The Top 5 Strength Coach Instagram Accounts to Follow NOW – 2020 Edition

Movement Guides Top 5 Strength Coach Instagram 2020

Instagram is full of accounts aimed at fitness, performance and health. Unfortunately, most of the content posted is crap that you should probably ignore. Sifting through the crap to find the gems and know what to trust is difficult if you don’t live and work in these fields Well, we do live & work in this world and our livelihoods depend on it. So, each year we eagerly and avidly look for strength coaches all over the world to learn from. Despite some issues, Instagram is by far the best medium to use when searching for new content from excellent coaches.  We’ve decided to make an annual list and highlight a few people who are doing an awesome job, worthy of your follow. This article brings you the top 5 strength coach Instagram accounts to follow for 2020.

Last year’s list was truly impressive…and they all continue to put out some of the best content on the internet. If you have not read the list from 2019 you can check it out HERE. This year’s group of coaches is by no means “better” than last year’s. We just want to keep exposing our readers to new accounts to follow so each year we will pick different coaches to highlight.

What we consider when making our lists –

  • Actual experience in the field programming and coaching athletes or reviewing and creating research related to strength and conditioning.
  • Someone who has a specific athlete population that they work with, but it’s obvious their programs and techniques would crossover to other athlete types.
  • Fitness models are not strength and conditioning coaches. They are not on our list.
  • We appreciate creativity, but not gimmicks, when it come to exercise creation and selection.
  • While we love when a coach is someone who is keeping him or herself fit…we put more stock in coaches who consistently get OTHER people to perform better, improve their fitness and become more resilient.

This is not a ranking of best to worst, just our top five. So, without further adieu, here is the Movement Guides Top Strength Coach Instagram Accounts to Follow in 2020:

  1. Coach Garrish: John Garrish is the Director of Athletic Development and Performance at North Broward Prep in Florida. Yes, the first person on our list is a high school strength coach…but this isn’t some ex-football player who lifts weights and is now leading kids towards injury. Coach Garrish runs one incredible athletic development program. His young students are engaged, organized and creating habits that will lead to long, healthy lives. He is true to the science and yet somehow creates a fun, competitive environment where kids excel. Give his account a follow and see how a true professional works in a real world situation. If I were a DI University athletic director or professional sports team I’d be trying to hire this guy to lead my strength and conditioning program! Pay the man. Check out this incredible account – https://www.instagram.com/coach_garrish/
  2. Strong by Science: Max Schmarzo posts highly intelligent bits of training information. Sometimes in videos, sometimes in charts, sometimes in quotes and sometimes in infographics. Each way he does it is very effective. Creative but never gimmicky he practices what he preaches. It’s obvious that he is a total geek for this stuff and that’s what makes his page legit. He has an appreciation for the history and science behind strength and conditioning but is also intermixing the very latest in what research says is effective. For good reminders, new tweaks on old moves and just great sound advice give Strong by Science a look – https://www.instagram.com/strong_by_science/
  3. Pamela Gagnon: I think it’s important to follow a mix of coaches who have a great general understanding of strength and conditioning principles but then also follow people who have a very specific skill set that they can help you with. This is why I have chosen Pamela Gagnon this year. For all things related to core, relative strength, body control and awareness follow Pamela. Why? Well she is a gymnast and gymnasts are bad ass athletes. If you have kids and a good gymnastics coach near by you should consider exposing your kids to this type of training. The athletic development that gymnastics creates is seconds to none in my opinion. As a clinician who treats people from all walks of life I can immediately tell when someone has a gymnastics background no matter how poor of shape they are currently in. Okay, back to Pamela. She works very closely with one of our choices for last year’s list, The Barbell Physio, Zach Long. Together they put together some awesome programs but she alone has incredible tutorials on how to achieve certain gymnastics or body weight movements. Want to learn how to perform a perfect pull up or push up? How about working towards your first muscle up or true hollow rockers? Again, for all things gymnasticy give her account a try – https://www.instagram.com/pamelagnon/
  4. Strong First: Strong First is the baby of renowned strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel’s primary message is strength trumps all. We’ve couldn’t agree more. Movement Guides co-owner and coach Matt Wattles has been saying this to me for years, “All other things being held constant, the point at which stronger is no longer better is almost impossible to achieve.” Strong First is a great follow and it’s profile Linktree gives you access to a ton of free content in the forms of podcasts and articles. If you’re looking for a specific reason to explore this page, pay particularly close attention to their kettlebell tutorials. I have found some great new cues and coaching tips that have helped me better teach kettlebell movements. Pavel was recently a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast and he gave some great training advice and specific rep schemes to try. For simple, evidence based training advice that will require little equipment and maximize strength gains follow Strong First – https://www.instagram.com/strongfirst/
  5. Translating Human Performance: What’s the best measure of athletic ability? Probably the ability to jump. If you can get people to jump higher or further you are probably doing something right with your training and programming. Jumping high or far requires a great strength to weight ratio. It requires a necessary amount prerequisite strength and then the ability to apply that strength suddenly. Coach John Evans has the best account dedicated to all things jumping. Coach Evans nerds out on the mechanics, angles, tissue properties, and programming, He highlights differences between sports, between one foot and two foot jumps, between approaches, the list goes on. I love when I find someone who truly understands a certain niche and this account highlights just that. Besides the information the videos show some of the most amazing jumps and dunks you’ll ever see, which is just fun to watch. To learn more about jumping follow Translating Human Performance – https://www.instagram.com/translatinghumanperformance/

So there you have it, the top 5 strength coach Instagram accounts to follow in 2020. We hope you enjoy the mix of general content brought to you by Coach Garrish, Strong by Science and Strong First as well as some more specific content via Pamela Gnon and Translating Human Performance. Take a moment to follow these impressive coaches (and us, follow Movement Guides too!). Also, check out our other blog where we list the Top Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts to follow in 2020

Thanks you for your time!

Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

Co-Founder, Movement Guides, Inc.

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The Top Physical Therapy Accounts to Follow on Instagram in 2020

Best Physical Therapy Accounts Instagram

Movement Guides’s Top Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts to Follow in 2020

Instagram is a great place to keep up to date with anything fitness and health related. As a company that focuses on teaching movement and helping people live a higher quality of life we are constantly on the hunt to learn from the best and brightest. Last year our two posts about the top 5 Physical Therapy and Strength Coach Instagram accounts were a hit world wide. They continue to be read by people from Malaysia to South Dakota on a daily basis, so if you have not given them a read you should do so. The accounts listed in last year’s posts continue to among the best on Instagram. Last year we had 5, this year we give you 4 more of the top Physical Therapy accounts on Instagram.

As a company comprised of professionals in the human performance, education and physical therapy worlds we can easily spot nonsense being put out by most PT’s, Coaches and trainers on IG. However, there are some really excellent minds putting out information that anyone in and around these fields should be aware of.

 As with last year’s list, here are a few things we took into consideration:

  • We put a ton of weight into actual experience in the field through both practice and research
  • Our list definitely has a sports medicine and sports performance bend to it. Physical therapy is a very broad field but both our followers and us (Movement Guides) are very interested in performance and fitness so our list reflects that.
  • We do not care much about how many followers someone has and no points are given for posting crazy, random exercises that no one is going to do.
  • These accounts are not ranked higher than our choices for 2019. We just want to continue to expose our readers to new accounts, vetted and curated by us, for top notch quality. So, each year we pick different accounts.

This list is not a ranking of best to worst, just our top four. So, without further adieu, here is the Movement Guides Top Physical Therapy Accounts to Follow in 2020:

  1. Strength Coach Therapy: Dr. Teddy Willsey has quickly become a favorite follow of mine. His mix of exercises to address specific issues along with thoughtful quotes makes for constant, thought provoking content. His depth and breadth of knowledge for every movement shown makes it obvious that Dr. Willsey practices what he preaches. This is important because many on Instagram will show you a movement or exercise that might look interesting but that no one is actually going to do. because its fluffy nonsense. Another bonus is the consistency in his post’s format so it’s easy to know exactly what you are being shown and looking at. The only con…perhaps the music at times. Be sure to check out Teddy at https://www.instagram.com/strengthcoachtherapy/
  2. Bobby Sports PT: Dr. Bobby Esbrandt is the owner of Impact Sports Physical Therapy in Maryland. His Instagram feed will catch your eye immediately for a few reasons. 1. He treats and trains some incredible athletes from a broad spectrum of sports. You will see elite level abilities, especially in the plyometric power realm, being demonstrated by his clients. 2. He uses minimal equipment but still incredible variety in his loading, tempos, and sequences. As with all good IG feeds you will watch Dr. Esbrandt’s content and think to yourself, “why didnt I think of that?!”. 3. His use of monster bands in his programming and rehab is the most creative (in a good way) that I’ve come across. So, if you work with explosive athletes of any sort go ahead and give Bobby Sports PT a follow and get ready to hit “save” on just about every post. https://www.instagram.com/strengthcoachtherapy/
  3. Rehab Science: Dr. Tom Walters is based in southern California and has an impressive professional resume. It nice to see when someone who has gone through the grind of obtaining board certification, fellowship training and also extensive time in the field get a large social medial following. This is not the norm. Many of the PT’s and coaches you likely follow on Instagram have probably been in the field only a couple of years, yet they claim or have followings that would suggest they are experts. Dr. Walters is a true expert and thankfully he is able to express his knowledge and experience very effectively through Instagram. His posts address a wide variety of physical therapy and training topics and he also does a great job of curating content from others in the field. I especially appreciate his command and understanding landing mechanics. For wide ranging insight into all things orthopedic therapy related check out Rehab Science. https://www.instagram.com/rehabscience/
  4. MoveU: Okay, so Dr. Mike of MoveU is not a physical therapist but his feed has to be on my list. Dr. Mike Wasilisin is a chiropractor and his shirtless side kick is Andrew Dettelback. Together they easily have the most entertaining and hilarious Instagram account when it comes to movement, health and treatment related content. But don’t let the abs and jokes distract you. Their content is always on point. I have never watched one of their posts and disagreed with what they were preaching. Listen closely and try to implement their advice. I mean their tagline is currently “Fix yo shit and live free from pain” so at the very least give a watch to get a laugh. They already have over a million followers so if you are living in a hole and not following yet please do so. https://www.instagram.com/moveu/

I hope you take a few minutes to check out each of our top physical therapy accounts to follow on instagram. We are very picky about our selection so you will only find great material in these feeds. Hey, while you’re at it take a look at our Instagram feed (https://www.instagram.com/movementguides/) and give it a follow as we try to put out some valuable content to. While you’re here, check out our newest article the Top Strength Coaches to follow in 2020. Get notified of all of our posts by subscribing to our blog in the upper right corner of this page. Let us know your thought and if you have any recommendations for next year’s list, speak up!

Have a great 2020 everyone!

Sincerely,

Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS

Co-Founder

Movement Guides, Inc.

#movelikethis #movementmafia #movementguides

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4 Exercises to Prepare for Downhill Running and Hiking

The major struggle with downhill running and hiking is keeping knees healthy and pain-free.

Living in Sun Valley, Idaho is incredible for so many reasons. One of my favorites is easy access to climb up and down so many different mountains in the area. However, everyone living in or traveling to the mountains struggles with the same thing come the Summer and Fall hiking season. That struggle is keeping our knees healthy, happy and pain-free while also needing to run and hike downhill. This article will give some ideas on how to train for downhill running and hiking.

We must prepare the body and specifically the knee joints to handle downhill running and hiking stress. From a knee perspective, downhill running means eccentric loading and typically thousands of reps of it. Eccentric loading (the lengthening phase of a contraction) is especially challenging to what is called the patellofemoral joint of the knee. This is where the knee cap, meets the femur. Inadequate strength, poor mechanics and lack of exposure to this type of loading can turn downhill forces into injury producing stress. Prior to mountain running or hiking we need to start implementing sport specific training into our general preparedness programming.

Downhill running and hiking is especially challenging on the knee joint.

Downhill running is especially challenging on the knee joint and a common complaint I hear in clinic from patients. In fact, for most of my clients and patients who are recovering from injury or who have advanced knee arthritis I tell them to hike up Bald Mountain (the local ski resort mountain) and take the lifts back down. Why, well hiking uphill is all concentric muscle action (muscle active while shortening) at the knee joint without any eccentric loading (loading while muscle is lengthening). Concentric only exercises tend to cause less mechanical stress, load and pain to joints and tendons than do exercises that have eccentric phases. 

The problem is we don’t always want to or have access to a mountain that has a free ride down via a ski lift. We want to get out and explore all of those beautiful peaks and hills and perhaps even join in on a mountain running race like those put on by the Cirque Series or the Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska. Therefor, we must prepare our body and specifically our knees to handle downhill running. From a knee perspective, downhill running is nothing but eccentric loading and typically thousands of reps of it. So, 6 weeks out from mountain running or hiking we need to start implementing some sport/task specific training into our general preparedness programming. 

The strength movements below are similar but slightly different in specific ways. We purposely only hit each one once per week because too much volume of these exercises could quickly lead to an over training injury, so be careful. I would recommend adding in additional hip flexor and quadriceps mobility work at the end of your training sessions as well to maintain good length tension relationships and to protect your spine.

The point of these exercises are to:

  1. Increase vertical loading volume of the knees with a sight posterior to anterior (back to front) force vector
  2. Get exposed and accustomed to decelerating the vertical and forward forces using primarily a knee strategy
  3. Transition from doing most lunges and squats with a 3 points of contact foot position to a more heel elevated position where we contact and press through the forefoot
    • The 3 points of contact foot position is the most stable position for the foot and encourages a balance of hip and thigh musculature – great for general preparedness training
    • Transitioning to a heels elevated position where the forces are applied through the forefoot places most of the stress on the quadriceps and knees – optimal for downhill run/hike training

The exercise videos below are demonstrated by World Master’s Nordic Skiing Champion (many, many times over) and former US Olympic Ski Team member, Betsy Youngman.  Betsy had messaged me earlier on the day of the videos asking how she can better prepare her knees for the stress of downhill running. The day before she had done a grueling hike up a local peak and on the way down she had pain and felt weak and unsteady beyond what she thought she should be experiencing. In the videos below you are seeing her attempt these movements on day one of learning them. 

4 Exercises for Downhill Running and Hiking

* Add these movements into your weekly training 2 times per week 

  • # 1: Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
  • # 2: Forward Alternating Lunge with Farmers Carry Loading
  • # 3: Forward Alternating Drop from Box Lunges
  • # 4: Banded Posterior to Anterior (PA) Forward Lunge

Exercise # 1: Heels Elevated Goblet Squat

Heels Elevated Goblet Squat: Part 1
Heels Elevated Goblet Squat: Part 2

Exercise # 2: Forward Alternating Lunge with Farmers Carry Loading

Forward Alternating Lunge with Farmers Carry Loading: Part 1
Forward Alternating Lunge with Farmers Carry Loading: Part 2

Exercise # 3: Forward Alternating Drop from Box Lunges 

Forward Alternating Drop from Box Lunges: Part 1
Forward Alternating Drop from Box Lunges: Part 2

Exercise # 4: Banded Posterior to Anterior (PA) Forward Lunge

Banded Posterior to Anterior (PA) Forward Lunge

Start the Downhill Running and Hiking program with the recommended volume and then advance as needed

  • Session A (exercises 1 & 3 above)
    • Heels Elevated Goblet Squat
      • 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps
    • Forward Alternating Drop from Box Lunges
      • 3-5 sets of 10-16 reps (5-8 reps per leg)
  • Session B (exercises 2 & 4 above)
    • Forward Alternating Lunge with Farmer’s Load
      • 3-5 sets of 10-16 reps (5-8 per leg)
    • Banded PA Forward Lunge
      • 3-5 sets of 10-16 reps (5-8 per leg)

Read more from Dr. Sela and the Movement Guides Team at their BLOG

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The Top 5 Strength and Conditioning Coach Instagram Accounts to Follow NOW

Social media has many downsides…but a huge upside is that it’s easy to get exposed to all sorts of new ideas.  We eagerly and avidly look for strength coaches all over the world to learn from. We’ll explore lots of channels but Instagram is probably the easiest medium to use when searching for new content.  We decided to make a list and highlight a few people who are doing an awesome job and worthy of your follow.

What we considered when making our list –

  • Actual experience in the field programming and coaching athletes or reviewing and creating research related to strength and conditioning.
  • Someone who has a specific athlete population that they work with, but it’s obvious their programs and techniques would crossover to other athlete types.
  • Fitness models are not strength and conditioning coaches. They are not on our list.
  • We appreciate creativity, but not gimmicks, when it come to exercise creation and selection.
  • While we love when a coach is someone who is keeping him or herself fit…we put more stock in coaches who consistently get OTHER people to perform better, improve their fitness and become more resilient.

This is not a ranking of best to worst, just our top five. So, without further adieu, here is the Movement Guides Top Strength and Conditioning Coach Accounts to Follow in 2019:

  1. Michael Drach Training – I freaking love Michael Drach’s feed. Just about every time he posts something I’m like, “dammit, why didn’t I think of that?!!” His videos are mostly of athletes performing extremely explosive movements with before and after video illustrating the effectiveness of his techniques. He’s even created a new plyo movement called the Drach Jump. Used to improve rate of force development it’s a movement you’ve got to try. If you’re looking for some awesome ideas to improve speed, power and plyometric abilities you MUST follow this guy: https://www.instagram.com/michaeldrachtraining/
  2. Eric Cressey – Unless you’ve been living in a hole, you probably already know about Eric Cressey. If you don’t already follow Eric, slap yourself and then hit the follow button on his account. Eric is a strength coach who is better at physical therapy than physical therapists. He is the most prominent strength coach in the world of baseball, but his posts and teachings are applicable to just about any athlete or provider who deals with athletes. We especially love his take on the athletic development of young athletes. He is not afraid to call out the ridiculous youth sports culture that has taken over the United States. If you believe kids should be playing the same sport year round and spending thousands of dollars going to “showcases” give Eric a follow so he can educate you. https://www.instagram.com/ericcressey/
  3. The “Glute Guy”, Bret Contreras – Did you know there is a guy making a healthy living off of teaching beautiful women how to improve their back sides? Well there is. His name is Bret Contreras and before you scoff, the dude has a PhD and is the successful inventor of The Hip Thruster. Bret has produced some remarkable research and he posts really interesting and applicable training related charts and training methodologies. We love that he treats himself as a lab rat. Also, it’s pretty much impossible to disagree with anything he posts as it’s all evidence based and practicable for real world implementation. Is his feed filled with gorgeous women in bikinis? Yes, but don’t make that the reason you do or don’t follow him. It’s also full of some of the most well informed training advice on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bretcontreras1/
  4. Chris Beardsley – If you are ever super curious about a specific strength and conditioning topic and want to know what the research says, follow Chris. Chris writes the most in depth, robust literature reviews on all things S&C that we’ve found. His website www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com is where all of his work is available and it is mind boggling. I go here often when I want to feel small and unintelligent. You should feel good that people like Chris exist to make sense of complicated and often contradicting research. If you are a coach, therapist, trainer or anyone who prescribes or programs exercise for other people, this feed and his website should be referred to frequently. https://www.instagram.com/chrisabeardsley/
  5. Fearless Miranda, Miranda Alcaraz – Miranda and her husband have created the online fitness community Street Parking. It’s gaining traction as a reputable fitness program for those who mostly workout or train at home. Miranda is an incredible athlete and cut her coaching teeth in the CrossFit world. Now, Miranda has evolved away from CrossFit with her Street Parking business. She is inspirational to women (and men) around the world as she practices what she preaches, offering up motivation as well as sound general preparedness programming. My wife follows this program and I join in from time to time. I’ve found their programming fun and challenging. So, if you’re looking for a new home workout program check out www.streetparking.com and follow Miranda on instagram. https://www.instagram.com/fearlessmiranda/

We hope you take the time to follow these impressive coaches (and us, follow Movement Guides too!). Also,check out our other blog where we list the Top Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts to follow in 2019.

UPDATE! The new 2020 edition of Top Strength Coaches to Follow on Instagram is up!

Thanks for reading!

Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, CSCS

Co-Founder

Movement Guides, Inc.


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The Top 5 Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts to Follow in 2019


Movement Guides Top 5 Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts to Follow in 2019

People ask us all of the time, “who do you recommend I follow online for legit physical therapy content?”  This got us thinking that maybe putting a list together would be helpful.

Here are the best physical therapy Instagram accounts to follow in 2019.  A few things we took into consideration:

  • We put a ton of weight into actual experience in the field through both practice and research
  • Our list definitely has a sports medicine and sports performance bend to it. Physical therapy is a very broad field but both our followers and us are very interested in performance and fitness so our list reflects that.
  • We do not care much about how many followers someone has and no points are given for posting crazy, random exercises that no one is going to do.

Don’t read as a ranking of best to worst, just our top five. So, without further adieu, here is the Movement Guides Top Physical Therapy Accounts to Follow in 2019:

  1. Achieve Fitness Boston – These guys create some of the best fitness and movement related graphics we’ve seen.  Lauren and Jason Pak are the brains and brawn behind the posts as they are the creators and models in the the posts. They identify common flaws that most people make in the gym and give simple, easy to follow solutions with corrective exercises and appropriate progressions and regressions. Give them a follow on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/achievefitnessboston/
  2. The Barbell Physio – Zach Long is the Barbell Physio. He is an unbiased, influential leader in the performance physical therapy space who is able to express his opinions in a straight forward and humble way. He teams up with some of the best minds in the business and actually practices what he preaches. It’s been especially interesting in the past year to watch Zach transform his own body and fitness level to better mach his online namesake. As someone who has been using and speaking about hollow body progressions for core training since 2013, I especially love when Zach includes Pamela Gnon (@pamelagnon) into his posts. She is an incredible gymnastics coach and the two of them demonstrate amazing ways to improve core control and strength. Zach can be found teaching courses around the country on a variety of topics and you can also get a ton of great educational materials from his www.thebarbellphysio.com website. Follow Zach Long on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/thebarbellphysio/
  3. The Ready State (Formerly Mobility WOD) – The OG of online physical therapy advice, Kelly Starrett continues to put out great content year after year. Mobility WOD is still very relevant. He doesn’t know it but Kelly was a MAJOR influence on my post DPT school continuing education and likely a major influence for everyone on this list. Kelly was really the first physical therapist to reach online global prominence by teaching people how to take care of their own bodies while simultaneously beating themselves up with CrossFit and other athletic endeavors. He is an accomplished author (Becoming a Supple Leopard and Deskbound) and got everyone in the fitness world to think like a PT. Test, attempt to make a change, then re-test. He is the reason you see people smashing their glutes on lacrosse balls and using monster bands around their hips and shoulders. Check out the instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thereadystate/ or just go straight thereadystate.com to get all of Kelly’s great content and ideas for self preservation.
  4. Michael Reiman, PhD – Michael Reiman is well known in the physical therapy world. He is a renowned Physical therapist and researcher out of Duke University and lucky for all of us he is starting to get active on social media. Dr. Reiman is a PhD, physical therapist, manual therapy fellow, athletic trainer and a certified strength and conditioning specialist.  He doesn’t have a big following yet, but you’ll notice that his growing list of followers includes some of the most prominent and popular accounts in performance training and therapy. I’ve really been enjoying his summation of research articles that are coming out. He is keeping people current on what is being published but has the history in the field to give it all perspective. So, if you want to follow someone who is actually producing much of the research we all talk about add this account to your list of follows: https://www.instagram.com/michaelreiman/
  5. Chris Butler, MPT, CSCS – Chris’s posts are legit. He takes on common injuries and rehab processes and gives evidence based guidelines on how to tackle them. His posts have a consistent look and feel which makes following along easy and you know what to expect.  Chris works with quite the variety of athletes and you’ll see that he finds simple ways to challenge even the most elite and fit. Realistic, practical, evidence based all while being cutting edge. Follow Chris at: https://www.instagram.com/cbutlersportspt/

We hope you take the time to follow these impressive therapists (and us! You should follow Movement Guides too!) and check out our list of the top strength coaches to follow right now.

UPDATE: The 2020 List is now up! Read our Best Physical Therapy Instagram Accounts of 2020 today!

Thanks for reading and get updates on all our blog post by subscribing at the top of this page.

Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, CSCS

C0-Founder

 Movement Guides, Inc.

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The Shoulder Rules – 2 Simple Concepts to Keep you Pain Free and Reaching New Performance Heights

The Shoulder is Complicated and training it is often Painful

The shoulder girdle.  It’s complicated:  3 true joints, 1 muscular joint, little inherent stability, much inherent mobility all mixed together with over one billion (I counted) exercises. A perfect storm is the result leading to pain, injury, confusion and frustration for a whole bunch of people who just want to train, work out and perform better.
If you have current shoulder issues, want to prevent future problems or break through a training plateau, I want to lay out two simple concepts that can help you with your strength training.  The concepts are simple, but the execution is not.  I treat some extremely fit and athletic people and most of them struggle with one or both of these rules…especially when you add fatigue or heavy loads into the picture.
FYI: shoulder blade = scapula

The Shoulder Rules:

  1. When your elbow is near or moving towards your body, bring your shoulder blade back and down into the “set” position. (think Big, Open chest)
  2. As your elbow moves out away from your body, provide the force from your shoulder to externally rotate it.

If you are able to do just these two things with any strength lift, body-weight movement, catch or sustained position, you will likely stay healthy, perform better and decrease any current shoulder pain with your lifts.

Now let’s dig in deep to each rule.

  • Rule 1. When your elbow is near or moving towards your body, bring your shoulder blade back and down into the “set” position.

The elbow is the best indicator of where your shoulder is positioned.  The higher the elbow is, the more the shoulder has elevated.  The more the point of your elbow is out to the side (pointed laterally) the more the shoulder is internally rotated, etc.  So, as the rule states, when you are performing a movement and your elbow is near your side you need to bring your shoulder blade back and down.

In the sports medicine and strength and conditioning worlds, this scapular position is often called the “set” position.  The idea here is that we need to place the shoulder in an optimal position so that we don’t put too much stress on any one part of the shoulder and that our muscles and joints are in the optimal place to perform.   What typically happens with inexperience, mobility issues or poor control is that as the elbows move towards the body (i.e. top of the pull up or bottom of the push up) the shoulder blades tip forward as well as up towards the ears putting a great amount of stress and strain on the front and top of the shoulder.  This is bad.

Picture yourself at the bottom of your push-up position; your shoulders should be pulled back away from the ground and also down away from your ears.  This is good.  Same goes with the pull up. As you near the top of your pull up, the elbows are coming towards your side, so your shoulder blades need to be pulled back and down.  Get it?

  • Rule 2. As your elbow moves out away from your body, provide the force from your shoulder to externally rotate it.

This rule deals with what muscles you want to be activating while your elbow moves away from your body and then being able to sustain that shoulder position under the load.  This will happen while pressing the bar away in a bench press or overhead press.  It could also be while you lower yourself during the pull-up, press yourself up during push-ups or while sustaining an overhead barbell or dumbbell position. To imagine this in another way, if you were holding a dumbbell, as you pressed away from your body the thumb would rotate out to the side and your palm would face you.  There are a couple reasons why this is important and advantageous.

1. This can help avoid the onset of or decrease shoulder pain.  There is not a lot of space between the ball and socket shoulder joint and the hard protective shelf above it, called your acromion process.  By externally rotating your shoulder during overhead movements, you maintain more space between these structures which decreases the pinching of the soft tissues in this space.  That pinching is often called “impingement” and can be the cause of that all too common, non-traumatic shoulder pain.  (want to improve your shoulder mobility to prevent and treat impingement? Check out this self myofascial release tool)

2. This creates a more stable shoulder. The external rotation will take out the slack of the connective tissue at the joint capsule increasing the static stability.  The external rotation of the humerus (long bone of the arm) also facilitates an improved socket position by aiding in upward rotation of the scapula (shoulder blade).  This also improves stability by turning your shoulder socket into a backstop for the ball of your joint to rest on when pressing or sustaining loads above shoulder height.

This concept is much easier to learn and apply when dealing with “open chain” exercises, so I recommend that these types of movements be used first when learning proper form.  “Open chain” exercises allow your hands to move freely and independently so the applied rotational force will cause rotation of the shoulders and of your hands which is easier to see and feel.  For instance, a vertical press with dumbbells will be easier than with the barbell.  This will also force the shoulders to work independently and help identify and correct any strength or mobility imbalances.

In Summary

These shoulder rules sound pretty easy to follow. However, they are often very challenging if you lack mobility, control or if you throw fatigue and heavy loads into the picture.  You can probably think of a movement or exercise that this may not apply to, but for most strength and body weight movements these two rules will keep you safe, help break through plateaus and decrease pain.  Remember, retooling a movement may result in a temporary decrease in performance but in the long run performing movements the right way will always get you closer to your genetic potential.

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