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Best Recovery Exercises for Your Shoulders

In honor of Joe D. and my best-selling AMPED Warm-up program, I wanted to post two of my go-to exercises.  These exercises are included in every program that I write.

They are that important.

If you are smart about your training, you never skip the warm-up.  If you are even smarter, you do some ‘active recovery’ between workouts so you can train hard, every time you step into the gym.

Active recovery is just a fancy term that means, you do something to get your blood flowing, break a sweat, and just move around.  If you do this on your off days, it will help you alleviate soreness, improve your overall movement, and overcome a lot of the other negative stuff that happens after you train hard.  And it is not enough to include active recovery strategies once-in-a-while or do just a few movements – you have to do them consistency and with a variety of exercises.

Foam rolling (and some other man work like lacrosse ball rolling), dynamic upper and lower body movements and some light ‘activation’ work are some good choices for your active recovery (and for your warm-up) sessions.

Two of my ‘hey look at me I’m awesome’ warm-up / recovery exercises that I always include are face pulls and band pull-aparts.  They both improve shoulder function,  improve posture, and also strengthen the upper back musculature (posterior delts), specifically the scapular muscles (rhomboids, low traps), with the face pulls pulling in the external rotators (infraspinatus, teres minor) of the shoulder.   I also recommend for someone who is really weak in the upper back, to include a scapular retraction (pull their shoulder blades back as if they are grabbing a tennis ball) before every repetition for both exercises.  This builds up their endurance and allows them to always begin each rep with good posture.

Face Pulls / Face Pulls with External Rotation

To perform face pulls, the hands will be in a double overhand (pronated) grip position while grabbing a tricep rope (or elastic band), which will be connected to the top pulley of a cable stack machine (or a stationary object). The lifter will retract their shoulder blades and continue the movement into a row until the middle of the rope is right at their neck. As the rope nears the end range of the row, the lifter will pull the handles apart and finish with a powerful hold.

DeFranco Band Pull Aparts

I’m sure you’re all aware of the standard pull apart exercise.  We use band pull aparts like crazy for all of our athletes (especially the younger guys) because they are always so weak in the upper back.  In fact, it is not uncommon to have our guys hit a 1000 total reps throughout the week.  I remember Joe (DeFranco) writing an article stating that he had Triple H hit around 20,000 total band pull apart reps through his last training cycle.  Everyone is so caught up on bench, push-ups, military press, dips and all the ‘show’ muscles, they forget to develop a balance by hitting their upper back.  In my opinion, I would say you wouldn’t go wrong in programming a 2:1 ratio of pulling over pushing exercises in most of your programs.

Here is a new variation that Joe D. came up with that we’ve been using.  Yeah, it is awesome.

As a special note, just hitting face pulls and band pull aparts isn’t enough.  Don’t forget to foam roll your upper back and work on your shoulder mobility.  Yes, strengthening typically weak muscles is important, but don’t forget to ensure you can actually move unrestricted.  Recovery from hard training can mean you will lose your mobility and flexibility if you do NOT consistently integrate better movement strategies.

Here is a good video to show you some ideas around foam rolling and mobility for the upper back.

By on August 3rd, 2012


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Comments (3)

  1. Posted by - Conor on August 3, 2012

    This was a pretty sweet post to say the least. I’m all over this type of stuff with my athletes as well as myself and can feel the benefits of being able to move and feel better on a regular basis.

    • Posted by - Smitty on August 4, 2012

      Thanks Conor

  2. Posted by - Jared on August 8, 2012

    Thanks for the info, I’ll be incorporating some of the into my training. I’ll keep you posted with the results!

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