Are you a climber looking to make improvements for this next season? A seasoned older climber or a newbie, your flexibility is important to ensure you are expending as little effort as possible. Let's look at the shoulder and ensure it is sitting correctly in its joint. You need flexiblity to ensure you aren't working against your own body-
If you have flexibility- Great!! if you don't- It is time to get going on these tests... (Cheater Note: The test is also the treatment)
Signs you need stretching of this region:
1. Immobility- You cannot reach your back pocket or reach as far up behind your shoulder blades as you can on the other side (Dominant shoulders are usually tighter).
2. You feel Clicking or have Pain at the front/top of your shoulder and have been examined for a rotator cuff injury (and DO NOT have healed tears/fractures).
3. You have been diagnosed with Impingement Syndrome of this same shoulder.
Too often climbers overstretch the front of their shoulder, allowing the humerus (arm bone) to sit asymmetrically in a forward position upon the glenoid fossa (the scapular portion of the shoulder joint). If the front of the shoulder is too flexible in comparison to the back of the shoulder joint, the joint begins to sit with an abnormal forward translation of the humerus upon the glenoid fossa. This, I have observed to be found in MOST climbers-
To the right: How far can you reach up behind your back? Does your shoulderblade 'wing' off your back like mine does? Though this person can do the motion, their shoulder is cheating by rotating the shoulder blade and not creating motion at the back of the shoulder joint itself. This is a shoulder injury after a labral tear in the image directly above. Now its time to focus on flexibilty to get the most out of this shoulder-
We can eliminate these abnormal joint mechanics and increase shoulder strenght issues by restoring normal flexibility and motion to the back of the shoulder joint. Here is where our special stretches come in-
Flexibilty first, then strengthening...
Exercise 1- Broken Bird
Difficulty Level: Easy. If you have a new injury or your shoulder is easily irritated, this is NOT the stretch for you.
The beauty of this pose is that it forces the shoulderblade to be flat as the arm is internally rotated to end range and is then adducted (brought towards centerline) to rest on your hip, or if you are flexible, your low back...
The Broken Bird Pose:
This stretch is designed as a Yin yoga pose, which means it is supposed to be somethign you can relax into... Even though it may be uncomfortable. As time goes by, from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, you will notice different parts of your shoulder will relax and the stretch will move to another internal region.
Exercise 2 - Banded Broken Bird
Difficulty Level: Moderate-Difficult.
If you have a new injury or your shoulder is easily irritated, this is NOT the stretch for you. This stretch builds on the Broken Bird yoga pose, for those with a shoulder too inflexible to get into the yoga pose suggested.
Mobility stretching is a great new form of self-care given to us by physiotherapy and other sports such as cross-fit. Taking the shoulder into the broken bird pose, we can gently support the elbow with the opposite arm.
Pictured Above: A pro triathlete kindly showing the mobility band stretch. The left elbow is gently resting in the right hand, all muscles in the left elbow are relaxed and patient is pulling her elbow gently forward, stretching muscles in and around the posterior capsule of the glenohumoral joint.
For the band, you can use an old tire tube from your bike, a rockband (pictured) and for sale on our website, or a Rogue Fitness Mobility band among others.
With all of these exercises, be gentle and let pain be your guide. It most likely took YEARS for your body to get tight and contracted and it will take time to get it back to normal. Compare and contrast until both sides are the same flexibility. When in doubt or if you are working around an injury, contact your favorite PT or therapist to ensure you are doing this right and not hurting any pre-existing injuries ;-)