Michael Reid
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HOW TO SAFELY STRETCH YOUR SHOULDERS

michaelreid.ca          WaterPoloTraining.net

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.

Having good shoulder range of motion (ROM) is very important for being able to swim and shoot the ball well. But there is a fine line between having good ROM and being hyper-mobile to the point where your shoulder subluxes or momentarily pops out. When this happens it can be very painful and debilitating for the athlete.

In a recent article, I wrote about how to stretch your shoulders for a bigger shot. In that two part article, I discuss the importance of thoracic spine mobility and how it relates to improved shoulder health and ROM. The short version of that article is that by improving your thoracic spine mobility you actually simultaneously improve your shoulder ROM with out ever stretching your shoulders. It is safe, effective and backed by research and basic anatomy and bio-mechanics. In this article I will discuss how to safely and effectively improve your shoulder ROM and strength at the same time while focusing on mobilizing your glenohumeral joint (ball and socket portion of the shoulder).

01

Glenohumeral Joint is formed by the ball of the upper arm & the Glenoid cavity.

When done effectively, an exercise commonly known as Wall Slides or Scapular Wall Slides can be used to safely improve your  glenohumeral joint ROM into external rotation while also strengthening your shoulder external rotator cuff musculature and enhancing scapular motion/stability. In order to have a good wind up position to shoot the ball the athlete will need a good chunk of shoulder external rotation.

How to perform the Wall Slide:

  1. Place your entire back against the wall. Head, shoulders, lower back and buttocks should be touching the wall. Legs can be slightly bent to achieve this position.
  2. Press the back of your forearms against the wall and slowly slide your arms up and down the wall with out losing contact with the wall. An athlete with excellent ROM will be able to almost touch their hands overhead without losing contact with the wall. Few athletes will be able to reach this position at the beginning. Overtime their ROM should improve but not always to the point where they can touch their hands overhead.

02

If you have to arch your back to get your arms flat then that is an indication that you lack glenohumeral joint ROM. It has also been suggested by other coaches and researchers that a lack of glenohumeral joint ROM can be a cause of lower back pain. The theory is that to achieve full external rotation of the shoulder the athlete needs to hyper-extend their back. Done repeatedly in sport, for example shooting a Water Polo ball, can cause pain and injury to the lower back secondary to less then optimal shoulder ROM.

03

Do not arch your back.

Instead of arching the back, perform a posterior pelvic tilt which will flatten the lower back against the wall. Depending on your hip flexibility and abdominal strength, you may need to bend your legs slightly and move your feet away from the wall to achieve this position.

04

Posterior pelvic tilt or flattening of the lower back against the wall is the starting point of the Wall Slides.

Prescription

  • Wall Slides can be done almost everyday
  • 1-3 sets x 5-10 reps.
  • Move slowly through the motion, taking approximately 2-3s in each direction.
  • Perform isometric holds of 2-5s in positions that are more restricted.

References

Jonasson P, Halldin K, Karlsson J, Thoreson O, Hvannberg J, Swärd L, Baranto A. Prevalence of joint-related pain in the extremities and spine in five groups of top athletes. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2011 Sep;19(9):1540-6. Epub 2011