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Optimal Exercise Pairs for Improved Shoulder Mobility and Muscle Activation

November 16, 2014 by NCSF 0 comments

Many clients seeking personal training services demonstrate poor flexibility in the shoulder complex as well as dysfunction in muscle activation patterns due to functional decline. In some cases, level 1 and 2 postural distortions have changed the function of the shoulder due to weakness and tightness from an assortment of contributing factors. Sometimes these issues cause pain, instability and movement limitations often observed during postural and movement analysis. The most common contributing factors are often cumulative; including, myofascial restrictions, loss of functional movement range, and muscle strength imbalances. All of these factors promote dysfunction in the scapular plane with consequent shoulder complex inefficiencies. Personal trainers can employ a number of tools to restore function and movement performance in clients with these issues, but an easy start is to establish improved muscle relationships. Selecting exercises which promote agonist-antagonist pairing will provide a few unique benefits. Exercises performed back to back with limited rest that work opposing muscle groups (relative to the working joint) have been shown to promote reciprocal inhibition between muscles worked during the exercise pair.

For example, if a client first performs a set of dumbbell bent-over row, and then performs a set of dumbbell chest press within 30-60 seconds; the pectoralis muscles and associated connective tissues addressed in the second exercise will experience reduced inhibition, slightly improved mobility and optimized neural firing due to the initial activation of the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids during the bent-over row. Simply stated, pairing agonist/antagonist exercises can increase ROM, optimize performance, and reestablish strength balance. While pairing exercises cannot fix all imbalances, it is a simple strategy that can be quite impactful.

Personal trainers may find use in the following exercise pairs for clients with shoulder complex issues. These exercises can be paired in the reverse order depending on the client’s areas of greatest limitation/tightness.

Example of agonist/antagonist pairs
Lat pull-downDB Overhead press
DB Bilateral Bent-over RowDB Chest Press
Cable Chest FlyCable Reverse Fly


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