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Shoulder Mobility- Conquering the Crossfit Open

Dr. Andrew Johnston, DC, FMT

The CrossFit open is upon us! We’ve dominated 23.1 and are ready for whatever CrossFit

headquarters might throw at us next. My prediction is that we have a shoulder burner coming our way. So, let’s talk about how we can maintain good shoulder mobility throughout the open and throughout our CrossFit careers, shall we?


First off, shoulder pain is no fun, is super painful, frustrating, and a detriment to our daily lives, not to mention our CrossFit games appearances!


Here are a few things to think about when your shoulders are in pain or hinder your ability to

workout. Ask yourself these questions: “Am I mobile? Do I start my lifts or activities in a good

strong positions? Do I feel strong and stable in these positions while exercising?” If you have all three of these areas under control…well, my hat is off to you, continue what you are

doing!!! If you’re like the rest of us, and aren’t always mobile, stable, and strong, read on.



Good mobility training takes time and effort. Keep your mobility sessions short, sweet and to

the point. Think 5-7 minutes! Making these sessions replicable is essential. In our field, we’ve

seen that anything much longer than those 5-7 minutes tends to end in decreased compliance.


Here’s what you’re going to do: Pull out the foam roller. Lay with the foam roller perpendicular across your mid back, give yourself a hug, and begin to roll up the spine. Experiencing clicking and popping throughout this mobility exercise is ok. Lean to either side and continue to roll. This exercise for mid to upper back mobility will translate into good shoulder biomechanics and mobility.


Next, lay on each side and roll through your lats. Extend your hand above your head as you roll through this muscle, spanning from the side of your rib cage and into your shoulder. The lats are often responsible for rounding our shoulders, which then sets us up for poor start

positions (more on this later).


Lastly, let’s tackle mid to upper back rotation. Opening up your spine throughout rotation

allows your scapulae to move adequately which provides your shoulders with better ability to

move overhead. To work on rotation, take your foam roller, lay it next to you and sit back into

child’s pose. Take one arm and rotate through your mid to upper back and thread that arm

through the triangular box that your down hand/arm creates.



Proper posture and shoulder position when beginning lifts such as snatching, cleans or push

press is crucial to proper lifting biomechanics. Believe or not, consistently good posture

(whether is is at work or while at home) can set us up for better shoulder positioning when


Wondering what posture has to do with your shoulder health? There’s a space in the front

portion of our shoulder, called the subacromial space, through which various tendons and

ligaments travel. The more your upper back and shoulders round forward, the smaller that

space becomes, compressing all of those structures. Common results of this are clicking, poor range of motion and pain.


Ideally, you can change up your posture and work position every 15-30 minutes. If it’s every

hour, that’s ok too. The more we can vary our posture, the less likely our bodies are to get used to rounded backs and rounded shoulders from sitting for long periods of time.



Now that we are limber and standing up straight, how strong do you feel through your

shoulders? What about when you are in an overhead position doing push press, jerks or

overhead squats? What about when you hold or lift your kids or grandkids above or over your head? Pushing that box across the floor? Feel weak or shaky? No worries, we have some tricks for you!


Grab a light resistance band and give yourself 5-7 minutes of strength and stabilizing time. Step on the band or attach the band around the squat rack or rig at different heights and push your arm above your head and hold for 10 seconds. Vary your arm and shoulder position. Pulse or hold at those end ranges of motion of internal and external rotation. This is going to strengthen you at end ranges and set you up to be strong in those finishing positions where you may currently feel weak, or where you may experience early onset fatigue during workouts.


Now that you have some of the tools, I encourage you to take the time to put in the work. Give these a shot and let us know how your shoulders feel about it! Most of these and other exercises are easily found on our YouTube Channel here.

Andrew Johnston, DC, SFMA, FDN 1 & 2 is a sports centered chiropractor whose passion is helping his patients achieve their greatest potential and dreams, whether that be lifting their grandkids, hiking the trail of their dreams, or succeeding in the professional sport arena. To do this, Dr. Johnston focuses on finding and treating the root cause of his patient’s problems, rather than just treating symptoms. Stay connected with Dr. Johnston on Instagram @washparkchiro


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