The Shoulder

In the last article, we talked about the upper body foundation of strength, the star that helps you not to drop that bar in front of you in a snatch: the T-spine. If you didn’t read it, make sure to go back and check it out, as it strongly ties to what we are gonna be talking about in the current article. In today’s special, we bring the light to the last expression of force and stability: the shoulder joint.

The shoulder joint

The shoulder joint is a really complex structure, formed by the scapulae( shoulder blade), the clavicle( collar bone), and the humerus( the upper arm bone). This monster of mobility allows your arm to move in every direction in space, be it flexion, extensions, adduction, abduction, internal/external rotation. Another cool feature is that this joint not only moves your arm anywhere but can move pretty well! The classic duo, the scapula, and the clavicle can move the whole joint upwards, downwards, backward, and forward. All these movements are really important as they all happen to a certain degree in every clean and jerk or snatch you do. ( front and back squats too but at a smaller degree)

Not only do you need the strength required in these movements but you need the range of motion of each to perform the basic movements as they should be.

Assessing the shoulder joint

As mentioned above, is made up of the shoulder blade, the collar bone, and the upper arm. The first 2 serve more as a “base” for the upper extremity of the humerus, that is why this structure is called a “ball-and-socket” joint, making it one of the most mobiles from the whole body.

If we talk about movements, we need first to talk about the scapular movements. If you raise your shoulders that is called ELEVATION of the scapulae. If you drop them as far down as you can, that is called DEPRESSION of the scapulae. PROTRACTION is when you move the shoulder blades as far as you can from one another, hunching your back. RETRACTION is when you pinch them together. We also have FORWARD TILT/BACKWARDS TILT, when you tilt your scapula forward/backward.

The shoulder movements involving the humerus are a bit different. When you raise your arms overhead that is called FLEXION. When you lower it down and go a bit further, as if you try grabbing something far back is called EXTENSION. ADDUCTION is where you pull your arm as close to your body as you can. ABDUCTION is raising the arm straight to the side. INTERNAL/EXTERNAL ROTATION are 2 very important movements, where you rotate your whole arm inwards( internal) and outwards( external).

All these movements need to work on good terms to help you get your arms in a good overhead position and feel stable through it. In the upcoming part, I will focus on the movements of the humerus, because if that is not working properly usually something around the scapulae is not working as it should be.


The act of flexion as we spoke is the raising of the arm straight overhead. I will not even mention the importance of this movement as it is crucial to weightlifting. If you don’t have a good overhead position you just won’t be able to execute the basic lifts properly!

Testing flexion

We will instruct the athlete to lay on the ground with his/her legs flexed, feet on the floor. Now on one arm at a time, he/she will flex the shoulder until the arm reaches overhead. We will test one arm, then the other, then both arms at a time. After all this, we will repeat the same test but with the feet fully extended. The goal for the athlete is to reach the ground with the hand, without compensating from the lumbar spine or without pain.


Shoulder extension is the opposite, the act of bringing your whole arm backward, as you try reaching for the chair that is behind you. Generally, if this movement is restricted, the whole joint has a poor degree of mobility.

Testing extension

We will instruct the athlete to lay on the ground in a prone position, facing down. Now we will take his/her arm and we will extend it, by paying attention to what the scapula does. If it rolls forward too much that means that the extension of the shoulder is pretty poor and will contribute to overall instability in the joint. Make sure to test both sides!

Adduction & abduction

I won’t say much about adduction because generally if it’s not to a normal degree, there is something much much bigger going on there. But we will focus on abduction.

Testing abduction

Sit on the ground in a supine position, facing up. Now we will take one of their arms and bring it into full abduction. The degree of abduction we are looking for is 90 °, so the arm is perpendicular to the body. Arms will be tested one at a time.

External rotation

External rotation is when you rotate your whole arm outwards. This movement is probably the most important one, as it impacts all the overhead positions directly and any deficit in mobility here will be felt in all the positions.

Testing external rotation

The athlete will be instructed to lay on the ground in a supine position, facing up. His/her hand will be abducted to 90 ° with the elbow flexed at 90 °. We will put one hand on his/her shoulder to keep the scapula from overcompensating and with the other hand, we will bring their arm in external rotation. The standard here will be to touch the ground with the back of the hand.

Internal rotation

Internal rotation is where you rotate your whole arm inwards. This is also a really important movement for overhead positions but is also important for starting positions.

Testing internal rotation

Lay on the ground in a supine position, facing up. His/her hand will be abducted to 90 ° with the elbow flexed at 90 °. We will put one hand on his/her shoulder to keep the scapula from overcompensating and with the other hand, we will bring their arm in internal rotation. The standard here will be to touch the ground with the fingers.


1. Carry

You can choose from various types of carries, depending on what movement is restricted. If internal rotation is restricted you can choose to do a farmer’s carry with dumbbells/kettlebells or even a hex bar! If you are restricted in external rotation you can do a goblet or a front rack carry. Just carry something decently heavy for some distance a couple of sets a week and it should help!

2.Torch press

If you are restricted in overhead positions and probably external rotation too, this is for you. Grab a light dumbbell and press it in a diagonal fashion in front of you. The ending position should make you look like you would carry a torch, cool, right? Just make sure to hardly protract your arm on each rep. A couple of sets of higher reps( 10-15 reps) 2-3 times a week should do it.

3. Hanging

This is really simple. Grab a bar and just lift your feet off the ground and voila, you are on your way to improve overhead stability! Hang for time, let your shoulders “sink” in and just stay there! 2-3 times a week for a minimum of 5 sets, or even better: hang between sets of accessory exercises here and there.

4. Hanging back exercises

No, not just pullups, but they will help. From a hanging position try to depress your scapulae. Also, from a hanging position try to retract them. Now combine the two movements! Do high reps withholds of 2-3 seconds in each position. Do them as much as you can, at least 2-3 sets every time.

5. Stretch your latissimus / pectoralis minor

This last one is simple. Both of those will bring your arm downwards and inwards, so if they get really tight, they will cause major problems with your overhead mobility. Stretch them maintaining the positions for 10-20 seconds for 5-10 sets each.

Each of the exercises listed above will benefit you so you should incorporate them into your training routine. You can even do a mini circuit before lifting so you get warmed up and work on your mobility at the same time. Don’t forget: without good overhead stability and strength, you won’t be able to reach your weightlifting peak!

If you want to start weightlifting and you need a good training program, check out my app Super Weightlifting.

1 thought on “The Shoulder”

  1. I just read through the mobility series; it’s great. Really dumbs it down and simplifies it enough for there to be no confusion on what to do. Thanks for writing them.


Leave a Comment


Download now!