3 Keys to Restoring Shoulder Function

Y ExerciseEach day I treat many shoulder and elbow injuries in all types of athletes. Whether it’s a Crossfit athlete, a professional baseball pitcher, or just someone looking to improve their overall shoulder function, I often see many overlapping similarities.

No matter the situation, the key is to restore their functional range of motion and strength through a well-designed program targeting the implicated tissues.

Each case presents a new challenge for me but there are definitely many overlapping issues that I see on a regular basis. Typically, if we can address these and introduce an evidence-based exercise program, then the athlete can quickly return to their sport at the same, if not higher level.

Common Issues We See

I wrote about Restoring Shoulder Soft Tissue Mobility In Baseball Pitchers on some of the ways I use manual therapy to help restore shoulder soft tissue mobility. Mike and I also published a study on Changes in shoulder and elbow passive range of motion after pitching in professional baseball players  showing the acute effects of throwing on shoulder motion. We know these acute changes need to be addressed to restore normal movements and allow the athlete to perform as needed.

Knowing this, I always insist on empowering the client to do most of their exercises at home with the goal of having complete control.

3 Keys to Restoring Shoulder Function

If I had to target 3 key areas to improve a client’s overhead function, it would definitely be:

  1. Thoracic spine mobility
  2. Shoulder soft tissue mobility
  3. Rotator cuff and scapula strength


Thoracic Mobility

Foam RollMost people lack adequate thoracic mobility and have to compensate with lumbar spine extension or push their shoulder into a position that may be symptomatic.

By improving thoracic mobility, we can potentially take stress off of the lumbar spine and shoulder joint. This can also help to restore improved scapula position, as the scapular is highly influenced by the thoracic spine.

Someone with a more flexed thoracic spine will have excessive scapular protraction and anterior tilt. This often leads to a decrease in the joint space where the rotator cuff tendon sits and can potentially lead to issues of pain or dysfunction if not addressed.

Shoulder Soft Tissue Mobility

Lax Ball Post CuffWe briefly talked about the importance of maintaining good shoulder motion and the issues we often see in our athletes. There are specific movements, that we use daily, to help the client regain or maintain their motion.

The soft tissue restrictions, if not treated on a regular basis, can lead to adaptive changes that may put the shoulder in a disadvantageous position. Often times, we can address these issues with some simple drills which can help restore or improve the athlete’s range of motion.

Cuff and Scapula Strength Exercises

Shoulder ROMAnd finally, we definitely would be remiss if we didn’t address any strengthening activities for our clients. It’s easy to work on shoulder and thoracic mobility but all may be lost if we don’t attempt to lock in these gains with a good rotator cuff and scapula stabilization program.

We often see that our clients have been working on the bigger, sexier muscle groups but ignoring the smaller, stabilizing muscles. Remember, you’re only as strong as your base of support so we’ll maintain that your rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers are as important.

Download Our Home Exercise Program

Combining the 3 key factors above can often unlock lost potential and allow the athlete to return to their sport at a higher level. Careful consideration to improve thoracic spine mobility, shoulder soft tissue mobility and rotator cuff/scapula strength will lead to improved shoulder function.

Click below to download an example of a home program we often use for people with these needs:



Motivational Strategies for Successful Training

Hi everyone! If you are reading this, then you are probably searching for some information to help you stay motivated with your training. No matter who you are, whether you are a beginner just starting out or a seasoned gym veteran, everyone has reached a point where they have hit a wall (metaphorically, that is).

My Story

Greg's Transformation

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Greg Wilson. I’m a former intern, now strength & conditioning coach at Champion Physical Therapy + Performance. When I started out in early January, I was tipping the scales at a whopping 265 lbs.

Needless to say, I was a bit stout.

As time went on and my knowledge of training and nutrition began to develop, I started applying it to myself. My training became a lot smarter and my nutrition was getting better.

To make a long story short (and I mean long), after five months, I lost a total of 50 lbs. Now, as you can imagine, there were many ups and downs along the way and losing those 50lbs wasn’t easy. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up and throw in the towel, but I managed to keep myself motivated and I kept moving forward.

Here are some strategies that I used to keep myself motivated…


Goal Setting

Goal setting is really important to me and should be important to you too! Setting a goal is a great motivator and successfully completing that goal is an even greater measure of success. Here are some important points to think about when setting goals:

  • Small Goals: Setting small goals allows you to generate more success for yourself. When you keep reaching your small goals, step by step, you gain motivation to keep going towards your biggest goal. Always set attainable goals.
  • Be Specific: Identify exactly what your specific goal is. If you want to improve your max bench press, don’t just say “I want to improve my max bench press”, give yourself a specific weight like, “I want to increase my max bench press by 10 lbs”. This will help further measure success.
  • Deadline: Sometimes you need to give yourself an end date to really get you going. If weight loss is a goal, tell yourself, “I am going to lose 10 lbs by October 31”. Make that your deadline and stick with it.
  • Measurable: This point can be related back to the Be Specific example. If you set a goal to improve your max bench press by 10 lbs, and you meet that goal, then that is a measure of success. Another example would be if your goal is to lose 1 lb in 1 week and you are successful, then that is measurable.


Other Strategies

Here are some strategies to keep you moving forward if goal setting isn’t working for you, or if you just want a little extra motivation.

  • Positive Attitude: I think the number one problem for most people is that they are always down on themselves. You can’t put yourself down. Always keep a positive attitude and block out the negativity.
  • Collaborate: If you know somebody who has similar goals to you, or if they have already done something that you are trying to accomplish, talk to them. They might be able to give you advice on something you’re having an issue with.
  • Keep an Open Mind: It is always important to try to keep an open mind, especially when beginning a new training program or diet. Always give it a chance, because you never know what could happen.
  • Remove “Can’t” from your vocabulary: People use the word “CAN’T” too often. Instead of  “I can’t”, try saying “I will”.
  • Never Give Up: No matter how hard something gets. Never give up. Keep chipping away at it, because eventually you will break through your wall.

I hope that some of this information helps you to stay motivated and to never stop pursuing your training and nutritional goals, no matter how long they take! I think Arnold Schwarzenegger said it best, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength”.


The Benefits of Physical Activity in Children

Today’s guest post comes from Adam Smith, DPT, CSCS. Adam is a former student at Champion PT and a recent graduate from Northwestern University PT School. Adam just started a sports residency program at the University of Southern California in August. Today, Adam discusses the benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents.


Physical Activity in Children – A Lifetime of Benefits

Physical Activity in ChildrenThe benefits of physical activity among youth is well documented, however it still seems as if our kids are not maintaining an active lifestyle. This is a disturbing trend that may have long-term ramifications on future generations.

Physical activity can be defined as any sort of bodily acitvity and can simply be defined as any form of running, weight lifting, or even playing games like tag. Despite the benefits, programs encouraging exercise are decreasing. Financial issues limit the creation of more programs in our school systems, so programs designed outside of school-time should be encouraged and sought out by parents.

Recently the New York Times released a really interesting article emphasizing the benefits of physical activity by comparing two identical twins. This article talked about the short-term (3 years) benefits of physical activity in young adults by comparing one who exercised regularly to one who did not. They were able to show that the active twin had decreased body fat, a decreased risk of metabolic disorders, and improved coordination.

To give some personal perspective, I have worked with public school systems and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  Here are some of the lessons I have learned throughout this experience and my academic career.


Physical Activity Improves Bone Mineral Density

Bone grows in the direction that force is placed onto it. For example, basketball players have increase bone growth just below the knee due to frequent muscle tension of the quadriceps during jumping. This is important for the young athlete because improve functional bone growth for their sports can lead to a decreased risk of injury throughout their entire athletic careers and beyond.

Physical activity, especially resistance training (weight lifting), was thought to be harmful to children (8-18 years) due to their maturing skeletal systems. This belief is not only outdated but also harmful to the child’s long-term bone growth, and even their academic performance.  Countless research has been published to show the strength and conditioning training in children is safe, appropriate, and beneficial.  In fact, the most frequent cause of injury is actually from lack of supervision and coaching.

During this pivotal time of maturation, children should be attempting to promote as much bone growth as possible. Increased bone growth during this time leads to increased bone density and decreased risks of fractures and osteoporosis as they age.  They should seek out an age-appropriate strength and conditioning program with adequate coaching.


Physical Activity Improves Mental Capacity

Physical Activity in Children Another myth I’ve heard is that children focusing on physical activity will decrease the time they spend on their academics. As the previous New York Times article points out, their subjects had improved mental capacity and even physical changes within the brain to improve one’s ability to function mentally.

Many other research articles support the idea that children who perform the recommended amount of physical activity and above are performing better than their peers on standardized tests.

By comparing children’s motor function in their youth and then high school age academic performance, one article linked obesity and decreased physical activity to overall GPA and performance in math, reading, and writing. This article further suggested that the lack of activity early in childhood decreased the motor development in the participants thus further increasing their risk for obesity, lack of activity, and future academic performance.

Children who perform physical activity are able to focus better, think clearer, and have a higher self-esteem driving them to take on more challenging subjects. Encouraging this early on sets good habits that will often continue throughout the child’s life.


Physical Activity Does Not Lead to Injury

“If my child performs physical activity or weight lifting they will most likely get injured” is another statement I have heard more often than I would like. Does physical activity or weight lifting lead to more injuries? The short answer is no.

As I mentioned earlier in the bone growth section, children who perform physical activity and lift weights are less likely to have athletic injuries simply due to improved bone growth alone. Also, resistance training improves coordination, muscular strength, and physical conditioning. Physical activity also decreases the participant’s risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Again, most resistance training injuries occur due to lack of supervision or a poorly individualized program. Both of these problems seem preventable by having an age appropriate training program.

Appropriate training programs include proper warm-up and cool-down, extensive instruction of lifting with light weight, individualized regression and progressions for exercises, and supervision. Also, for kids it’s important to provide incentive to keep performing physical activity by making it fun while tracking and praising them for their improvements.


Physical Activity is for Every Child

I’ve heard parents say many statements such as; their child doesn’t like physical activity, their child isn’t good at weightlifting, even that their daughter would not enjoy or benefit. These beliefs are misinformed and should be addressed with parents and coaches.

In fact, we have seen just as many, if not more, beneficial gains in athleticism, overall health, body awareness, and self esteem in our young female clients at Champion.

First, disliking the common forms of physical activity is not uncommon. A child who is forced to run is most likely not going to enjoy running. Luckily, running and walking are not the only form of activity that is encouraged.

Physical activity can be disguised into games, social activities, and even video games. If your child doesn’t like to be active, there are many other avenues to promote movement and improve their view of exercise. Be creative! Even disguised activities can lead to improved self-esteem and increased interest in physical activity in the future.

Next, early weight lifting should focus on improving one’s ability to perform the exercises while improving their self-confidence to exercise. Not many people are good at doing something they have never practiced and this is no different.


Set The Stage for Future Athleticism


It is important to encourage physical activity in children. One of the best predictors for continued physical activity into adulthood is a high level during their youth. Children and adolescents are at a crucial time of development in which physical activity can create changes both physically and cognitively that will last for a lifetime.

The Wall Iso Glute March Drill

The Wall Iso Glute March drill is a great exercise to increase in performance.  We use this as an activation drill in many of our sports performance programs, but this can be used everyday before competition to promote proper muscular recruitment and on the road to maintain glute, core, and hip strength and power.

The Wall Iso Glute March not only increases strength and power but also promotes proper sprinting mechanics.  Often times athletes have difficulty stabilizing their core while driving with their hips.


It is extremely important to maintain alignment with a straight line running from the ankle through the hips to the shoulder. When sprinting, an athlete should remain as low as possible. Lean against the wall as far away as you can while keeping the heels down. When driving the knee up, bring your toe up as high as possible. This will encourage flat foot contact with the ground, which will increase force production when sprinting. Notice that the foot is perpendicular with the quad and floor. Maintaining these angles will increase your stride length and cause proper recruitment when doing the drill.

It is just as important to breath to activate the core and extend your leg on the ground to activate the glutes. Inhale through the nose and exhale completely through the mouth as you raise your knee. You should feel your core brace tight and your opposite glute fire.

To make it harder, add a mini-band. The mini-band will increase core and hip tension. In the video above, our athlete uses a mini-band to increase hip and core resistance.

Repeat continuously for two sets of 4 reps each leg for activation. To increase strength perform four sets of six with a minute rest.