Three Tips for Healthier Shoulders in Young Athletes & Adolescents

One of the biggest weaknesses we see in our young athletes and adolescents is a lack of shoulder stability & integrity due to a tight chest and weak upper back. If this isn’t addressed and rectified, then the long-term damage that can occur can be disastrous…

Shoulders - The Youth Academy

Think about how we spend the majority of our days and the positions we find ourselves in… we’re generally sitting and we’re generally hunched over a computer or your phone…

Shoulders become more and more rounded and our necks begin to drop and move “forward”…

Add to this the fact that when these next generations think about exercise they think solely about working the anterior muscles - what they can see in the mirror - and this chest will tighten even more

And unfortunately, the technique used for these pressing exercises isn’t the best, as elbows tend to flare during the push which places the shoulder joint at risk of injuries due to them being in an internally rotated position and force being applied down them

So, how can we make these shoulders healthier and minimise the risk of injuries now and in the future? Our three best tips are found below...

Row - The Youth Academy

1) Always Pull More Than You Press & Focus On Technique

The chest is tight and the back is weak - therefore the back needs more work than the chest in order to strengthen it and bring these shoulders back into a great position

We recommend pulling through all ranges of movement (vertical and horizontal) using basic exercises… 

Think rows with dumbbells, bands, kettlebells and barbells…
Think pull-ups, chin-ups and pulldowns… 
Think face pulls, banded pullaparts and shrugs

And we recommend pulling in a 3:1 ratio to pushing - that is, we will do 3 times more work pulling than we do pushing over a given training week. As an example, if we push for 150 repetitions over a week, then we will make sure to perform at least 450 repetitions of pulling

The other focus is technique whilst pulling and pushing. On a push, we need to ensure the shoulders stay in a strong & safe position - so that means ensuring shoulders are “back and down” to make sure they stay externally rotated, and keep the elbows tucked into the side as well. We love utilising a swiss bar and dumbbells + kettlebells to allow us to do this - as the traditional barbell makes it hard to assume this position

The same goes for a pull. Our intention is to get the shoulders & back in a postural correct position and strengthen the back whilst it’s in this position. So keep those shoulders back and down, and focus on pulling the elbows back to the ribs, DON’T focus on pulling with the hands as you’ll engage more forearm and biceps/triceps instead of the back

If you’d like to see technique on all things pushing & pulling, see here and here

2) Press Through All Ranges Of Motion

Long-term development is our intention in everything we do with young athletes & adolescents, and as such, we need to develop the body from every angle

Pushup. Pushup on rings. Press from the floor. Press from a bench. Press from every incline the bench you have can reach. Press overhead. Press unilaterally. Press with dumbbells. Press with bands. Press with kettlebells

Just remember that the movement pattern never changes - only the variation and implement used does. And always remember to pull 3 times more than you press 😉


Face Pull - The Youth Academy

3) Face Pulls + Based Pullapart’s + Crossover Symmetry

We love these three upper back exercises and incorporate them into our warmups and every training session, as they’re just that good. They provide a simple way to target & strengthen the back by adding easy volume & reps

These are the exercises where the focus is not on the weight being used, it’s the contraction we can get through the upper back and how well we can isolate it to ensure we’re using only those upper back muscles

At the end of sessions, especially those that have been press heavy, you’ll often see Academy Kids repping out 100+ reps of face pulls or banded pullaparts

The Crossover Symmetry system is something we’ve had our eyes on for quite some time as it’s a phenomenal way to isolate the entirety of the back to prehab and rehab the back

And there you have it, our top three tips for creating healthier shoulders in young athletes & adolescents. Happy pulling 😃

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Nick Maier