The Seven-Phase Workout
Phase 1 – Isometrics
Building the foundation begins with training the entire kinetic chain by using isometric drills to enhance muscular endurance and activate the core musculature.
Cue: Keep the head straight. Do not look up or sag the chin. The abs should be stiff and the back should resemble a table top. Think of pulling your navel toward your spine.
Recommended: 3 Holds for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 75 seconds
Cue: Beginners should start with knees bent (shorter lever). Intermediates and advanced lifters can start with legs stacked and straight. Head should not sag and keep weight OVER the bottom shoulder.
Recommended: 3 Holds on each side for 30, 45 and 60 seconds each.
Half Push-up Hold
Cue: Get into a top push-up position and slowly lower yourself so that the elbows are bent and your chin is a few inches away from the floor. Maintain this position while keeping the abs braced; arms slightly tucked towards your torso and head facing the ground. Hold this position. Do not perform push-ups.
Recommended: 3 Holds for 45, 60, and 75 seconds. Advanced hold for longer.
Phase 2 – Stabilization of Scapula/Intro to Mobility
In this phase, we will concentrate our efforts on increasing the ability of the muscles around the scapula to stabilize.
Scap Push Ups
Cue: Position yourself in a top push-up position. Keeping abs stiff and arms extended, slowly lower your torso so that the shoulder blades retract, or squeeze together. Then raise the torso upwards by pushing your chest away from the ground.
Recommended: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
Cue: Stand against a flat wall with the back of your head, upper back, and buttocks in contact. Your feet (heels) should be approximately 6 inches away. Next, position your arms outstretched in front of you with palms facing up. Next, bend your arms and bring your elbows to the wall, away from your sides so they form a 90 degree angle relative to your torso. Finally, rotate your hands toward the wall keeping your palms facing each other (neutral). Most people will have difficulty getting their arms to touch the wall, but the goal is to achieve this. Work on moving your hands towards the wall without letting the body lose contact with it or arching your back. From here, you can slowly slide your hands up above your head and down toward your sides, keeping your forearms touching the wall throughout the movement.
Recommended: Beginners, work on just trying to touch the wall. Intermediates and advanced, once you can maintain contact with wall, slide the arms upwards until semi-straight and return to 90 degree against wall. Perform 12 reps total for 2 sets.
Y & Ts
Cue: Lying face down on a slanted bench, focus on lifting your arms level to your ears. Do not bend your arms at anytime. First position should resemble a letter “Y” with arms tapering out as they are lifted. The second position they should come out to sides to resemble the letter “T”. Throughout the movement, think about trying to reach your hands as far away from you as possible. A common tendency will be to lead the movement by lifting with the scapula instead of keeping a proper movement pattern between the humerus and scapula. Try reaching as far away from you as possible, and keeping your shoulders down throughout the movement.
Recommended: Beginners, 2 sets of 15-20. Intermediates and advanced, focus on holding a light dumbbell in each hand and maintain straight arms while performing the same amount of sets/reps.
Standing Horizontal Arm Swings
Cue: Stand about a foot away from a wall and position your arms like you would perform a push-up (against the wall). Now, drop one arm. With the dropped arm at your side, turn your body inwards and bring the arm into the middle of the body. Then forcefully, turn you torso outwards and swing the arm out to your side and back. This should resemble you giving someone a huge “backhand”. You should consciously “brake” the action once it gets to the end. This will enable the scapular muscles to “brake” or “slow down” an accelerated movement.
Recommended: 2 sets of 12 reps each side.
Phase 3 – Strength
Once we learn how to work the muscles in isolation, we must strengthen them so that they fire appropriately when called upon. A good part of this has lot to do with how well you “think” about it while you are performing these exercises.
Cue: At the end position of this exercise, the rope should be at the side of your head. If done correctly, you should be able to see your hands in your peripheral vision. Your grip should be neutral (palms facing you) to and keep your shoulders depressed to minimize impingement risks. Focus on squeezing the scapular muscles at the end of the movement.
Recommended: 3 sets of 12 reps
Limited Pullovers for Pec Minor
Cue: Holding one dumbbell with both hands, lie back on a flat bench. Slowly lower the arms, keeping them straight, to your head. Once a comfortable position is reached-you should feel a stretch near your arm pits-raise the arms back up to the top position. Do not overstretch this position and maintain a “squeeze” in your shoulder blades. (Note: if you already present pain in your shoulders, skip this exercise). Recommended: 3 sets of 12 reps
External Rotation (Cuban Press Version)
Cue: Position cable pulley at lowest setting and position one arm at a 90 degree angle. Holding the D-handle, turn you body and face the pulley column. Next, lift the hand up so that your arm resembles an “L” shape. The top position will carry the most resistance. Maintain the shoulder blades squeezed and abs stiff during this exercise. (Note: if you already present pain in your shoulders, skip this exercise).
Recommended: 3 sets of 10 reps
Phase 4 – Power Drills
Like mobility drills, now we will add some resistance and speed to certain movements simply to “teach” the muscles of the shoulder joint to “brake” when needed, and “speed up” when allowed.
Medicine Ball Pitches
Cue: Like throwing a baseball, you are going to pretend you are throwing a medicine ball. Weight-wise, typically 2lb. and 4lb. balls are sufficed. If you have a concrete wall you can throw the ball against, give it a try. Wind up your arm like a pitcher and throw the ball. If you don’t have either, hold a dumbbell and mimic the throw. Remember don’t throw the dumbbell!
Recommended: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
DB Snatch with Half Windmill
Cue: Snatch the dumbbell up and slowly lower your body towards the opposite direction of the snatched arm. A half windmill consists of just slowly lowering the opposite hand (empty hand) down towards the side of the knee. (A full windmill consists of lowering that hand to the floor).
Recommended: 2 sets of 12
Phase 5 – Integrating Segments
Because the kinetic chain is linked together, we must now concentrate on integrating the total body. The selected exercises utilize the torso and pelvis; so it is imperative to brace the core throughout each movement.
Supine Reverse Ab Curls with Triple Extension
Cue: Lying down on a bench or floor, grab a fixed object near your head and raise your knees above the floor. Bend your knees and your flex your ankles, so that your hips, knees, and ankles are approximately 90 degrees. While holding on to the fixed object, curl your torso up so that knees are close to your face. Try this exercise with minimal momentum.
Recommended: 3 sets of 8-15 reps
Standing Trunk Flexion with Band
Cue: Attach tubing to a fixed object higher than arms length (example: power cage top, cable top, chin up bar, smithy machine top). Grab handles and take a couple of steps back to create some tension in the band with your arms stretched overhead. To execute, flex at the trunk and curl your body down while keeping your arms straight and try to touch the floor as you bend. The lower you get, the more the tension (from the tubing) grows. The goal is to be able to touch the floor as your crunch.
Recommended: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Bird-Dogs on Stability Ball
Cue: Place a stability ball slightly below the naval and lie face down. From an overhead view, your body should look like an “X”. Maintain your position and slowly execute the bird dog exercise, extending your opposite arm and leg. Pause at the top and hold position for a count of 2. Most advanced exercisers can perform this movement with ease, so in order to enhance proprioception and difficulty; you can perform this exercise with eyes shut. Maintain a neutral spine and core activation throughout the exercise.
Recommended: 3 sets of 12 reps
Phase 6 – Mixing It Up
The name of the game is continuous integration. This will cement the nervous system to accept and execute scapular stabilization and humeral head depression automatically. This is achieved if the rotator cuff muscles stay strong and good form is exercised routinely. Here is a sample program:
Med Ball Pitches
Standing Horizontal Swings
DB Snatch with Windmill
Phase 7 – Maintenance
Addressing the health of the shoulders never ends. However, with the amount of movements performed with the upper body, it is also important to rest the joint adequately, and perform self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques to combat imbalances and muscle shortening. SMR will also increase blood flow and keep muscles pliable, as well as increase mobility. The most relevant areas to perform SMR in terms of shoulder health are: the pec minor, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and glutes. Tools of the trade include: foam roller, Theracane®, Massage Stick®, tennis balls, lacrosse ball, or good ole fashion massage therapist hands.
In conclusion, care for the shoulders is paramount to improve the quality of life in every aspect of activity. With regular care and attention, the shoulder joint is maintained strong and functional; which leads to a healthy outlook on life absent of pain and sedentariness.