The majority of firefighters who lift weights will (at some point) develop some type of shoulder pain. It is just what happens. It could be from a number of reasons, not warming up before you bench, poor shoulder placement when you bench, tight neck, tight lats… the list goes on.
One thing to know is that your shoulder is a very complicated joint that gets used a lot… especially for a firefighter. The pain you feel may not come from your shoulders, it may come from your arms, neck, chest, thoracic spinal area, rib cage, clavicle or most likely… your scapula.
Think about when you throw a football, now imagine what muscles you use…. They are all connected.
If one thing is off, it will cause pain and we all know that a little shoulder pain can make the easiest tasks (such as putting on an air pack) hard to do.
Here are 4 things I did to fix my shoulders and still do to keep them healthy.
- Pay attention to posture – (I am actually doing it while writing this blog) this is one of the best things you can do in order to improve shoulder health. It sounds so simple but it is very effective. If you look like this:
2. Stretch your pecs and strengthen your back – We have all fell into the trap of the international chest Monday routine. Some disregard the upper back and some get the famous invisible lat syndrome (ILS).
This is caused by years of neglect and if you’re saying “that’s me”… there is hope. Here are two stretches I do to stretch the front shoulder and pectoral region to ensure I don’t develop ILS and shoulder pain.
- I lay down with my feet on the bench and grab two very light dumbbells (5’s). With my lower back still pressed down on the bench, I create a Y with thumbs pointing behind you (external rotation) and let the weight stretch my shoulders and pecs.
Hold it for 2 min if you can and do it 3x. (you may want to use no weight at first)
- The next stretch I do is get into a dip position.
While still standing, slowly lower your weight into the stretch, as soon as you feel it…. and you will… hang out there for a little bit until you feel relief.
- Now for the strengthening your back part. As you have seen in the Firefighter Furnace Workout Program, we do an opposite style training. For example, when we do chest, we superset it with either bent-over row or pull ups. You may think it’s repetitive sometimes but there is a reason why I program it that way. When you do either bent-over row or pull ups, use full range of motion to get the full stretch, which will help stretch out the thoracic area and strengthen muscles you don’t normally utilize.
3. Hang from a bar – There are many benefits from hanging for a couple minutes a day. For shoulders, it helps stretch the entire area and may fix mobility issues you may have in a less painful way. It helps strengthen your shoulder and increases scapular stabilization.
Perform a few sets for as long as your grip can take it. Shoot for an accumulated 2 minutes in the hanging position. Other benefits include spinal decompression and grip strength. I hang from a bar for at least 2 min every day I workout to warm up and recover from a shoulder dominate workout. Once you do if for a while, you may want to activate the scapula (think shoulder shrugs while hanging) this just makes the shoulder move around to help loosen everything up.
4. Shoulder pass-throughs – This is another thing I do every day, especially before anything upper body. Use a PVC pipe (or broomstick) and start as wide as possible. Perform slow and controlled pass throughs and slowly work your hands in (closer) until you feel the stretch. Always activate your shoulders (shrug) before moving the pipe or stick.
I do about 3 sets of 15 with a 5 1/2 ft broomstick ( I took off the actual broom part) One other thing to think about is your posture when you do it. Be sure to keep a tight core (not a hyper-extended lumbar spine) so keep your butt tight and chest nice and tall.
There are many shoulder stretches and mobility exercises out there but these are the ones that worked best for me. Best of luck and be careful.