Got Shoulder Impingement? Do these 2 exercises

5 min read.

A common roadblock for people doing upper body work is that they have an “impinged shoulder” … and that is just a part of them now, that’s just how their shoulder is and there’s nothing to be done about it.


But think about this: If you were overweight, you’d understand that this could be changed through proper dieting and exercise, seeing a logical path to fix the issue. But when it comes to how your body moves and feels - it seems impossible to change. A vast majority of people believe surgery is the only way to change their body, but just adjusting minor elements of their training or daily habits will fix the issue 99.9% of the time.


However, just like losing weight, it doesn’t happen overnight and there isn’t one exercise will give you a quick fix. If you have moved a certain way for years, you need to get rid of bad movement habits and retrain good ones, though if you take the time to work out which exercises work for you and tailor your training the right way, it really won’t take that long.


In a healthy shoulder, the tendons of your rotator cuff moves freely as you lift and rotate your arm. However, if you have shoulder impingement, lifting your arm is causing a bony process called the Acromion (which is attached to your scapula) to push down further than it should, reducing the space your rotator cuff has to move in. This causes it to ‘catch’ or rub on the surrounding tissue, causing a nipping sensation or pain.

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As a result of this constant unwanted contact with other tissue, the tendon will be constantly inflamed. The longer you keep it in this bad position without rectifying the movement of your shoulder, the more you push yourself towards a loop of rest, anti-inflammatories, ice, train, pain… repeat.


First things first: shoulder impingement is not something you are stuck with forever; it is just something you’re currently experiencing, and you must adjust what you’re doing accordingly. Pain is simply a signal from your body that something isn’t right, and it’s up to you to listen and act.


So why might your shoulder be impinged anyway? The two most common reasons for these symptoms are:

-          Your overhead mobility is bad
-          Your scapulae are stupid (sorry)


Poor overhead mobility

The number one thing to check is your thoracic mobility using tests like those in The Simplistic Mobility Method

If you have limited thoracic extension it will have a big effect on how well your shoulder blades are able to move and sit while your arm is overhead. Even the most subtle amount of kyphosis (rounded upper back) from long periods of sitting is enough to force the shoulder blades to rest too high, causing the restricted rotator cuff movement we discussed earlier. Simply by gaining the ability to set the shoulder blade in the correct position will give your tendons adequate space and once any residual inflammation goes away, there would be no reason for your symptoms to come back.

I said it was simple, but not that it was easy - to make a lasting change to your thoracic mobility it takes DAILY effort, this isn’t something you can just do once a week. The number one exercise to use is the thoracic bridge as it includes all the major components you need to have good thoracic extension. They also will simultaneously work on any pec or bicep tightness you may have – other muscles that can contribute to rounded shoulders – just another reason why this movement made it into The Simplistic Mobility Method.

Stupid Scapulae

If your upper back mobility is ok, then it’s likely that your body has very little control of your scapulae. For example, when you press overhead you want your scapulae to stay flat against your back, if they’re rotating or lifting as move your arms up it will cause the same unwanted compressing and nipping in the shoulder as before.


Additionally, if your shoulder blades don’t know how to move freely and independently of anything else, you have a serious lack of overall shoulder stability. If something doesn’t know how to move it also doesn’t know how to resist movement, and ultimately resisting unwanted movement is all stability is. 


This simple drill can be done daily and teaches you how to control your scapular and how to move them independently from your elbows and spine. If you struggle to do smooth rotations this is a big warning sign for the intelligence of your shoulder blades.

If you have been told or assumed you have shoulder impingement, you should do one or both drills daily until you see improvement. If you’re not feeling any extreme pain, combine these drills with exercises you know aggravates your shoulder to see how your progress is going and to transfer your new body awareness into a useful setting. 


But what if this doesn’t work?

What if your shoulders are the pure definition of stubborn?


Before I go on, I want you to be honest with me and yourself – have you tried those drills for minimum 2 weeks, spending at least 5 minutes on them per day?! If not, go away, think about what you’ve done, and come back to me when you have. The following stretches are extreme, and if you’re in pain you don’t want to just rush straight up to the most intense level thinking it will get you the quickest results – there’s a chance you can make your pain worse.

But assuming you’ve given the other drills a good go, then there is another level of shoulder opener: weighted stretching. We use this weighted lat stretch inside End Range Training to help increase your shoulder flexion with a bit of encouragement. In this position you can also do some really beneficial exercises for your shoulder stability and overhead pressing technique!

If you feel confused about where to start and just want a program to follow with clear structure and reps then I highly recommend picking up The Simplistic Mobility Method! Remember you’re never stuck. You may currently have an issue, but there are many ways to work on it before ever considering surgery!


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