctor or physical therapist if:

  • If your shoulder has ever been unstable through jumping out and in rapidly, perhaps even dislocated,
  • Other joints are also very loose and overmobile, e.g. You can overextend your elbows,
  • Your shoulder jumps violently or makes noises.

Stretching the shoulders: what you should be aware of

Stretching for movement expansion should not be done before training or a competition, but at “quiet” times during the week. During constant passive stretching of the muscle (e.g., a few times every 20–30 seconds) the stretching reflex becomes suppressed, which may explain why this occurs. Throwing after an extensive stretching session increases the possibility of muscular and ligament tears. To achieve good mobility, each muscle should be stretched three to four times for 20–30 seconds each, three to four times a week.

For regular stretching units, the most important areas are:

  • Teres minor/Infraspinatus (posterior RoM and capsule)
  • Major and minor pectoralis
  • The latissimus dorsi
  • Biceps and triceps
  • The thoracic spine (between the shoulder blades)
  • The upper trapezius/scalene/levator scapulae
  • Nerve stretching (from vibrations).

Avoid instability of the shoulder joint

It is best to learn how to stretch these areas under the guidance of a sports physiotherapist or trainer. When stretching the ligaments of the shoulder, be sure not to lose tension as this can quickly result in an unstable joint.

It is most common to see athletes who stand with their arm behind their bodies on the wall and stretch their pectoral muscles, but turn their shoulder forward, feeling the stretch at the front point of the shoulder. In this case, the outer ligaments of the shoulder (capsule), not the muscles, are stretched. The better variant involves pulling the scapula back and turning away from the shoulder from the trunk (keep your hand on the wall). This stretch will be felt in the chest area much further down.

The right warm-up for the shoulders

Warm up the shoulder thoroughly by slowly increasing the movements. Make large circles to the side of the body, trunk rotations, circle with the shoulder blades and push them back and forth. As a result, your blood circulation and body temperature increase, thereby increasing tissue elasticity. Next, do a series of short stretches (5-10 seconds) of all major muscle groups and finish with a round of sport-specific exercises. The goal of these is to strengthen the connection between the brain and muscle, i.e. to guide the right neuronal reflexes into the muscle.

Effective massage for the shoulder muscles

One of the most important functions of massage is to counteract the formation of so-called trigger points. After exertion, such zones can cramp the muscle, but they can also result from muscular imbalances. As a result of trigger points, muscles described above that require regular stretching can become shortened or weak.

The trigger point is often the first place in the muscle to break down, causing pain and inflammation to spread to other muscles, nerves, and the GH joint.

In the beginning, it’s best to use a hard tennis ball for your massage, so you can try the following two suggestions, for instance:

  • Relaxation of the pectoralis minor/major: With this muscle, relaxation is particularly important, because if it becomes too tight, it laces the shoulder blades forward. The humerus head is pulled out of the middle when the arm is moved over the head. On the chest, place the tennis ball on the soft muscle that lies on the front of the shoulder. The tennis ball should press against the door frame as you lean against it. As the arm of the same side is halfway up, the palm of the hand faces the wall. Find the trigger points that are sensitive. Continue to press on it until it softens and the pain subsides.
  • Relaxation of the rotator cuff: problems in the shoulder are often accompanied by tension and overactivity of the infraspinatus and teres minor. The result is that the head of the humerus is pushed forward from its point of rotation. Hold a tennis ball to your shoulder blade and press the back and side of the shoulder blade against the wall. Place the arm you are about to machine in the opposite hand. Let the ball dig deep!

3. Core stability

Core stability has evolved into a science in its own right over the past decade. All types of professional athletes have noticed how crucial it is for the inner core of the body (the joints located near the spine) to be supported by a pronounced holding muscle. Scapular-thoracic joint (ST joint) and lumbar and cervical spines support the shoulder joint. Any further strain is passed on to the shoulder joint if these areas are not stable.

The stability of the lumbar spine is achieved by the joint influence of the transversus abdominis and the multifidus acting on the thoracolumbal fascia. By simultaneously pulling in the lower navel area, while the muscles of the lower back are tense, the “corset” is stressed. The cervical spine experiences its stability from the upper neck flexors in conjunction with the lower cervical extensors to achieve a “long” neck position, while the chin is easily pulled to the neck.

Some athletes may find this easier than others. Ballet dancers, for example, keep a stable posture automatically because it feels “natural” to them. The opposite is true for football players. Activating the muscles is the first step in learning. You should practice holding the position until you can incorporate it into simple movements of your sport.

The shoulder joints and their role

Since the shoulder joint (GH joint) is composed of the glenoid of the scapula (socket) and the humerus head, the ST joint (which performs movement of the shoulder blade on the chest) plays an extremely important role for the shoulder.

The trapezius (especially the lower and middle fibers) interacts with the serratus anterior to stabilize the ST joint. Together, they hold the scapula in a neutral position, whether you move the arm to the side or upwards. The neutral position is given when the glenoid pan of the scapula is aligned in such a way that the RoM muscles can ideally control and stabilize the humerus head.

The scapula is comparable to a seal that tries to balance the ball of the humerus head using the RoM muscles. It is amazing what a highly developed sense of balance is used in overhead movements.

Core stability associated with chronic shoulder injuries

Even after surgery or trauma, poor core stability is often associated with chronic shoulder injuries. The pain tends to block the holding muscles, so they are unable to work properly. As you sit in an upright position with your arms loosely on your thighs, you will be able to operate the lower anterior trapezius/serratus.

Without exerting force, gently pull the inner edges of the shoulder blades together, then down, and stop there for 10 seconds. Avoid withdrawing too far, otherwise you will activate muscles that are not primarily designed as holding muscles. The movement is always light and relaxed. If you have practiced this for a few days, try different variations: first pull your shoulder blades into this neutral position and then stretch your arms to the side, put them on the hips, behind your head, etc.

Once you’ve done this, add small arm movements while holding the neutral position – stabilization of the shoulder blades. Over the course of a few weeks, you can increase the complexity, speed and resilience of your arm. Finally, you carry out this procedure at the same time as the following exercises to strengthen and control the Range of motion (ROM).

4. Control and strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff

The muscles of the rotator cuff depend on a clean posture of the shoulder blades. This is the only way to ensure effective control. If the shoulder blades are angled too far forward or downwards (e.B. when a tennis player pulls out to the butterfly ball), this represents a biomechanical disadvantage for the RoM muscles and they may no longer be able to hold the humerus head in the middle.

The RoM muscles are responsible for holding the humerus head in place, while the large “drive muscles” produce strength. Once you improve control over your shoulder blades, the muscles of the rotator cuff can work more efficiently and become more independent of the muscles of the shoulder blades. That said, you should be able to move your arm freely while having the shoulder blades remain in a neutral position. This ability is called “glenohumeral dissociation”.

5. Effective Shoulder Exercises for Strengthening the Rotator Cuff

You should keep the shoulder blades as neutral as possible during the following exercises!

Rotation with arm applied inwards/outwards

Stand straight. Hold a rolled towel between the elbows and ribs. Attach one end of an elastic band or theraband to a door handle and hold the other end in your hand, the elbow bent at a 90Β° angle. Stabilize the shoulder blades. (at the same time) slowly pull the band in front of the body (by turning the angled arm). Do 3Γ—10 repetitions to the right and 3Γ—10 repetitions to the left.

Rotation inwards/outwards, arm at a 90Β° angle laterally from the body

Lie on your back. Attach one end of an elastic band to a chair leg and hold the other end in your hand, the elbow is on the floor at a 90Β° angle. Stabilize shoulder blades. Pull the hand as far as possible footwards, then loosen it slowly. Do 3Γ—10 repetitions. Also perform the exercise in the opposite movement: pull the hand headwards. AgainΓ— do 3.10 repetitions.

Gentle movements

Stand up. Attach an elastic band to the door handle, your face will point away from the door handle. Hold your arm above your head, the band is under tension. Allow the arm to gently spring backwards, then gently pull it forward again. Repeat the sequence slowly and increase the pace and tension over the following 2–3 weeks. Pay attention to any pain in the shoulder to see if you’ve trained too hard!

Keep your face to the wall and a small gymnastics ball at head height

Press the ball against the wall and stabilize your shoulder blades. Describe small circles on the wall with the ball. Do 5Γ—10 repetitions clockwise and counterclockwise.

Throwing movement with tennis ball

Perform a throwing movement, pressing the ball firmly together. Stabilize the shoulder blades at the beginning of the litter. Release the muscles slowly. Then pull through in an exaggerated way with a full-body movement. Do 10–20 repetitions. This exercise excellently trains the co-contraction of the RoM muscles, which increases their activity and control over the humerus head.

5. General muscle strength

Once the basic issues of technology, flexibility, core stability and control of the rotator cuff have been clarified, we have to go one step further and look at the whole body. Does it support or hinder the performance of your shoulder?

In any sport that relies on the shoulders, it is crucial to think of them as a single link in a chain of motion. All other links must also be sufficiently developed to help generate rotational force. Otherwise, the shoulders will be overloaded. At high speeds, a chain of movements takes place, starting at the legs, and then traveling through the hips, pelvis, lumbar spine, thoracic spine, shoulder, elbow and wrist. And each member must be taught to do its part. Golf is the classic sport to illustrate the shift in rotational force: a series of movements occur as soon as the stable hip base springs back in the opposite direction.

Plyometric exercises for the shoulder

At this point one could write whole volumes about the value of plyometric exercises. These exercises use the eccentric power of the muscles to increase performance and form a science in their own right. The development of eccentric force between individual limbs significantly increases the rotational force of the body. Medicine balls, ropes, and other equipment can be used to strengthen.

Most athletes are aware that a training program should include strengthening exercises for the deltoid muscles, the latissimus dorsi, the pectoralis major, the upper trapezius and the rectus abdominis, because these are primarily responsible for the movements of the shoulder. It is often overlooked, however, that the front and back of the shoulder can deviate from one another.

Approximately nine out of ten athletes with an overstressed shoulder have too pronounced pectoralis and latissimus compared to their trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoid muscles, and posterior rotator cuff.

Flexibility and the posture of the shoulder blades

It is crucial to improve the flexibility and posture of the shoulder blades in this situation. Strengthening the back should be the focus of your weight room exercises. It is imperative that you do more exercises that work the back, such as rowing while sitting and standing, dumbbell flys, bench press, lat pulls, and rows while lying down.

While working out in the weight room, it is very important to keep in mind how important centralizing the core muscles and stabilizing the shoulder blades are to a good and healthy posture. It is the only way to prevent injuries.


That’s the big picture of injury prevention and performance improvement for athletes who rely on their shoulders. Quickly decide where you still need to work, try the exercises and consider using the help of an expert to maximize the results of your efforts.

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