Shoulders have it tough in the world of CrossFit.
Constant pushing, pulling, holding, and rotating, are just some of the ways we test our upper body meaning that we need our shoulders to be strong but mobile.
This presents a problem because being strong often results in being less flexible.
Being able to perform a lot of presses and dips doesn’t necessarily help our ability to stabilise a bar overhead or execute smooth shoulder rotations and yet we push ourselves to do all of the above for time.
CrossFit asks a lot of our shoulders and often we fail to prepare them in the ways that we should.
If proper function and the longevity of your shoulders is important to you, (as it should be!), here are a few exercises to optimize shoulder health.
Incorporate them into your training as part of your warmup or as at the end of your session as accessory work.
This is a great exercise to reinforce correct movement of the scapula when you lift weight overhead.
Wall slides are also useful for correcting excessive lumbar extension which is a typical fault seen in overhead lifts.
This drill requires zero material which means it can be performed in the gym or as a corrective exercise at home.
How to do it:
- Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart, leaning your back against the wall.
- Start with your arms out to the sides and bend your elbows at 90 degrees so that your biceps are
parallel to the floor and the back of your hands are in contact with the wall.
- Walk your feet two to three inches away from the wall. If your lower back comes away from the wall, slightly bend your knees and roll your hips forward so that it stays flat. Keep your glutes and back pressed into the wall at all times.
- Slowly begin to reach your arms up without letting your head, shoulders, elbows, mid-back, back of
the hands or wrists separate from the wall. Avoid shrugging your shoulders as your arms rise.
- When you can no longer maintain contact with the wall, begin a controlled descent back to the
This exercise can be made easier by separating your feet further from the wall or performing it while seated against the wall.
Work up to sets of 10 reps.
Banded Pull Aparts
The banded pull apart is a straightforward stability exercise that trains your traps, delts, rhomboids, and rotator cuffs.
There are so many versions of this exercise that it is hard to keep track!
The variation explained below focuses on working external rotation of the shoulder.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder with apart.
- Take a thin resistance band (usually between 10 and 30 pounds of resistance is sufficient) near each
end with palms facing upwards.
- Hold the band taut with your arms out straight at chest level.
- Being conscious of the muscles in your back and shoulders, pull the band apart until your hands come out to your sides.
- Keep your traps down and your scapulae retracted. Be sure to avoid arching your back in this position.
Hold for a moment before slowly returning to start position. Work in sets of 10-20 reps.
Another scapular stability exercise with a little more emphasis on thoracic spine mobility.
This drill important for building postural strength and it’s also a good way to test your shoulders range of motion.
How to do it:
Lay on your stomach with your feet together and your hands resting on your lower back with palms pointed toward the ceiling. Tuck your hips and your ribs in to maintain a neutral position for your core and head.
Squeeze and depress your shoulder blades together and lift your hands so they hover over your lower back.
With your palms still facing upwards, carefully straighten your arms, extending them out to your sides. Continue to raise your arms out to the sides and begin rotate at the shoulders so that your palms face the ground.
Continue to rotate your shoulders and raise your arms until your arms are extended on an “overhead position” (arms beside your ears) and your thumbs point towards the ceiling. Return to the starting position in the same way.
For an additional stretch for you upper and mid-spine, perform this exercise while squeezing your glutes and lumbar to keep your chest elevated above the ground.
Work in sets of 5 to 10 reps.
Also known as PVC Passthroughs, this drill is one of the best-known shoulder mobilizers however it’s commonly performed either incorrectly or half-heartedly.
When done effectively, dislocations can be helpful for opening the chest and front shoulders which are typically over developed from performing a lot of pressing movements.
How to do it:
- Begin by holding a PVC pipe with your arms straight and your hands wide enough that the pipe reaches just below your hip crease.
- Keep your rib cage down and your hips slightly tucked forward as you bring it overhead and then
back behind you.
- Make sure to keep your arms locked out, your spine neutral, and your shoulder blades pressed down
and together as you perform the rotation.
- To make the exercise more intense, bring your hands slightly closer together.
Perform sets of 10 to 15 smooth reps without forcing full rotation of the arms.
In a sport that is nearly synonymous with shoulder injury, it is vital that CrossFit athletes take an extra step to care for their joints.
Shoulders, being one of the most mobile joints in the body should receive additional care if you expect to frequently perform high volume, high intensity exercise.
In return for strengthening and mobilizing your shoulders, you’ll lower your risk of injury and find that many movements will become considerably more manageable.
The best defence for longevity in functional training is bulletproof shoulders.