Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Limitations in overhead shoulder mobility are common and often a frequent source of nagging shoulder pain and decreased performance.  Any loss of shoulder elevation mobility can be an issue with both fitness enthusiasts and athletes.  Just look at all the exercises that require a good amount of shoulder mobility in the fitness, Crossfit, and sports performance worlds.  Overhead press, thrusters, overhead squats, and snatches are some of the most obvious, put even exercises like pullups, handstands, wall balls, and hanging knee and toe ups can be problematic, especially when combined with speed and force such as during a kipping pull up.

Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder MobilityWhen assessing for limitations in overhead shoulder elevation, there are several things you need to evaluate.  I’ve discussed many of these in several past blog posts and Inner Circle webinars on How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility.

I am worried about what I am seeing on the internet right now.

I feel like the mobility trends I am seeing are focused on torquing the shoulder joint to try to improve overhead mobility.  Remember, the shoulder is a VERY mobile joint that tends to run into trouble from a lack of stability.  Trying to stretch out the joint or shoulder capsule should never be the first thing you attempt with self mobilization techniques.  In fact, I have found it causes way more problems than it solves.

Think about it for a second…

If your shoulder can’t fully elevate, jamming it into more elevation is only going to cause more issues. Find the cause. [Click to Tweet]

In my experience, the focus should be on the soft tissue around the joint, not the shoulder joint itself.  The muscles tend to be more of the mobility issue from my experience than the joint.  Just think about all the chronic adaptations that occur from out postures and habits throughout the date.

Two of the most muscles that I see causing limitations in overhead shoulder mobility at the latissimus dorsi and the teres major.

Here’s a quick and easy way to assess the lat and teres during arm elevation.

 

Assessing and Improving Overhead Shoulder Mobility

For those interested in learning more, I have a few Inner Circle webinars on how to assess and improve overhead shoulder mobility:

 

 

How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility is now available.

How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility

How to assess overhead shoulder mobilityThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility .  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview my process for assessing loss of overhead mobility.  This is a very common occurrence at Champion and something we do all day.  Many people don’t even realize they have a mild loss of mobility.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • Why you must look at the shoulder, scapula, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine
  • What to look for during active elevation
  • How to assess for passive loss of motion
  • A couple of easy tweaks to assess if loss of mobility is coming from the joint or soft tissue
  • How to teach someone self assessments so they can monitor themselves

To access this webinar:

 

 

 

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Lower crossed syndrome, as originally described by Vladimir Janda several decades ago, is commonly sited to describe the muscle imbalances observed with anterior pelvic tilt posture.

Janda Assessment and Treatment of Muscle ImbalanceJanda described lower crossed syndrome to explain how certain muscle groups in the lumbopelvic area get tight, while the antagonists get weak or inhibited.  Or, as Phil Page describes in his book overviewing the Janda Approach, “Weakness from from muscle imbalances results from reciprocal inhibition of the tight antagonist.”  Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances: The Janda Approach is an excellent book that I recommend if you’re new to the concepts.

When you look at a drawing of this concept, you can see how it starts to make sense.  Tightness in the hip flexors and low back are associated with weakness of abdominals and glutes.

Lower Cross Syndrome

 

I realize this is a very two dimensional approach and probably not completely accurate in it’s presentation, however it not only seems to make biomechanical sense, it also correlates to what I see at Champion nearly daily.

Yet despite the common acceptance of these imbalance patterns, there really isn’t much research out there looking at these correlations.

 

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute WeaknessA recent study was publish in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy looking at the EMG activity between the two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swing.  While I enjoyed the article and comparision of the two KB swing variations, the authors had one other finding that peaked my interest even more.  And if you just read the title of the paper, you would have never seen it!

In the paper, the authors not only measured glute EMG activity during the kettlebell swing, but they also measure hip flexor mobility using a modified Thomas Test.  The authors found moderate correlations between hip flexor tightness and glute EMG activity.

The tighter your hip flexors, the less EMG was observed in the glutes during the kettlebell swing. [Click to Tweet]

While this has been theorized since Janda first described in the 1980’s, to my knowledge this is the first study that has shown this correlation during an exercise.

 

Implications

It’s often the little findings of study that help add to our body of knowledge.  This simple study showed us that there does appear to be a correlated between your hip flexor mobility and EMG activity of the glutes.  There are a few implications that you can take from this study:

  • Both two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swings are great exercises to strengthen the glutes
  • However, perhaps we need to assure people have adequate hip flexor mobility prior to starting.  I know at Champion we feel this way and spend time assuring people have the right mobility and ability to hip hinge before starting to train the kettlebell swing
  • If trying to strengthen the glutes, it appears that you may also want focus on hip flexor mobility, as is often recommended.  While a common recommendation, I bet many people skip this step.
  • This all makes your strategy to work with people with anterior pelvic tilt even more important.  Here is how I work with anterior pelvic tilt.

So yes, it does appear that hip flexor mobility correlates to glute activity and should be considering when designing programs.

 

How to Assess the Scapula

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess the Scapula is now available.

How to Assess the Scapula

How to assess scapular dyskinesisThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess the Scapula.  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview everything you should (and shouldn’t) be looking for when assessing the scapula.  When someone has a big nerve injury with significant winging or scapular dyskinesis, the assessment of the scapula is pretty easy.  But how do you detect the subtle alterations in posture, position, and dynamic movement?  By being able to identify a few subtle findings, you can really enhance how you write a rehab or training program.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • What to look for in regard to static posture and scapular position
  • How to check to see if static postural asymmetries really have an impact on dynamic scapular movement
  • What really is normal scapulothoracic rhythm (if there really is a such thing as normal!)?
  • How to reliably assess for scapular dyskinesis
  • How winging during the concentric and eccentric phases of movement changes my thought process
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is increasing shoulder pain
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is decreasing shoulder strength

To access this webinar:

 

 

 

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis You Must Use

A common part of my examinations includes assessing for abnormal scapular position and movement, which can simply be defined as scapular dyskinesis.  Scapular dyskinesis has long been theorized to predispose people to shoulder injuries, although the evidence has been conflicting.

Whenever data is conflicting in research articles, you need to closely scrutinize the methodology.  One particular flaw that I have noticed in some studies looking at the role of scapular dyskinesis in shoulder dysfunction has involved how the assess and define scapular dyskinesis.

Like anything else, when someone has a significant issue with scapular dyskinesis it is very apparent and obvious on examination.  But being able to detect subtle alterations in the movement of the scapula may be more clinically relevant.  There’s a big difference between someone that has a large amount of winging while concentrically elevating their arm versus someone that has a mild issues with control of the scapula while eccentrically lowering their arm.

Most people will not have a large winging of their scapula while elevating their arm.  This represents a more significant issue, such as a nerve injury.  However, a mild amount of scapular muscle weakness can change the way the scapula moves and make it difficult to control while lowering.

 

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis

One of the simplest assessments you can perform for scapular dyskinesis is watching the scapula move during shoulder flexion.  Performing visual assessment of the scapula during shoulder flexion has been shown to be a reliable and valid way to assess for abnormal scapular movement.

That’s it.  Crazy, right?  That simple!  Yet, I’m still amazed at how many times people tell me no one has ever looked at how well their scapula moves with their shirt off.

However, there is one little tweak you MUST do when performing this assessment…

You have to use a weight in their hand!

Here is a great example of someone’s scapular dyskinesis when performing shoulder flexion with and without an external load.  The photo on the left uses no weight, while the photo on the right uses a 4 pound dumbbell:

scapular dyskinesis

As you can see, the image on the right shows a striking increase in scapular dyskinesis.  I was skeptical after watching him lift his arm without weight in the photo on the left, however, everything became very clear when adding a light weight to the shoulder flexion movement.  With just a light load, the ability to prevent the scapula from winging while eccentrically lowering the arm becomes much more challenging.

I should also note that there was really no significant difference in scapular control or movement during the concentric portion of the motion raising his arms overhead:

scapular winging concentric

This person doesn’t have a significant issue or nerve damage, he simply just needs some strengthening of his scapular muscles.  But if you didn’t observe his scapula with his shirt off or with a dumbbell in his hand, you may have missed it!

 

How to Assess for Scapular Dyskinesis

In this month’s Inner Circle webinar, I am going to show you a live demonstration of how I assess scapular position and movement.  I’ve had past talks on how to assess scapular position and how to treat scapular dyskinesis, however I want to put it all together with a demonstration of exactly how I perform a full scapular movement assessment and go over things I am looking for during the examination.

I’ll be filming the video and posting later this month.  Inner Circle members will get an email when it is posted.

 

 

 

How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises is now available.

How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises

How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program ExercisesThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Coach and Perform Shoulder Program Exercises.  While this seems like a simple topic, the concepts discussed here are key to enhancing shoulder and scapula function.  There are many little tweaks you can perform for shoulder exercises to make them more effective.  If you perform rotator cuff or scapula exercises poorly, you can be facilitating compensatory patterns.  In this webinar, we discuss:

  • How to correctly perform rotator cuff and scapula exercises
  • Coaching cues that you can use to assure proper technique
  • How to enhance exercises by paying attention to technique
  • How to avoid compensation patterns and assure shoulder program exercises are as effective as possible

To access this webinar:

 

 

 

How to Assess for a Tight Posterior Capsule of the Shoulder

Over the years, the idea of posterior capsular tightness and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) in baseball pitchers has grown in popularity despite not much evidence.

I routinely see baseball players ranging from kids to MLB pitchers that have been told they have GIRD and need to aggressively stretch their posterior capsule and into shoulder internal rotation.  One of the first recommendations I make is essentially addition by subtraction – stop focusing on these areas!  I’ve discussed at length my feelings on why I don’t use the sleeper stretch, which is something I haven’t used in over a decade and none of my athletes have a loss of internal rotation.

Many people assume that GIRD is caused my posterior capsular tightness, without assessing the posterior capsule itself.  Blindly applying treatments without completely assessing the person is always a bad idea, especially considering GIRD may be normal and not even an issue.

Assessing the posterior capsule can be tricky and most text books continue to demonstrate the technique poorly.  I wanted to share a quick video showing how to assess the posterior capsule of the shoulder.

 

 

Perform your assessment of the posterior capsule this way and you’ll realize most people can actually sublux posteriorly and that mobilizing the posterior capsule isn’t what they need for GIRD!  Keep in mind this is applicable for athletes, you can certainly get a tight posterior capsule for many reasons, I just don’t think this is the primary cause of GIRD so shouldn’t be the primary treatment.

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you are interested in mastering your understanding of the shoulder, I have my acclaiming online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder!

ShoulderSeminar.comThe online program at takes you through an 8-week program with new content added every week.  You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.  You’ll learn exactly how I approach:

  • The evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers 21 CEU hours for the NATA and APTA of MA and 20 CEU hours through the NSCA.

Click below to learn more:

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How to Know When to Push a Stiff and Painful Shoulder

If you have ever worked with someone with a stiff and painful shoulder, you know how challenging it can be to gain motion.  Regardless of if this is a postoperative shoulder or someone with adhesive capsulitis, push too hard or too fast often backfires and causes them to get worse!

One of the more common questions I get from students and new clinicians is – “how do you know when to push range of motion.”

Luckily, there is a pretty simple way to knowing when to push a stiff and painful shoulder and when to back off.

 

Assess End Feel

How to Know When to Push a Stiff and Painful ShoulderIn addition to assessing the quantity of motion, you should also assess the quality of motion.  This is essentially the “end feel,” or the quality of the end range of motion.

Every joint has a normal end feel.  Some common examples are:

  • Boney: Hard end feel of two bones approximating.  Elbow extension is a good example.
  • Capsular or Ligamentous: Often described as stretching a piece of leather.  This is normal joint end feel, such as with shoulder external rotation
  • Muscular: This is more like stretching a piece of rubber, like when stretching the hamstrings
  • Tissue Approximation: When the mobility is stopped because you run out of room to move, such as during elbow or knee flexion.
  • Empty: Pain does not allow you to get to the end of the range of motion, you stop in the middle of the range.
  • Spasm: An abrupt end of the movement that feels as if the person is in pain and guarded.  This feels like the muscles are stopping the motion and spasming.

 

Don’t Push Through a Spasm End Feel

A simple rule I have always followed and has helped me know when to push motion with a painful and stiff shoulder is to never push through a spasm end feel.

If someone presents with a spasm end feel, your primary treatment objective should switch from trying to gain motion to trying to reduce spasm.  Attempting to push through the spasm almost always backfires.

You’ll know you can push harder when the spasm end feel changes to a capsular end feel.  That’s your cue to get more aggressive.  But…  be careful!  It’s possible to push too hard or too fast again and revert back to a spasm end feel.

 

Learn How I Treat the Stiff Shoulder

If you are interested in mastering your understanding of the shoulder, I have an amazing sale going on right now for my acclaiming online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder!  You can save a HUGE $150 off the normal enrollment fee!

ShoulderSeminar.comThe online program at takes you through an 8-week program with new content added every week.  You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.  You’ll learn exactly how I approach:

  • The evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers 21 CEU hours for the NATA and APTA of MA and 20 CEU hours through the NSCA.

Click below to save $150 off the program between now and November 1st:

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