Clinician showing shoulder blade on skeleton

6 Steps to Recondition the Shoulder Complex

The entire shoulder complex works together as one entity but it is helpful to think of, observe, and work with all the structures in sequence.

Focus on training the shoulder complex for optimal function. Start out with the following as a functional reconditioning sequence:

Begin by training the base of support: spine and ribs

The spine and ribs serve as the base for the shoulder complex. These structures need to be neutrally aligned and balanced between offering both a stable and mobile base for the shoulder complex to rest on.

Top exercise picks:

Mat: Supine thoracic rotation, side bridge

Reformer: torso twist, side bend on short box, oblique carriage pull

Springboard: roll back, roll back flexion/extension, roll back extension/extension

Optimize how the scapulae move and stabilize

Start with the idea that the scapulae need both stability and mobility to support good shoulder movement. Often it works best to mobilize before stabilizing this area of the body to release tension through the neck and shoulders. Having said that, the opposite can also be true and it ends up working better to stabilize the scapulae at the outset.

Top exercise picks:

Mat: robot arms, side bridge, airplane (or a mini version of airplane)

Reformer: mermaid, mermaid with rotation, arm circles

Springboard: standing lateral arm arcs facing springboard and facing away

Consider the rotator cuff group and its role in stabilizing the arm bone in the shoulder socket.

This can be somewhat painstaking because faulty alignment of the arm bone in the shoulder socket often results in overuse of the thoracoscapular and neck muscles. Make sure that the arm bone is as secure in the socket as possible before you call for movement.

Top exercise picks:

Mat: supine shoulder rotations, prone shoulder extension, side bridge

Reformer: chest expansion, mermaid, rowing

Springboard: standing lateral arm arcs facing springboard and facing away

Remember that correcting the position of the scapulae while a person is moving often produces strain. If you notice aberrant patterns or the person mentions that they feel strain, simply move onto a different exercise or one that the person always has success with.

Which of these exercises have you found most helpful when working with the shoulder complex? Do you have any other amazing exercises you’d like to share with others? Please share your comments below.

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