Get a group of mountain bikers together and a lot of them probably have or have had some sort of shoulder issue. From overuse injuries due to hours in the saddle with bad posture to impact injuries from crashes, the shoulders are a sensitive area that takes a lot of abuse in our sport. Fortunately, you can use a smart training approach to both rehab back bad shoulders and create bulletproof shoulders to guard against a future injury.

To best do this you need a 3 pronged attack:

1 – Mobilize: You first need to make sure that the upper back and shoulders are mobile enough to get into the right position in the first place. Hours spent hunched over in our daily lives and when riding results in some muscles getting “locked long”, which means that they literally can not shorten enough to allow the shoulders to get back into a good position. Foam rolling the upper back and lats along with a T-Spine mobilization drill done with the foam roller are some of the best ways to address this problem.

2 – Pattern: Once you have established proper mobility you need to train the shoulders to move properly. The basic idea is the get the shoulder blades to pull back and down so that they can help stabilize the shoulders. If your shoulder blades move up and out then your shoulders get pulled into a bad position and are much more likely to get hurt. A corrective exercise like the Reach-Roll-Lift is a great way to re-pattern how the shoulder moves and help ensure that your shoulders stay strong and stable.

3 – Strengthen: Now that your shoulders have adequate mobility and proper movement has been patterned it is time to get them strong. Shoulder strength comes from a strong upper back stabilizing the shoulder blades and an understanding of how pressing comes from a forceful lockout of the elbow. Two of the best exercises for this purpose are the Quarter Get Up and the Single Arm Shoulder Press.

In this video I demonstrate how to do these exercises:

A good place to start with these exercise would be to do a program like this once or twice a week:

– Foam Rolling: 10-15 strokes along the upper back and both lats
– T-Spine Mobilization Drill: 10 reps
– Reach-Roll-Lift: 5 reps each arm
– Quarter Get Up: 5 reps each arm X 2 sets
– Single Arm Shoulder Press: 5 reps each arm X 3 sets

Shoulders that have adequate mobility, stability and strength are much less likely to get hurt and, if they do get hurt, are going to heal up much move quickly. What’s more, getting your shoulders into the right position will also help with your overall body position and balance on the trail – bad shoulder position will make it hard to achieve the butt back-chest down posture needed for proper body position as demonstrated in the Body Position Clinic I posted a few months back.

This is another example of why strength training is a must for mountain bikers – no amount of riding can help create bulletproof shoulders. In fact, a lot of riding will actually help create the bad posture that can increase the chance of them getting hurt. If you’re serious about staying on the trial and off the couch rehabbing an injury then you need address this sensitive area.

-James Wilson-

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