“Only Winners Get Sprinkles!” Shoulder Mobility & Performance: Weightlifters Edition

Chronic shoulder pain or “tightness” can limit performance and contribute to more functional limitations and over time, dissatisfaction.  The overhead or overhand athlete in particular is susceptible to chronic pain and restrictions to the shoulder. Speaking to Crossfit lifters over the past few months, I have new perspective on why some continue to  perform lifting exercises, no matter how much shoulder pain, discomfort or injuries they are “going through.”  Applying movement, joint mobility and pain science, I am helping my good friend Peter Kwon #pkwonn improve his movements and shoulder restrictions and see the potential benefits of performance Physical Therapy.  We do exist!

To share my insights on shoulder injuries, Peter invited to hang out with some of his closest friends, weightlifters of various experiences. As a run-cyclist performance PT, with what my girlfriend dubs “chicken legs” this amazing opportunity to meet experienced weightlifters at a gym was going to be a lot of fun, but for whom?

I was met with a lot of reservation and skepticism as Peter introduced me to his buddies, each going through various phases of warming up or practice reps. I soon learned Physical Therapy had not been too kind to them in the past. Each had a story to share about their experiences but in a nutshell, they were repeatedly instructed to stop lifting all together or perform exercises that were not specific or tailored to their activities, with very little carryover to lifting exercises.

“So, you’re not anti-weightlifting or encouraging lifters to get back to lifting after an injury….?”

“How can you help someone if you don’t power-lift?”

Great, they were expecting me to drop the hammer down on their sport.  Over the next few hours I observed, recorded and applied my knowledge of pain science, anatomy and physiology to help resolve their aches and pain. Addressing altered functional limitations that have resulted, we made good progress and identified areas commonly unaddressed. It was an educational success.

With different reasons for their injuries or restrictions, It was important for me to address their limitations individually.  After performing a few routines, learning how pain science can be utilized to improve functional mobility, their reaction was extremely positive. With a few PR lifts to cap off my time with them, I left feeling satisfied that for these guys, I had helped change their perspective on Physical Therapy. I’ll take it!

They were extremely grateful, but more importantly excited that someone finally explained to them that pain was no longer something they had to “deal with.”

For my time and work, I was rewarded with a celebratory ice-cream, with sprinkles! “Only winners get sprinkles!”

The Posterior Capsule Stretch, pictured below is one many over-hand/head athletes should work hard to improve. Mechanics can be greatly affected with a tight shoulder joint capsule.  Lastly, here are some routines I put together to help improve shoulder mobility, stability and reduce shoulder pain. They can be performed as part of a warm up routine (lighter band resistance) or as part of your exercise program.
Shoulder Stretch start Shoulder Stretch finish