Super Tight Shoulders…We Must Look At Other Factors…

This is in response to recent comments by “Just Another Opinion.” I figured that I might as well make a blog post about it.

Yes, there are other factors outside of merely shoulder flexibility that dictate shoulder range-of-motion. Of particular importance is the position of the scapula as the scapula contributes to upwards of 60 degrees of arm elevation. Thus, when you lift your arm over your head, your scapula must move 1 degree for every 2 degrees that your arm lifts overhead – regardless of whether you are lifting it straight up (shoulder flexion) or bringing up to overhead from the side (shoulder abduction). This is referred to as “scapulohumeral rhythm.” The other 120 degrees of shoulder motion is contributed from the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint itself.

The scapula is controlled actively as it is supported by 17 muscles. Imagine a string that is pulling on an object in 17 directions. It is critical that those forces be functionally balanced so that it can be moved appropriately as the different forces act upon it. When you move your arm in an upward direction, the scapula should upwardly rotate, abduct, and slightly posteriorly tilt on the thorax. If you have certain scapular stabilizers (I won’t get into specifics just, yet…I will in future posts) that are not doing their job appropriately, you’ll get abnormal movement and this can dramatically effect how high one can lift their arm.

Secondly, the degree of “rounding” (thoracic kyphosis) in the upper spine can also have a dramatic effect. Increased kyphosis puts the scapula in the wrong positions and this, in turn, can affect upper arm elevation. Doing regular thoracic mobility, such as foam roller extensions, should be commonplace since gymnasts perform so many pushing activities (casting, pressing, etc.) as well as “hollowing.”

These types of movements really develop the front side of the upper body, but most conditioning programs fail to appropriately balance the upper back and scapular stabilizers. As a result, the kyphosis continues to increase.

Here is an example of thoracic extensions with a foam roller shown by Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Lastly, I will talk a little bit more about normal postural development in a future post. Sometimes, in younger children, the resulting kyphosis is a result of a compensation for excessive anterior pelvic tilt – which is actually very normal throughout postural development. In other words, as the child grows, some of those deformities will go away.

So, there is a lot more content on this subject forthcoming in the near future!

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Explore posts in the same categories: Anatomy, Biomechanics, Strength Training

6 Comments on “Super Tight Shoulders…We Must Look At Other Factors…”


  1. Thanks for that Chris. Very interesting and of course true. Look forward to forth coming posts. When you gonna write an article for the Gym Coach Journal? haha

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