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3 Weeks To Building Bulletproof Shoulders

Get a group of mountain bikers together and a lot of them probably have or have had some sort of shoulder issue. From overuse injuries due to hours in the saddle with bad posture to impact injuries from crashes, the shoulders are a sensitive area that takes a lot of abuse in our sport. Fortunately, you can use a smart training approach to both rehab back bad shoulders and create bulletproof shoulders to guard against a future injury.

The Prescription

Using the exercises described below, perform between 15-20 minutes of continuous cycling between movements using the prescribed rep-ranges. For optimal shoulder health, perform this system at least 3 times per week either as part of your warm-up routine or in a separate split session.

Exercise 1: PVC Pipe Shoulder Pass Throughs. Perform 15 reps.

Exercise 2: Push Up Shoulder Taps. Perform 8-10 reps per arm.

Exercise 3: Single Arm KB Upright Row. Perform 8-10 reps per arm.

Exercise 4: Self Lacrosse Ball Pec Massage. Perform for 60 seconds per side.

PVC Pipe Shoulder Pass Throughs

The PVC Pipe Shoulder Pass Through is a fantastic training tool for both mobility/flexibility assessment and as part of a dynamic shoulder warm-up routine. It simply tests the integrity of the shoulder joint, its associated musculature, and the degree of flexibility in an athlete by putting the shoulder through complete external and internal rotation. 

Always aim to keep your hands as close as possible without bending your elbows. Make the most of the movement by keeping a ‘full’ grip on the PVC pipe at all times; as the PVC pipe passes overhead and behind your body this will become more difficult, but keep persisting. 

Push Up Shoulder Taps

Although the Push Up Shoulder Tap seems like a very simple progression of the traditional pushup, it is an extremely useful exercise for maintaining shoulder integrity and strength that carries-over into any overhead movement.

Because the Push Up Shoulder Tap is considered a closed kinetic chain exercise (a movement performed where with the hands (or feet) are fixed in space, usually against the floor or wall) it produces far less shearing-forces than isolated movements like overhead dumbbell or barbell pressing, but provides substantially more joint stability. Often Crossfit athletes will substitute open chain overhead pressing for handstand push ups to help relieve stress on their joints whilst still maintaining or increasing their relative overhead stress.

Single Arm Kettlebell Upright Row

Apart from locking-out a barbell overhead, the upright row is the second most troublesome shoulder movement for bodybuilders. Similarly, it also plays a part in Olympic weightlifting movements during the ‘turn-over’ of the barbell in the clean and snatch. Mechanically, upright rows place the shoulder in internal rotation (shoulder forward) and horizontal abduction (raising away from the body) which can cause risk of impingement, particularly when your wrists are ‘set’ and ‘cocked’ during the barbell variation.

The Single Arm Kettlebell Upright Row is a fantastic prehab exercise to safely build strength and appropriate shoulder activation for any upright row variation. Because the Kettlebell Upright Row is an isolateral movement, the wrist and shoulder can more freely glide in a natural manner which helps to keep the integrity of the shoulder girdle.

The Single Arm Kettlebell Upright Row can be a very foreign and often ‘sticky’ movement for most people when starting out, so we recommend using a very light kettlebell (4-8kg) to begin with, keeping the reps slightly higher if required. As you progress every 2-3 weeks and become more comfortable with the movement add an additional 1-2kg as you see fit.

Self Lacrosse Ball Pec Massage

The pec minor (sometimes described as the outer pec) is often a culprit when it comes to shoulder pain and dysfunction. Commonly the pec minor becomes very tight and shortened when athletes engage in lots of pressing movements (bench press, military press) and have poor posture with rounded shoulders. This shortening of the pec minor essentially pulls the shoulder blade forward into a very poor and unstable position.

A lacrosse ball (or any hard surface ball) is a fantastic tool for breaking up tight tissue and muscle adhesions that have built up from years of bench pressing and poor posture. Simply place the ball in the position of the pec minor and with your opposite arm massage the area and apply pressure to the tissue. This is very much the ‘entry-level’ technique; it should be the goal to gradually work towards positioning the lacrosse ball against the floor or doorway so you can use your entire bodyweight to break-up the muscle tissue.

This area can be extremely painful for those with extreme tightness, so if you find a lacrosse ball is too harsh, begin with a tennis ball and gradually work your way up.