Saving Your Shoulders

With the rising incidence of chronic shoulder pain and dysfunction running ramped throughout the active population, something needs to be done to protect and rebuild healthy and pain-free shoulders.

The actual mechanism of generalized front sided shoulder pain can stem from a host of postural and movement related issues. But without delving deep into the diagnostic pyramid, I’ve found that the single most effective way to remediate common aches and pains along with improving piss-poor posturing is by placing a training emphasis on intelligently hammering the upper back with joint-friendly movements with extremely high volume and frequency.

Here are my two staple upper back movements that belong in every single dynamic warm up routine, and a unique hybrid exercise that combines these two movements and creates a functional synergy to literally bulletproof your shoulders against pain and dysfunction while improving your posture in the process.

Banded Face Pull

The face pull may be the most versatile training tool in our arsenal for remediating poor shoulder and thoracic positioning. Why? It provides the exact opposite movements that we’re continuously pulled into on a daily basis – namely sitting down and looking at computer, phone, and TV screens.

This movement pattern incorporates humeral horizontal abduction and external rotation of the shoulder and retracts the shoulder blades – all helping combat the hunched over, constantly adducted, internally rotated and protracted posture.

If you’re slouching over a phone or computer reading this, that’s the poor position we’re talking about. Don’t be fooled into thinking the face pull is just another dainty corrective exercise, it builds muscle in the right places. Sure, it can be programmed into any successful dynamic warm-up or activation technique for prepping the shoulders and rotator cuff, but you can also load this pattern up for a results-producing training effect.

So yes, with the multitude of benefits that the face pull presents, this movement is a non-negotiable aspect of every single one of our performance and pain-free programs. This movement fits in perfectly in the dynamic warm up, and can double as a challenging finisher as well.

Here are the tools and movement details that you need to perfect your technique and get the very most out of every single rep of face pulls in the coaching notes below.

Coaching Notes:

Attach the band to a rack or stable surface between shoulder and head height
Grab the band with a double overhand grip with approximately 4-6 inches between the hands
Position your feet under the hip width apart and hinge your hips back slightly
Maintain full body tension with a neutral spinal position
Start with your arms extended fully at the elbows
Drive the band back towards your mouth
Keep your elbows at or above the height of the shoulders cueing the elbows to drive back
Maximize the squeeze at the end range for a split second with a hard “flex”
Slowly control the band back out to the original position never losing shoulder stability
Programming: 2-5 Sets / 8-30 Reps / 30-45 Seconds Rest
Banded Pull Apart

The band pull apart is another pain-free shoulder training staple and for good reason. It directly targets the horizontal abduction movement pattern that is often times highly neglected in both shoulder training and rehab.

The chronic postural demands, or lack there of, in the average sedentary occupations, in association with poor training programming ratios between pushing and pulling in association with less than ideal movement quality, makes this movement a much needed staple for the average fitness consumer to world class athletes. By targeting the posterior aspect of the shoulder directly, this movement has worked wonders for cleaning up many linchpins of pain and dysfunction at the shoulders.

Though the band pull apart is a simple shoulder isolated movement pattern, getting the most out of this variation actually takes some concentrated effort and detail. So that’s exactly what we are going to do below with detailed coaching notes just the way I teach this exercise to my athletes and clients.

Coaching Notes:

Position your feet under the hip width apart and hinge your hips back slightly
Maintain full body tension with a neutral spinal position
Grab the band with a double overhand grip with a hand position at shoulders width apart
Elevate your arms so that the band is positioned directly in front of your sternum at the nipple line
Smoothly drive your hands apart against the accommodating resistance of the band
As you continue to drive your hands, allow slight external rotation of the shoulders
This rotation will put your hands into a palms facing toward neutral position at end range
As you reach end range, do NOT try to drive your hands behind you
Instead, drive your hands as far away from each other as possible.
This small cue will ensure your shoulder blades and gleno-humeral joint work as a unit
Squeeze your shoulders hard and flex for a split second at the end range of each rep
Control your hands back together slowly to the starting position
Programming: 3-5 Sets / 10-20 Reps / 30-45 Seconds Rest
Banded Face Pull Apart

Now after going through both the banded face pull and the banded pull apart, you may be thinking that programming these two moves into your training is an easy and effective way to build pain-free shoulders that look as good as they function. You wouldn’t be wrong, but here’s how to combine these two staple shoulder friendly movements into one highly effective exercise, the banded face pull apart…

I often get asked about my preference to place the hands in the “overhand” position in the face pull movement as there are opposite thoughts on using the opposite “underhand” position that allows more shoulder elevation and external rotation. But my preferred setup is one that allows better room for progression to move into the band face pull apart, which I consider the at the top of this movement pattern pyramid.

Isolated movements of the shoulders moving into horizontal abduction and external rotation independent of one another has a limitation to the functional transference of this movement pattern. Again, the goal to program this movement is to improve upper body global positioning, activating the posterior shoulder girdle and building functional muscle mass in the structures that are in dire need for a training effect.

By breaking up an otherwise sequenced and synergistic movement pattern, we limit the tangible results that this movement has the ability to create. So instead, using this band face pull apart with precision, combining the the benefits of the band face pull and the band pull apart together in one smooth and sequenced movement. This exercise is literally the perfect recipe for pain-free shoulders. Here’s how to execute this novel variation perfectly.

Coaching Notes:

Attach the band to a rack or stable surface between shoulder and head height
Grab the band with a double overhand grip with approximately 2-4 inches between the hands
Position your feet under the hip width apart and hinge your hips back slightly
Maintain full body tension with a neutral spinal position
Start with your arms extended fully at the elbows
Drive the band back towards your mouth
Keep your elbows at or above the height of the shoulders cueing the elbows to drive back
At terminal end range, pull the band apart while maintaining the end range position
Maximize the squeeze at the end range for a split second with a hard “flex”
Allow the pull apart to return to the starting hand with smoothly and under control
Slowly control the band back out to the original position never losing shoulder stability
Programming: 3-4 Sets / 10-15 Reps / 30-45 Seconds Rest