Keep Your Shoulders Safe by Jen Fuller

By Jen Fuller

Instead of just viewing the shoulders as if they were separate from the rest of the body let’s connect the dots and see how the whole body, especially the pelvic position affects the shoulders.

Better yet, you can try some functional tests and exercises that I provide in this article to test on your own.


As an exercises therapist and coach with a background in physiology, human biomechanics, and manual therapy, I see many people coming into the sport of stand up paddling with some very inefficient movement patterns reflecting their various techniques and compensations. Overall we often come into an activity with a problem and then compensate to do the motion the activity requires the best we can. Injuries can be a blessing in disguise if we use them to learn more about why the problem happened in the first place.


“Use the injury to learn more about why the problem happened in the first place.”


I cannot help but mention that modern day culture, which mostly refers to the western culture, has made its way into the greater part of the world and has had a huge effect on our daily movement patterns, many which are habitually learned have a huge effect on our posture, not necessarily in a good way.

Sitting is one of the biggest culprits of pain in the body and eventual degeneration. It is important to do functional exercise and mobility that requires your entire body to work together, especially if you are someone who has to sit for long periods of time. At the same time repetitive actions, as in sports, can be just as dysfunctional and thus this article.
I like to use the analogy of driving your car misaligned. You would not do that for long because we know that can lead to expensive car repairs.

The question is why would you drive yourself around misaligned? It is painful and expensive in the long run. The good news is it is fixable!

“It may take a short time or it may take a bit longer, but it is for the better!”


From my many years of experience working on bodies, and helping people solve and change injury, pain and compensation patterns I can say that it may take a short time or it may take a bit longer, but it is for the better! The body will heal itself if you set it up right and recognize the patterns that have led to the problem in the first place.

The shoulders operate in conjunction with the rest of the body and visa versa so if one part of the body is out of whack the rest will eventually follow.

Think of your muscles like levers and pulleys working in unison with the nervous system running the show.

Stand up paddlers, outrigger (OC),  surf ski and really any paddler put a tremendous amount of repetitive muscular strength into the front line of your body. The front-line as you can imagine are the muscles in the front of your body.  This also includes the deeper hip flexors which end up over strengthened with the shoulders and upper back (thoracic), rounding forward. To drive home the image, picture Quasimodo.



When the hip flexors are in constant flexion or repetitively working in flexion they cause some of the biggest muscles, the gluteals and latisimus dorsi to shut down (generally speaking) and not work very well, creating the chain of muscles from head to toe to disconnect. You have primary and secondary hip flexors which are like an intricate chains of crisscrossing muscles that work in unison. For simplicity here are a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what the deeper muscles in your body look like.





Keeping in mind that muscles, tendons and ligaments are like levers and pulleys on the bones, you can imagine that if the hips are out of alignment the shoulders will follow.

When the shoulders become stronger and stronger in a forward rolled position and the thoracic back rounds, then the ability of the shoulder joint to move properly becomes impaired. Try slumping your shoulders on purpose and then try to raise your arm in that rounded over position. Your arm will not move properly!
There are 4 important muscles that make up the rotator cuff. These muscles work in amazing ways to hold the humerus (that’s the upper arm bone) in the shoulder socket and enable you to swing your arms around, shake someone’s hand, defend yourself, paddle, lift a cup, brush your teeth, put on a coat….The socket is very shallow and so the function of the muscles and the rest of the body on it is very important. The shoulder joint is considered a ball and socket joint.










For a bit more in depth information on the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves that move your shoulders here is an excellent video. Thank you to eOrthopodTV  & surgeon Randale C. Sechrest for one of the best animations I have seen.

If you have discomfort or injury it is important to note that the reason the rotator cuff muscles, aside from a severe impact to the joint, and even then, are effected by the position of the thoracic back and the rib cage, in turn the hips and right on down the line. Any number of combinations of misalignment can cause various compensations along the way…but then “the event happens. We often blame the sport or the equipment or some other thing for our injury. Although this is partly true it is not entirely so. Lets say you broke your ankle years ago and you sort of forgot, but now that your shoulder is injured and it is hard to paddle it starts to come back to you. You realize you had been on crutches for 2 months to heal the ankle and then your hips and back felt pain. You look in the mirror and you notice that your right pelvic bone is higher then the other and that one shoulder is higher then the other. I think you get the idea, so now let’s focus on identifying your own compensations while providing a gateway to changing your body.
Take your shoes off and put a pair of shorts on and a short sleeve or tank top (tuck your shirt in so you can see the level of the pelvis). Better yet a bathing suit or even no clothes on is more revealing of your joint positions. Now stand in front of the mirror and check yourself out! Is everything aligned? What do you notice in terms of your alignment? Use the anatomical pictures to compare what you see to what is in the following pictures.





After you note what you see, stand against the wall barefoot and notice the following:

1. Do both calves touch?

2. Do both butt cheeks touch?

3. What parts of your shoulder blades touch? Do they touch evenly?

4. Does your head touch without forcing your head back?

Your lower back and cervical area should not touch the wall as you have a natural curve in your low back and neck area.

5. Step away from the wall and with your knees straight hinge at the waist and feel where the tension lines are in your body and secondly how close to the floor your hands get. Do not force this. Just notice and measure how far you can hinge at the waist with your knees straight.



6.Reach your arms over your head and notice if your elbows are straight or bent.



Now it is time to do some exercises, and then remember to do the tests you just did after you finish the exercises. I have provided a link to each exercise with specific instructions and most, but not all have a video with them. Have fun!

Keep in mind if any of these cause pain then do not do them and skip to the next exercise.

Do these exercises in the order they are in.

1. In-line Gluteal contractions

2. Standing chest openers (unilateral)

3. Gravity drop

4. Floor Block

5. Sitting elbow curls w/block at knees

6. Hip crossover with palms up

7. Upper Spinal Floor Twist

8. Pelvic tilts

9. Airbench

How do you feel after completing all the exercises? Do the same tests you did in the beginning to see if anything has changed. You may not get big changes the first time but I encourage you to do these daily for a period of time and to see if you feel different paddling, in daily life or any other activity. If you would like more information or help feel free to contact me at


You can also check out Jen’s website:

Big thanks to Jen’s sponsors: Tailwind, Quick Blade, Clark and Starboard.

About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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