One Weird Trick: Installment 3 – Using Balls to Improve Shoulder Mobility

Many individuals have developed their whole careers to improving shoulder mobility. Before, the complexity of the shoulder girdle had plagued many individuals, whether it is from pain, dysfunction, or “I got this one really weird clicking thing that happens when I move like this,” type scenarios. I don’t claim to fix shoulders, but a funny thing happens when you do this one exercise called “Stir the Pot.”

Now, I’m not talking about stirring a pot of chili – although I would not be surprised that that is the origin of this exercise. In fact, when I first saw this exercise I thought it would be best called the cabbage patch, because of the circular nature of this exercise.

Wow what a throwback.

How Does The Cabbage Patch/Stir the Pot Exercise Help?

Well, thanks for asking Suzie. The first principle to respect involves understanding that sometimes shoulder mobility is limited due to positioning of joints, and activation of specific musculature.

If you find yourself in an extended posture, performing the Stir the Pot will certainly engage your anterior core if performed correctly.

The improvements from simply respecting antagonist and agonist relationships can see massive gains very quickly.

Positioning wise, improving your ability to activate your obliques will improve your positioning of your thoracic diaphragm. Bringing your “belt buckle up to your nose” will bring your pelvic floor/diaphragm into a better synchronous position with your upper body as well.


Next, the interesting portion comes along with the circular motion of the shoulders and forearms on the ball. Interestingly enough, I believe that if done properly, you can achieve small ranges of motion into upward rotation of the scapula.

That is, if you can fix the thoracic diaphragm, and stabilize your upper body/ribcage, your scapulae will now have better ability to move upon this ribcage.


Constant perturbations* from the unstable surface will require a reflexive maneuvering of specific musculature, namely the protractors, abductors, and even retractors and adductors of the scapulae as you perform your “stirring” motion.

Now you aren’t bringing your arms completely overhead obviously, but any improvements in range of motion in an overhead fashion will certainly translate to better motion overall, so you can hopefully do some really cool stuff, like handstands, overhead pressing, or even walking around with no discomfort.

Cues That Will Help

  1. Make sure to push chest and head away from the ground/ball.
  2. Improve motion by placing forearms directly into ball, not just elbows or just hands.
  3. Think of leading or creating small circles with your elbows.
  4. Keep a steady body as you perform this.
  5. Perform this exercise slowly – as you may not receive the same benefit if the exercise is performed in a fast and reactive manner.
  6. For beginners, try performing a stability ball stir the pot on the wall for a wall assisted and easier version.

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations – Installment 9

Motion at the shoulder joint has now been known to improve through several mechanisms:

  1. Improving soft tissue quality, so signaling can be improved to the motor units that are attached to the muscle fibers involved with these movers.
  2. Reorienting joint position of the glenohumeral joint by improving joint centration.
  3. Improving rib cage position/spinal position in order to improve the brain’s strategy for where “up” actually is with respect to upward movement of the arm.

In this exercise combination, I aim to improve the motoric control of the rib cage, while simultaneously asking the brain to move the shoulder upward through reflexive and reactive exercises.

A Left Jab, Right Hook Combination

After watching Creed about five times in the past 4 weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity that a simple combination can provide from a foundational level. The most intensive combos can be utilized in order to achieve an outcome – or you can just jab a few times, and give a good hook at the right time and get the same or better effect.

In my opinion, the following combination will be able to improve shoulder motion by doing the following:

  1. Improve rib cage position
  2. Improve recruitment of upward rotators of the scapula
  3. Inhibiting lumbar erectors as stabilizers
  4. Making the shoulder stabilizers fire reactively

So, if you are dancing, looking to improve handstand coordination, or simply aim to improve overhead motion during training, these simple drills can help you immensely.

A front plank has many benefits – it is a great first progression for anterior core involvement, can serve a purpose for a teaching tool for several different exercises, along with providing an adequate muscular endurance challenge for the individual that is lacking the endurance for an upright posture.

However, let’s take some of these other facts into account.

ProtractionWhen you perform a front plank correctly, you will have your shoulder blades slightly protracted and abducted, or fitting on the side of your rib cage. When this occurs, you have several intrinsic muscles within the shoulder girdle firing to stabilize.

Secondarily, you also recruit obliques if you are in a good position from a lower ribcage and pelvic position, so recruiting our athletes to “bring their belt buckle up to their nose” can improve abdominal positioning quickly.

Abdominal ObliquablesBy recruiting internal and external obliques, you can inhibit some of the extension based muscle groups that are often stabilizing in place of these obliques.

And lastly, you can also improve position of the neck by telling individuals to make sure your face is NOT near the ground, but maintain eyes and nose towards the ground – which will help recruit a neutral spinal alignment. This will help turn off some of the cervical neck extensors that many people exhibit during a forward head posture.

Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up…

Finally, you can improve motion of the shoulder by performing a Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB Press.

Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB PressIf the kettlebell is bottoms up, the weight will want to tip from side to side, and by reflexively or reactively asking your hand to grip TIGHT, you will also improve recruitment of the rotator cuff of the shoulders. I also try to not start in a retracted scapular position, or even a too protracted and abducted position. In fact, I find that improving thoracic position in the moment while holding the kettlebell will improve shoulder position into a more “packed” position.

As you bring the weight up, think of hiding your ears with your arms. This will make sure you keep a centrated position of your shoulder joint, and making sure you don’t fall forward with your hands or backwards with the weight.

In conclusion, you can combine these two exercises together in this fashion:

A1. Front Plank Arm March – 2 to 3 sets of 20 to 30 seconds (or 6 to 8 inhales / exhales)

A2. Half Kneeling 1-Arm Bottoms Up KB Press – 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 6 per side

If you’re finding yourself having some shoulder issues from a motor control point of view, give this a shot.

As always,

Keep it funky.