5 Shoulder Warm-up Exercises You Can Do Before You Circus!

Shoulders are a Big part of circus. They are our base. Whether we’re hanging from an apparatus, balancing on our hands or supporting someone above or below us, they are the foundation that it’s all being supported on.

Many of us have postural deviations due to work or school life that can cause us to have tightness in the shoulder girdle. This tightness can really put a damper on our circus goals and even contribute to injury. Below is a video of 5 exercises you can add to your warm-up routine.

The 5 Shoulder Warm-up Movements

  1. Foam Roll upper back and lats region. This moves oxygenated blood through the muscles and foam rolling stimulates the nerves in those muscles strengthening that neurological connection. Take care to foam roll only over muscles and not bones or joints. Only foam roll your upper back (from the bottom of your scapula up) and not your low back. Remember to breathe the whole time and to move about one inch per second. (check out my Do’s & Don’t of Foam Rolling) Do 4-5 passes of each muscle group and on each side. Notice in the video that I have my arms crossed over my chest for the middle back muscles and then I switch the arms when I switch sides.
  2. Open Books. A great way to open up in the chest and shoulders and to help the scapula move more freely from the rib cage. This will allow for better movement of the scapula when raising the arms overhead. Lie on your side with your head and top knee supported. Extend both arms out in front of you and place the top hand over the bottom hand. Inhale open the top arm up like a book, making sure that the hips stay stacked and do not move. We want only the head, arms/shoulders and thoracic spine moving during this movement–so make sure you keep your top knee in contact with the foam roller the whole time. When you get as far as you can go with your arm, with your hips still stacked (and top knee still touching the foam roller), exhale and return to the start position-the closed book. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
  3. Snow Angels on Foam Roller. These help loosen our pecs, biceps, lats, teres major and minor, and serratus anterior muscles. This movement sets up good shoulder mechanics while engaging our core and helps us bring the arms overhead without dysfunctional movement. Lie on the foam roller the long way. Exhale and engage your abs so that all of your back is touching the foam roller, especially your low back. Do this by pulling the ribs in and not by pressing into your feet and tucking your pelvis. Then pretend you are making the top half of a snow angel. Palms should be face up the whole time and you are working to keep your hands as close to the floor as possible without flaring your ribs or losing abdominal engagement. Keep low back incontact with the roller the whole times Perform 10 snow angels. (I talk and show in the video what you want to NOT do while performing this movement)
  4. Shoulder Flexion (back to wall). This movement is great for actively raising your arms overhead with an engaged core. It’s a great way to see where you are. Can your thumbs touch the wall? If you can’t, it’s not the end of your circus fun, but it means you should work these 5 movements on a daily basis. And…if you can’t get your thumbs to the wall, you are not alone, many people can’t and they make up the difference by arching in their low backs, flaring the rib cage or both. These are dysfunctional movement patterns and we want to work towards finding more functional shoulder flexion and that’s where this and the other movements come in. Stand with your back to the wall, feet about a foot from the wall with a soft bend in your knees so that you can engage your core and also posteriorly tilt your pelvis so that your low back is touching the wall. Throughout the whole movement you want your head, whole back and hip/glutes to remain on the wall; your shoulders should also not be slouched. On an exhale, actively reach out and up and pull your thumbs to the wall above and behind you. Let the shoulder blades naturally move. On an inhale return arms to by your sides. Repeat 10 repetitions.
  5. Wall slides. Your serratus anterior muscles are involved in upwardly rotating your scapula as you raise your arms overhead and we want to use this movement to really fire these muscles up and get them working. Why we need this movement is because poor posture can get the serratus stuck with your subscapularis or have the pecs take over the movement, which we want to avoid. Stand facing the wall with one foot touching the wall and one foot back in a very short lunge position. Posteriorly tilt your pelvis and engage your core to pull the ribs down. Throughout the movement keep the posterior tilt of the pelvis and the ribs down. Place your arms on the wall so that your elbows are shoulders height and width and palms facing one another. Gently press into the wall as you slide your hands up the wall; extending your arms fully and allowing for your scapula to naturally lift. Then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions. You want to make sure you are feeling the muscles under and around your scapula, your serratus, doing the work and not your pecs. You also want to make sure that your upper traps are not overly contracting and doing the work. Your shoulders should lift up, but they also shouldn’t be crammed into your ears. ***Once this seems a bit easier you can open the hands further from one another, asking your external rotators to turn on, making the slide more like a V shape, but again make sure you feel the outside of your shoulder girdle working to create the V and not your pecs turn on to to this movement.

Check out the video below to see the movements and enjoy the guest appearance of Zoe.

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