Regardless of the client, one of the goals is to help keep them pain and injury free. Whether it’s my young athlete, my business executive, or my pro MMA fighter, injury prevention is always included during our goal-setting discussions. This objective was paramount during the filming of ‘The Ultimate Fighter Live’ TV show. Due to the nature of the show, we never knew which athlete would be fighting the next week so we had to do our best to keep them in top, physical shape throughout the entire season.

One method I incorporated was the Functional Movement Screen. Along with Dr. Jenn Reiner, who is a certified FMS & SFMA practitioner, we took the members of Team Cruz through the seven fundamental movement patterns that comprise the screen. While I wasn’t too surprised with the majority of the scores, I was surprised with the numbers on the Shoulder Mobility movement. Not one athlete scored above a 1. Of the 8 athletes we tested, three scored a one and five scored a zero. For those not that familiar with the screen, those numbers are not good. Basically, a score of one means they can not complete the movement correctly and a score of zero means there is pain present when attempting the movement. So that means not a single one of these high level athletes could complete the exercise. For bragging rights amongst the guys, the athlete on the team with the highest score was…

The shoulders take a beating in MMA training and these results are further proof. With my “movement prep” or “stability and mobility” movements with combat athletes, I have always focused on three areas in particular; the foot/ankle, the hip/glute, and the shoulder joint/T-spine (And talk about them in depth in THIS…sorry, shameless plug). It’s great to have some data like this to support the programming I create for my fighters.

So now that we have this information, what do we do with it? None of the 8 athletes complained of shoulder pain during our workouts so do we even need to do anything? I think we should be pro-active and simply incorporate a couple of movements into their routine that will help them increase some mobility, develop some stability, and ultimately; keep them out of shoulder pain in the future.

Here is a five minute routine that includes 3 mobility movements and 3 stability movements that can be done as a quick stand-alone routine or as part of a larger, dynamic warm-up to be done before a training session.

Three Mobility Drills
1. SMR – Pec Minor
Use this movement to help release the pec minor muscle which will promote scapular retraction.

2. Side-Lying Chest Opener
This movement will focus on thoracic spine rotation which will improve posture and shoulder joint integrity.

3. Scorpion Stretch
A movement used to stretch both pec minor & major, in addition to the whole anterior functional line of the body.
Three Stability Drills
1. Reach, Roll, & Lift
This exercise is used to engage the scapular stabilizers; serratus anterior with the “reach”, the rotator cuff with the “roll”, and the lower trap with the “lift”.

2. ½ Turkish Get-Ups
A drill that incorporates both the static and dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder. A pattern that pulls everything together into one functional movement.

3. Shoulder Taps
A movement that requires static shoulder stability while incorporating rotational stability through the thoracic spine at the same time.


About Doug
Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).

He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and  FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

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