The Importance of Shoulder Stability for CrossFit Athletes

shoulder stability

Part of maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle is a focus on injury prevention. Our Airrosti  Providers know this better than anyone. Injury prevention is especially important for competitive CrossFit athletes who push themselves to the highest levels of peak performance. Dr. Nick Askey, Airrosti Provider in San Antonio, help keep numerous CrossFit athletes performing at their best and understands that stability, especially shoulder stability, is essential for injury prevention. Read Dr. Askey’s wise advice below.


I have crazy respect for Kelly Starrett and his “fix yo’ self” philosophy.  Information he shares on www.mobilityWOD.com is priceless and widely used by the CrossFit community.  Because this information on mobility is so readily available to CrossFit athletes and coaches; stability still remains an untapped resource.  I rarely see a CrossFitter in my clinic that hasn’t tried to mercilessly crush their shoulder with a lacrosse ball, broom handle, barbell and meat tenderizer for half a year before giving up.
I realize it is important that mobility precedes stability, so tissue work on the thoracic spine, neck and shoulder are all necessary predecessors to stabilizing the most mobile joint in the body.  90% of the shoulder’s stability comes from four tiny muscles collectively referred to as the rotator cuff.  Only 10% of the stability of the shoulder comes from its ligamentous capsule.  If the athlete smashes all the muscular stabilizers before the WOD he/she could be making the shoulder worse by weakening and creating slack in the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff acts together to compress and depress (aka stabilize) the glenohumeral ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder (think vacuum packing the joint).  Lack of stability can lead to a laundry list of problems like shoulder pain with overhead movements, pain at end ranges of motion like ring dips and snatches, overactive pecs, lats, delts and upper trap muscles, and ultimately elbow, wrist, neck and thoracic pain.
You may be telling yourself, “I stabilize my shoulder with every hand stand pushup and snatch that I do in the gym.”  Not quite.  The bulk of functional movement strength is generated by the large muscles that cross the shoulder like the pecs, lats, delts and traps.  The rotator cuff doesn’t generate much force but it refines and directs the generated forces produced by the large muscles to generate pain free movement.  (Big muscles push the car; small muscles steer the car.) The large muscles can move weight more efficiently when they are moving a stable shoulder.  When these muscles act on an unstable shoulder with a weak rotator cuff at the high volume performed in a CrossFit gym, boom goes the dynamite.
Exercises to stabilize and strengthen the rotator cuff are not as sexy as a handstand pushup or a 200 pound snatch.  You do not need a half pound of chalk and tape on your hands to do them, but they will keep you out of the doctor’s office and help you progress toward those glorious YouTube worthy movements without wrecking yourself.  Taking 3 minutes in the gym during your warm-up to do some side-lying external rotations or bottom up kettlebell presses with light weight (15-25 pounds) will be a valuable investment of time.  Dust off that theraband, grab the kiddiebell and set some PR’s in the open!
By: Nick Askey, DC, ACP

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