In the last few months at CFS, I’ve coached numerous athletes who requested I help scale a WOD for them because they are dealing with a shoulder injury. Typically it goes something like “I can’t do anything overhead”. First and foremost, I ask the athlete to describe the issue and the pain they are experiencing to get a better understanding of whether they potentially have injured their shoulder or if they are dealing with an impingement. Typically if the athlete is dealing with a shoulder impingement, the shoulder will loosen up with various stretches and exercises.
For those athletes dealing with a shoulder impingement, scaling a WOD shouldn’t be the first and only measure taken to in order to fix the impingement. CFS has many knowledgeable coaches who can recommend various stretches and exercises both pre- and post-workout to build a regimen to alleviate the impingement. Below are few of these that can be added to your warm-up and cool down, but don’t hesitate to ask a coach for a demonstration on the movements below or for any additional exercises.
Self massage (smashing) with a lacrosse ball
Begin facing a wall and pin the lacrosse ball between your chest and the wall. We are looking to smash our pec major and pec minor. The pec major is the larger portion of our upper chest while the pec minor is the small section of our chest just above our armpit where the chest meets the shoulder. A lot of impingement issues in the shoulder arise from tightness in our upper body musculature, the pec major and minor are the first place to target.
Lack of range of motion with loads overhead is another large contributor of shoulder impingement. Thoracic extension stretches will help increase the athlete’s range of motion. There are two variations we can use for this – a foam roller and a box. With a foam roller the athlete will lie down on the floor with bent knees and the foam roller just beneath the shoulder blades. While your hands are overhead, you want to extend your upper back over the foam roller – think about trying to touch your shoulders to the floor on the other side of the foam roller as your butt remains on the floor. The other variation of this is using a box. The athlete will be in a kneeling position in front of a box placing their palms on the top of the box. In this position we want to press our armpits towards the floor while keeping our head neutral (don’t tuck the chin) and our palms flat on the box. With both of these variations, you want to hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Banded stretches are great way to open up the space in our shoulders known as the subacromial space. Your bicep tendon and rotator cuff are located in this space. With certain movements and tightness of our upper body musculature, the subacromial space can become smaller and often will pinch the soft tissues located in this space. One of my favorite band stretches is looping a band over the pull-up rig, while facing the rig place one hand through the band, and then step back and drop the knee, on the same side as the hand holding the band, to the floor. Try to relax the shoulder and let the tension created in the band open up this subacromial space in the shoulder. Hold for 15-20, release the tension by standing, and then after 10 seconds go back into the stretch but this time take a slightly larger step backwards to create more tension in the band.
Dealing with a shoulder impingement can certainly be a nuisance, especially since we may not always know what caused it but as athletes we need to take a proactive approach to alleviating the issue. The vast majority of athletes at CFS have dealt with a shoulder issue at some point, but few of us spend the time adding a few exercises and stretches to our regular warm-ups and cool downs which would ultimately give us back pain free, full range of motion of our shoulder. As always, any questions, concerns, or advice regarding your specific issue – don’t hesitate to talk to the coaches.