From pressing up in a handstand pushup to catching a heavy overhead lift or throwing a medicine ball against a wall for a billion reps, there’s no arguing that in CrossFit the shoulders can take quite a beating.
So what’s the best way to make sure your shoulders stay healthy and injury free?
“Bulletproof shoulders” can easily reach all necessary positions for CrossFit, while effectively bearing a heavy load.
Therefore the answer is a combination of strength and mobility work.
This is because the shoulders, unlike other joints such as knees and hips, have a much wider range of motion in multiple directions.
If we want to make sure they stay healthy and injury proof we need to ensure they are as stable as possible.
Luckily kettlebells are the perfect tool for the job.
In this article we will cover the 3 exercises we most commonly program for our athletes to ensure they maintain healthy and strong shoulders.
Additionally the added stability gained from these exercises translate into more solid and heavier lifts.
The windmill as we program it has the goal to improve on the shoulder’s internal rotation.
- The exercise starts with a kettlebell being held overhead.
- The working arm’s elbow is locked out and in line with the wrist.
- The wrist is active in order to maintain straight positioning (don’t let it bend backwards or forwards).
- Feet are wide enough that you can comfortably touch the ground with your hands.
How to do it:
- From the starting position start lowering your torso towards the ground, hinging with your hips. As you move downwards keep eye contact with the kettlebell and reach towards the ground with your free hand. Keep the working arm locked out and straight.
- You’ll notice the lower you go the more both your torso and working shoulder will want to rotate. Allow for both to do so but make sure you are maintaining control over the kettlebell by keeping a stable shoulder.
- Once you’ve touched the ground come back up, rotating the arm in the opposite direction until it’s straight again.
You’ll notice lots of internal rotation is happening in the shoulder as you perform this exercise.
This is good as the purpose of the movement is to reinforce and strenghten the joint in the end of it’s range of movement.
This is done through a load that needs to be stabilized (the kettlebell) and by requiring such deep rotation.
For this same reason the windmill is a great preparatory exercise for snatching which also requires lots of internal rotation.
Usually we recommend working in the 6 to 12 rep range for 3 to 4 sets.
Weight can start as light as a couple kg but for strong athletes it should reach 24kg for women and 32kg for males.
The Arm bar
The arm bar is based on a similar movement pattern as the windmill and aims to also improve internal rotation.
- It’s starting position is similar to the turkish get up with the athlete laying facing upwards,
- kettlebell being held above him in one hand.
- Again the elbow is locked out and wrist straight and in line.
- The same leg as the working arm should be bent.
How to do it:
- Once in position use it to help yourself rotate towards the side of the free arm.
- As you rotate keep eye contact with the kettlebell while allowing the free arm to move slightly upward.
- The chest will then rest on the free arm.
- Once you can’t rotate anymore, maintain the position.
- Make sure the wrist stays straight and elbow locked out.
Again, you will notice lots of internal rotation happening here. Make sure you maintain good positioning of the shoulder.
The ideal time range for this exercise is between 30 and 60 seconds.
During this time frame the shoulder will start fatiguing, meaning that the smaller joint stabilizing muscles will have to be more engaged to make sure you maintain the position.
Ultimately this allows to strengthen said stabilizers.
Athletes should aim to work up over time to weights of 24kg for women and 32kg for men.
Bottom up Kettlebell press
The bottom up KB press looks quite funny if you’ve never seen it done before. However, don’t be fooled, this a challenging movement with a huge transfer in terms of shoulder stability and strength.
The movement is essentially a 1 arm kettlebell press that can be performed either standing or seated.
The catch is that the KB must be held upside down, meaning that you are gripping the handle but the majority of the weight is facing upwards (literally the bottom of the kettlebell is facing UP).
Press up slow and controlled making sure the KB stays straight.
It’s ok if you can’t hit the full ROM of the shoulder press, the attention here is on stabilizing the object.
Don’t try to speed up the movement, the slower you go the more challenging it is and therefore the more benefits you will reap.
Aim to reach a rep range of 6 to 12.
The weight here should be around 12 to 16kg for very strong athletes but even just a 6kg KB for beginners can be quite challenging.
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