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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: shoulder stretching

Soft tissue tightness and restriction in the latissimus dorsi is a common problem in overhead athletes, throwers, weight lifters and Crossfit participants.  I often educate clientele on self myofascial release techniques using a trigger point ball or foam roller. But, I also like using a partner technique with the Stick.

Begin in standing grasping the frame of a squat rack.  You may also elect to hold both handles of a TRX.  Next, slowly squat down and lean back allowing the shoulders to move into flexion.  Once in position, the trainer or workout partner will use the Stick to apply pressure and roll up and down along the latissimus especially working on the soft tissue near the shoulder.


Perform this technique for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides.  Adjust pressure and location based on feedback from the client.


This exercise allows for soft tissue work in a stretched position for the muscle.  Alleviating tightness and myofascial restrictions will be especially helpful for pitchers, swimmers, tennis players and those frequently engaging in overhead squats, snatches, and other overhead lifts.  Optimal shoulder mobility will lower the risk of impingement.  in addition, adequate shoulder mobility reduces stress on the lumbar spine as lumbar hyperextension is a common compensation seen for poor shoulder mobility.

If a training partner is unavailable to perform this specific technique, consider using a tennis ball while standing with one arm elevated overhead and leaning into the ball.  Position the elevated arm/side of the body against the wall, and move the body/ball to perform compression and rolling over the latissimus.  Following soft tissue work, doing some active mobility exercise is recommended.

Click here to read an earlier blog entry and see an effective mobility drill to improve your lat flexibility.

Working with athletes of many disciplines affords me an opportunity to look at many shoulders week to week. Increasingly, I am seeing more Crossfit athletes for various shoulder problems.  In many cases, they have rotator cuff tendonitis, impingement, AC joint pain, labral pathology or a combination of the aforementioned issues.  The other big group of athletes I see is throwers.

These two groups share many of the same dysfunctions including posterior shoulder tightness and decreased mobility. Tightness in the pecs and lats is commonplace.  I feel latissimus tightness often goes unnoticed or perhaps is not an area of emphasis in prehab/rehab plans.  Tight lats will restrict elevation and contribute to postural dysfunction.

With restricted elevation, athletes may turn to excessive spinal extension and/or rotation to achieve elevation necessary (e.g. overhead squats, snatches, throwing) and this can contribute to poor movement patterns.  I have also seen this impact volleyball players asymmetrically with serving and hitting.

Lat tightness can easily be assessed by placing the athlete supine and simply asking them to bring the arms completely overhead.  While most people do not have 180 degrees of flexion, I feel working to achieve elevation greater than or equal to 160 is completely reasonable.  The body often uses abduction and external rotation to make things work (and this is natural for throwers), but the more pure elevation capacity we have the the better.

Crossfit involves lots of pull-ups and throwing heavily utilizes the pecs and lats for acceleration.  It only follows that muscular tightness in this region may need to be addressed.  Step one often involves soft tissue mobilization/compression techniques.  I prefer to use a Trigger Point ball or Grid to work on the soft tissue mobilizing it on the wall (TP ball) or floor (Grid) in an elevated position.

Next, I like to employ active mobility work.  I recently featured a simple exercise using the BOSU Ballast Ball in my PFP column. The pictures below reveal a rolling double arm version, as well as a single arm method/progression.  These active movements can also be complimented by sustained holds as desired.

For a more detailed description and application of this exercise, click here to read my “Functionally Fit” column.  I had one Crossfit enthusiast see me for limited shoulder mobility as it was hindering his overhead lifts and causing back pain.  He had about 130 degrees of shoulder flexion.  Daily STM using the foam roller, mobility work and some stretching increased his elevation by 10 degrees in 2-3 short weeks.

So, the take home message is that overhead athletes should assess and address this limitation if it is present as it may cause kinetic chain issues and energy leaks.  Improving mobility will better enable utilization of proper muscle activation and optimal movement patterns.