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Shoulder stretches for those with REALLY stiff shoulders

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Geoffrey Taucer

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I have a kid who, though otherwise quite talented, has extremely stiff shoulders, and I think it's really holding him back. The main thing I'm looking for is increased upward/backward extension -- ie the sort of flexibility you would normally work with bridges. This kid is so stiff, though, that he can't do bridges. Any other reccomendations as to how to target those muscles?
 

blantonnick

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A two fold plan..

There are two ways that need to be approached to flexibility, the active and passive routes. Let me explain the two in a non-scientifical approach...

Passive flexibility is the most common way to pursue the Range of Motion required to make muscles, tendons and ligaments 'stretch'. You see it all the time, in every gym and in every workout. Sitting in splits, over splits, shoulder stretches, bridges, the list goes on and on. Your typical idea of stretching with these exercises constitutes passive stretching.

On the other hand, Active flexibility would be using the Range of Motion attained by passive stretching, to actively pursue a position. For example, hanging from a bar and actively trying to raise your legs into a split position.

You will almost always find that the ROM is far greater in Passive stretching then Active. However, both go hand and hand like two partners doing the Tango, one is reliant on the other to achieve a true concept of a flexible body position...

Now bearing those two concepts in mind, your question is - how do you target very stiff shoulders. I believe you should spend every workout at the beginning and end to work both avenues for the shoulders.

Here is an example of how to Passively pursue the 'opening' of the shoulders you are asking for. There are lots of other creative ways to do this stretch but this is basically one approach:

Pommel Horse hang - reaching backwards across the leather of one side of the horse, grab one of the pommel handleswith both hands and let your feet stretch down to the floor. The upper part of the shoulders should rest on the edge of leather of the horse and the gymnast will be looking upwards towards the ceiling. Elbows should remain straight.

Here is an example of how to Actively pursue the opening of the shoulders, again there are lots of other ways to pursue this but here is one to get started:

Have gymnast lay down on the stomach, preferably on a rod floor so that their chin rests off of the floor and the rest of the body lays flat across the rod floor. The arms should be extended out in front of the body and Actively raised to straight out, parallel to the floor. Weights can be added to increase the effort placed on the shoulders to maintain a parallel the floor position.

Consistent work must be pursued between the two areas of flexibility to get an improvement. It must be a long term investment that might not see results for months but eventually will pay off. If the problem is as severe as you are articulating then 20 minutes out of your workout should be spent on the process, while it might seem a lot in the beginning it will greatly help out.
Goodluck
 

gymdog

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You can also try putting the P-bars in close, and then setting one higher than the other (so one is at shoulder height and one is at his hand height when his arms are by his ears). So he will reach back and grab the higher one while standing with his back facing the lower one. As he increases flexibility, he can continue to put his feet backward so they are more under the bars than in front of them, but it should start off a little easier than a bridge, as it also doesn't require lower back flexibility initially. You could of course do this with a variety of bar/mat/other equipment set ups but a p-bars set is pretty easy - it's basically the same thing as the pommel set-up above, maybe with a little less angle.

Also, holding a small weight, stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend at the waist and reach through the legs (holding the weight evenly with both hands). Keeping head neutral, pull up mostly through the shoulders until the bend at the waist is 90 degrees (gosh this is a terrible explanation...but I am sure you have seen this exercise) and the arms pull slightly over the head or as far as they can go. Repeat however many times.

Hang on bars in reverse/front giant grip, head neutral, will probably help, if he can do it for any amount of time, and then try to increase that time.
 

ACoach78

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Go on the internet and read up on Myofascial Release. Then, go purchase a foam roller and have your athlete do some soft tissue and mobility work combined with some stretching and I bet you'll achieve faster results.

Upward/Backward Extension? I assume that you're talking about shoulder flexion/hyperflexion?

So, if he can't hyperflex, then that must mean that the muscles that produce extension at the shoulders must be very tight and restrictive.

Those would be primarily the lats, sternal (e.g. lower) portion of the pecs, and the teres major - one of the rotator cuff muscles (I believe...). So, go search on how to stretch for those muscles and put your emphasis there.
 

Valentin

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Hi

blantonnik i think hit it on the nail. There is no easy way about it, but really it comes down that exactly that.. TIME working on it a lot and devoting more time to it then normal, and working both passive and active. Active flexibility for the shoulders is virtually always neglected its almost never trained from when i have seen in gyms.
Here is a link with some passive stretches.
http://www.gymworld.de/gymboard/showthread.php3?s=&threadid=69981
The top set of pictures are shoulder extension, the sencond is shoulder flexion stretches...work both, but it might be a good idea as Acoach78 pointed to make sure that the his flexion flexibilty isn't extemely limited as well, as that means you have to dvelop twice as much time to both areas.

On problem is that it comes down to the gymnast to actually work on this stuff at home, if they don't you are really kinda wasting your time, because you will improve his flexibility lets say, but you will lose out on appratus time, or conditioning time, were really he could work on it at home safely...that is my view on it. It needs to a joint effort he needs to put in the effort as well. Saddly that is almost never the case.
For another active stretch exericse you can do what blantonnik said but do it standing facing a wall (nose to wall) holding a weight (not heavy at first only 1-2lbs or so) and have him open the shoulders as far back as he can without arching the back, or nose leaving the wall, and just hold it there for 10sec or so, then relax and repeat 3-4 times.
 

gymdog

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Go on the internet and read up on Myofascial Release. Then, go purchase a foam roller and have your athlete do some soft tissue and mobility work combined with some stretching and I bet you'll achieve faster results.

Upward/Backward Extension? I assume that you're talking about shoulder flexion/hyperflexion?

So, if he can't hyperflex, then that must mean that the muscles that produce extension at the shoulders must be very tight and restrictive.

Those would be primarily the lats, sternal (e.g. lower) portion of the pecs, and the teres major - one of the rotator cuff muscles (I believe...). So, go search on how to stretch for those muscles and put your emphasis there.
This is kind of off topic but you seem to know about muscles a lot so I wanted to ask about problems with hip flexor flexibility which affects bridges too. It seems like a lot of people with shoulder flexibility problems also have tight hip flexors. I have a pretty flexible right and left split, pike, and lower back, but my hip flexors and upper back/shoulders are very tight. I can easily kick my foot over my head using mostly lower back flexibility, but I could never pull my foot up there and hold because of my shoulders (and prob hip flexors if that makes sense). I have seen a lot of people with similar problems. Maybe I am just crazy and looking for it though? Is it just because one hinders the other in stretching, or is there some structural connection?
 

Valentin

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Hi

Shoulder flexibility in no way! can effect hip flexibility. The reason for this is, is that flexibility is joint specific. You cannot say. or more like its very unaccurate to say someone is flexible just because they can do the splits for example. Because just because at the same time they might not be soo stiff in the shoulders that they can't even scratch their back, or raise their arm over their head, or extend their knees to a full 180, or squat with the heels coming of the floor...etc..

"It seems like a lot of people with shoulder flexibility problems also have tight hip flexors"
Big generalisation this one, because you might want to consider the people you are thinking about. In gymnastics a great deal of emphasis is placed on Hip flexibility, to the point that shoulder flexibility is sometimes neglected, or in most cases its just never worked as hard as hip flexibility. Consider the people you are thinking about and their daily activity, sport, lifestyle, job ect. Someone stuck at the computer 24/7 for example will develop flexibile extensors (trunk) and develop tighter hip flexors, simply because a great deal of time these muscles are spending in extended and flexed positions. So i personally would not agree to say that a lot of people do exibit this, but i would agree that in general, people are not very flexibile, as a result (in my opinion) due to the more and more sedentry lifestyles we live. Also there is still not enough emphasis on flexibility work on most sports/rec activies.

"I can easily kick my foot over my head using mostly lower back flexibility, "

The ability to dynamicly swing a limb through a certain range of motion (ROM) is an example of dynamic flexibility. The ability to move a limb though a ROM and sustain it at the exteme end of the ROM is an example of active fleixbility. The two are moderately correlated, but are definitely not the same thing, and require sperate modes of training.
When you say you can kick your leg over your head (as you see Ruthmic gymnasts do during warm-ups).. i am thinking one of two ways.. either in like a scopion kick thing..where you are like on all all fours (4 point stance), or a similar position and you swing your leg. OR from standing you are kicking it infront of you. Its important to clarify because the ROM you are exibiting is controled/limited by opposing muscle groups. When you say you arch in your back i am thinking that you are doing the first option. Even though you arch in your back (due to joint anatomical reasons most likely, as the joint is not actually capable of doing such a thing (even though in some cases due to joint deformation it would/might be possible). So arching helps you to put the joint in a position to be able to do it this, and maybe you bend in the knee as well. If this is the case you actually ahve some pretty flexibiluty hip flexors haha..
The shoulders are just not involved in this.

"I could never pull my foot up there and hold because of my shoulders (and prob hip flexors if that makes sense)"
To be honest i dont quite understand what you mean, as in, in what position are you doing this?
But regardless as i mentioned before this is because you are testing 2 different kinds of flexibility, and even though you sound like you have developed pretty awesome dynamic flexibility, your active flexibility is not as well developed. It means you with the help of momentum can achieve take the joint though this set ROM, but your muscles are not stron enough to take the leg though this. One thing that definitely can be generalised is that active flexibility is almost always neglected and trainined minimaly. Even though in some sports this not the case (takewondo being on that definitely works on developing it).

I hope that answers some of your questions.
 
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BlairBob

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Do a google on Gina Pongetti as she has done some excellent congress clinic on shoulder and back flexibility. I have one of the shoulder clinics on video and there are 2 more sessions I have yet to see from last congress because someone else taped them.
 
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