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How to Improve Shoulder Extension
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Aug 02, 2016
There are very few activities of daily living that require us to use our innate capacity for shoulder extension - that is, to actively use our arms while they are behind us. This translates to having short biceps, brachialis, and pectoralis minor muscles, which predispose us to elbow and shoulder issues, including golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, and shoulder impingement syndrome.
For this reason, it's best that we include shoulder extension exercises in our self care programs.
To improve shoulder extension, start from a seated position with your legs on the ground in front of you, toes pointed, then place your hands on the ground behind you, bringing them as close together as possible - ideally, you want your pinky fingers to touch. Retract your shoulder blades by bringing your shoulders back and down.
From this position, slowly walk your hands away from your trunk - the goal is to get your shoulders closer to the ground. When to get to a point where you feel a good stretch through the fronts of your elbows, stop and hold for as long as is comfortable. Over time, your biceps, brachialis, and the soft tissues that surround your shoulder joints will lengthen, thereby allowing your shoulders to get closer to the ground.
If you have too much elbow discomfort to walk your hands back, try this same movement with your hands spread farther apart.
Once you feel comfortable with this Supine Shoulder Extension exercise, you can try Rocking Table, shown below:
From a seated position, have your feet together on the floor in front of you and your hands planted behind you, about shoulder-width apart.
Elevate your pelvis so that it approaches the same level as your shoulders and knees, forming a table with your trunk.
Ideally, you want your shoulders to be directly over your wrists.
If you feel comfortable in this position, gently rock your table forward so that your shoulders are just in front of where your hands are planted on the ground, then return to your starting position. This is one repetition. You can do as many as you feel comfortable doing.
If you feel significant discomfort in your elbows or shoulders, try Rocking Table with your hands spread a little wider on the ground. You should only rock in the table position when your elbows and shoulders feel capable of this movement while under load.
Tightness in the shoulders during Rocking Table is often indicative of a short pectoralis minor muscle, while tightness in the fronts of your elbows is often a sign of short biceps and brachialis muscles - all of these soft tissues will lengthen with regular practice of Rocking Table and the Supine Shoulder Extension exercise shown above.
When doing Rocking Table, strive to keep your scapulae retracted by squeezing your shoulder blades together and preventing your shoulders from riding up by your ears - the idea is to keep your shoulders back and down.
For an overview of exercise progressions that you can work at to improve your mobility and balance in a systematic way, please feel free to visit our Mobility Exercise Progressions page here:
For some suggestions on how to set up a simple workout area at home, please feel free to view:
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