“I can dress myself without pain in my shoulder now. That just happened this week. When I reach overhead now; I don’t have any pain at all! Look at me, I can put my hand here; remember when I couldn’t do that?” That is an unscripted, very real statement from one of my physical therapy patients this past week. As a Physical Therapist and as a Pilates instructor, I get SO excited to see patients and clients get back into their routines and reach their goals—whether those are goals for rehabilitation, or refining athletic performance.
With the Miami Open just behind us, the popularity of tennis has been revitalized and coming back into full swing (pun intended). So, let’s talk about some fundamental exercises you can do to prevent shoulder injuries and keep stronger, pain free shoulders for whatever it is you need to do: get dressed, win a tennis championship, and/or have toned arms for those spring and summer weddings!
- Exercise: The Hundred
Rationale: You need a stable base (core) and good control to help with functional mobility and strong control of the arms (Proximal stability before distal mobility)
Performance: Lie on the ground on your back with legs outstretched, arms by your side. Inhale to prepare; Exhale to lift your head, neck, shoulders and feet from the ground. Keep your legs straight or bring them to “table top,” according to your strength and preference. Gently pulse your arms up and down as you inhale for 5 beats, exhale for 5 beats, and repeat 10 times. (5in+5out = 10beats. Then 10beats x 10 reps =100 for those of you who haven’t had enough coffee for math time just yet!)
- Exercise: Pilates Bridge with thoracic twist
Rationale: Rotation through the upper spine allows for better power generation in the arms
Performance: Lie on the ground with hands at your side and feet on the ground; inhale to prepare; exhale to lift your pelvis toward the ceiling. From the top of your traditional bridge, reach your right arm over your left shoulder, rotating through your upper back to reach as far as you can and tap the floor with your right hand; come back to a centered bridge; roll down with segmental control; repeat on left opposite side complete 8-10 reps on each side.
- Exercise: Prone Press-up/Swan
Rationale: Thoracic extension is an important element of upright posture and positioning for control and activation of the shoulder
Performance: Lie on the ground with your nose to the ground, hands under shoulders (thumbs at the level of your collar bone) and palms down to the ground. Pull your face slightly away from the ground to give yourself a chin tuck for spinal/neck alignment. Keep your elbows to your side; press your hands into the ground and gently lift your sternum up and slightly forward; keep your shoulder blades “down and back;” your gaze shifts as you lift higher through the chest, but don’t hyperextend your neck.
Variations (Harder): *Lift higher through the chest; *perform upward dog with toes on the ground and thighs completely off the ground, weight supported on the hands; or, go for the full *Swan dive from Mr. Pilates himself… you can look that one up; it’s quite the feat!
- Exercise: Double Leg Kick
Rationale: We need adequate posterior (backside) strength to keep ourselves upright throughout the day for optimal shoulder positioning and neuromuscular control
Performance: Lie on the ground with your face turned to one side, hands behind your back and legs straight. Bring both heels in towards your butt and make a small “pulse-pulse” movement; then extend your legs with toes pointed and knees straight while simultaneously sliding your hands back and lifting your chest from the mat (like you just mobilized in Swan!). Inhale at the top of the movement, exhale to lower down, turn your head to the opposite side, and repeat the “pulse-pulse” movement of heels to butt. Repeat 3-4 times, turning head to alternating sides.
- Exercise: Forearm Plank
Performance: Place your elbows on the ground with hands clasping each other for a tripod position; make sure that you “press your chest” as far from the ground as possible to engage your shoulder stabilizers to hold you up (don’t “hang” from your bones/ligaments… work what you’ve got!) lift your body weight to your toes; keep your bottom in line with your head and toes for that true “plank” and hold for as long as possible. Over time, you’ll note that you’ll be able to hold it longer and longer!
Variations: (Easier) – begin by planking with your hands against a wall or table instead of the floor and/or begin planking from your knees in any of these positions
Variations (Harder) – shift your weight back and forth, side to side, etc. to “weight shift” through your shoulders; Lift one leg at a time to challenge your balance and glute strength; plank to the side (single arm)
Cheers to you!