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The Five Big Rocks to Scaling Shoulder Performance

Updated: May 4, 2023

Tim Stevenson Dynamic Shoulders Coaches Workshop

At Dynamic Shoulders we believe there are five big rocks that can help guide the process of scaling shoulder performance. In this blog, we share a bit on each one with links to find out more in related blogs we’ve written.

If you’re a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach or practitioner and want to level up your ability to assess, train and strategically programme for the shoulder, we cover the five big rocks in our Coaches' Workshop and go into significantly more depth in our 8-week High Performing Shoulders Education Course.

Let’s get stuck in.

Big Rock Number One: Kinetic Chain Integration

It’s important to consider Kinetic Chain Integration from stage one as it should guide our choice of assessment through to our strategic programme design. The reason it’s important is that a high performing shoulder must be connected to the wider human movement system.

A lot of research has been done in this area of kinetic chain integration and a significant amount within throwing. You might not be someone who throws a ball regularly, but the principles will apply in many athletic contexts and environments.

Because essentially, throwing is a fundamental human movement and it looks at our ability to generate force through the lower body, the core and transfer it to the upper limb.

Essentially, what we’re looking at is the ability to use core training to improve shoulder performance.

A systematic review was released in 2022 that looked at different types of core training exercises and their impact on throwing velocity.

What they found was that commonly used core stabilisation exercises had minimal impact on shoulder performance. However, when they started to look at more challenging positions at greater intensities on unstable surfaces and involving dynamic trunk movement, they saw an increase in ball throwing velocity.

What the research is essentially saying is that if we increase the ability of the kinetic chain to generate and transfer forces through to the upper limb, we’re going to get a better athletic performance outcome from the shoulder.

So, think about kinetic chain integration from the start in your programme design if you’re going to scale shoulder performance.

Dynamic Shoulders Coaches Workshop Screening and Assessments

Big Rock Number Two: Assessment

The ability to observe movement is a coaching fundamental. Yet, we know from speaking to a lot of coaches that they lack confidence and don’t always know what they’re looking at when screening the shoulder.

When we’ve asked coaches to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how competent they are at screening the shoulder and therefore gathering the information they need to write a strategic programme intervention, we often get 4 or 5. This means that typically 50% of the time they don’t fully know what they’re looking at. 50/50 is literally guessing.

If you’re a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer, knowing which test to use, why you’re using them and exactly what you’re looking at will be a game changer in your ability to get better than ever results for your clients.

It goes without saying that becoming a standout coach who can confidently resolve shoulder issues and scale strength will enable you to better serve your clients.

Big Rock Number Three: Protect the Force Couples

There are two key force couples around the shoulder that’s going to contribute towards high quality movement. The first is the glenohumeral force couple and that’s your rotator cuff and deltoid. The primary job of this one is to keep the ball on the socket.

The second is the scapula force couple. This is your serratus anterior, lower fibres of trapezius and upper fibres of trapezius. The job here is to get the scapula to upwardly and downwardly rotate on the rib cage.

Typically, where people run into problems around shoulder pain is when they can’t optimally keep the ball on the socket and the socket on the ball.

If you can make sure you’ve got enough strength and capacity in your rotator cuff and you’ve got enough upward rotation capacity from a scapula perspective, we have ticked off two of key things you need to maintain high quality movement in your shoulders.

Big Rock Number Four: Scaling Dynamic Stability

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’re pressing overhead, you’re trying to grind out the last couple of repetitions and all of a sudden, the shoulder just shuts down. You’ve not dislocated your shoulder and there’s no structural damage to be concerned about, you just couldn’t complete that repetition.

Here’s the reason why.

The brain will only allow the prime movers around the joint to be able to produce as much force as that joint can stabilise. The reason being that the brain’s primary concern is survival. If the brain senses that the structural integrity of the joint is at risk, it’s not going to let you produce massive amounts of force and therefore compromise the integrity of the joint.

This is relevant when it comes to the shoulder because we have a humeral head which is three times bigger than the socket on the scapula. Due to the architecture of the joint and the fact that the brain will do whatever it can to maintain structural integrity of the joint, if we want to get greater improvements in strength, speed, power, we need to scale dynamic stability so that the prime movers can do their job.

If we skip this, the prime movers are going to have a really hard time reaching their full potential and therefore don't get you the training adaptations you’re looking for.

We’ve seen it time and time again, by scaling stability you’re going to get simultaneous improvements in your ability to produce force around the shoulder.

Big Rock Number Five: Strategic Programming

There are levels to training programme design. At the start of the coach’s journey, the process is heavily left-brain dependant. Logical, analytical, systematic and leans highly on what is already known.

With time, the right brain enters the fray bringing layers of creativity, innovation and a desire to experiment and play.

Strategic programme design, executed at a high level, brings a symphonic balance of the left and right brain enhanced by a deep understanding of how the inter-related principles of human movement and training science can be leveraged together to create greater adaptation.

In our experience, the better you get at programme design, the simpler it appears to your clients and athletes and the more effective it becomes.

Here are a couple of points to consider:

1. Can you rationalise why every exercise is on the training programme?

2. Why are all the exercises around a specific exercise on the programme?

We’re dealing with a complex system and so can’t think about things in individual parts.

At Dynamic Shoulders, we want to know how to optimse an exercise by the things we do before it and how that then complements the exercises that come after it based on the specific goals we’re trying to achieve for the client.

It’s very much about being a sniper not a shot gun. Do the least amount of work to get the most amount of change. Minimal effective dose is not about doing less work, it’s about doing the right work in the most effective way possible.

Strategic programme design will always triumph over random exercise selection.

Read more in our blog: “Chauffeurs can’t programme”

Tim Stevenson Dynamic Shoulders Coaches Workshop



If you're a health and fitness practitioner, looking to enhance your knowledge of training the shoulder, take a look at our coaches workshop.

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