6 Exercises to Develop Mobile, Stable, Strong, and Healthy Shoulders

 Part 1 of a 3-Part Series On Injury Prevention:  Healthy Shoulders

by Doug Balzarini

Regardless of the client, a primary goal is to keep them pain and injury free. Whether it’s my young athlete, my business executive, or my pro MMA fighter, injury prevention is always included during our goal-setting discussions. This objective was paramount during the filming of ‘The Ultimate Fighter Live’ TV show that I was on last year. Due to the nature of the show, we never knew which athlete would be fighting later that week so we had to do our best to keep them in top, physical shape throughout the entire series.

One method I incorporated was the Functional Movement Screen. Along with Dr. Jenn Reiner, who is a certified FMS & SFMA practitioner, we took the members of Team Cruz through the seven fundamental movement patterns that comprise the screen.

While I wasn’t too surprised with the majority of the scores, I was surprised with the numbers on the Shoulder Mobility movement. Not one athlete scored above a 1. Of the 8 athletes we tested, three scored a one and five scored a zero. For those not that familiar with the screen, those numbers are not good. Basically, a score of one means they can not complete the movement correctly and a score of zero means there is pain present when attempting the movement. So that means not a single one of these high level athletes could complete this basic exercise.

Learn more about the FMS here:  http://www.functionalmovement.com/fms

The shoulders take a beating in MMA training and these results are further proof. With my “movement prep” or “stability and mobility” movements with combat athletes, I have always focused on three areas in particular; the foot/ankle, the hip/glute, and the shoulder joint/T-spine. It’s great to have some data like this to support the programming I create for my fighters.

So now that we have this information, what do we do with it? None of the 8 athletes complained of shoulder pain during our workouts so do we even need to do anything?

If it’s not broken don’t fix it right? Well, it may not be broken today, however, I believe these numbers reveal potential injury down the road. I think we should be pro-active and simply incorporate a couple of movements into their routine that will help them increase some mobility, develop some stability, and ultimately; keep them out of shoulder pain in the future.

Here is a five minute routine that includes 3 mobility movements and 3 stability movements that can be done as a quick stand-alone routine or as part of a larger, dynamic warm-up to be done before a training session. I should note that these six exercises are not necessarily “MMA-specific”. If you are a young salesman who is logging multiple hours behind the wheel or a typical “desk jockey” putting in 8+ hours a day at your desk, this routine may benefit you as well. Regardless of activity, many individuals have similar shoulder issues…forward-rounding, locked up thoracic, inactive posterior chain. Of course this is a generalization…but I see it A LOT.

Three Mobility Drills

1. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) - Pec Minor

2. Side-Lying Chest Opener

3. Scorpion Stretch

Three Stability Drills

1. Reach, Roll, & Lift

2. ½ Turkish Get-Ups

3. Shoulder Taps

Here’s a clip showing these six movements in more detail:


If you want some additional movements, check out this clip done by Dr. Reiner:

Remember, at the end of the day we are trying to help our athletes and clients reach their goals. Rule #1 is “Do no harm”. Be proactive, keep them injury free, and help them get the results they want.

Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Bellator Champion Michael Chandler, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).  He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TFW Level 1, TRX instructor training, RIP training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his 2 DVD projects on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” FOX TV show in 2012.

For more information please visit www.dbstrength.com.

PS...Be on the lookout for parts 2 and 3 coming soon!