If you’ve ever been to physical therapy for your shoulder or have been a throwing athlete at some point in your life, you’ve likely been shown exercises like the I’s, Y’s, and T’s (see picture below). They are named this because the shape you create with your arms during the resistance exercises resembles those letters. These exercises are typically prescribed to activate certain muscles for scapular strengthening or stability purposes. Though they have their place in the field of rehabilitation at certain times, I think we can improve upon them. Here are some thoughts and an updated approach to training the shoulder blade.
I’s, Y’s, and T’s
Get strengthening from your strength work. The I’s, Y’s, and T’s exercises can only be minimally loaded and probably aren’t doing as much strengthening as hoped for. The neuromotor demand and mechanical forces that are directed into the tissues is surely way less than what is required while performing actual sporting movements. Choosing more global/compound movements like deadlifting, pressing, and rowing exercises will be way more effective in providing the necessary forces as a piece of the puzzle in preparation for sport performance. However, we need to remember that there is often nothing we can do to recreate the highly stressful demands placed on our bodies in movements like throwing. Throwing is the only way to recreate these stresses.
So why bother doing exercises like these?
Joint and muscle coordination are paramount. The timing of muscle activation patterns at specific joint angles is what the I’s, Y’s, and T’s exercises should mimic. Learning proper firing of muscles in progressively more challenging and relevant body positions is a big part of Resilient’s rehabilitation approach no matter what activity you participate in. Towards the “rehab” end of the performance continuum we are attempting to ensure appropriate joint mobility and motor control with medical precautions and contraindications in mind. Carryover to an activity is also an important deciding factor in what we prescribe our patients and athletes. Rarely in sporting activities do athletes require symmetrical activity of muscles on both sides of the body during a movement pattern at one point in time so the exercises below reflect that.
For these reasons and the scope of this blog post, here is Resilient’s updated approach to the I’s, Y’s, and T’s exercises for you to improve outcomes in rehabilitation and sports performance. These variations can be performed dynamically, with load, or isometrically.
1. Full Rockback: Sitting back on your heels, drive your forearm into the supporting surface to round your spine before raising the opposite arm.
Full Rockback Y & Full Rockback Arm Cocking
2. All Four: Drive your hand into the supporting surface to round your spine before raising the opposite arm.
All Four Y & All Four Arm Cocking
3. Table Supported: Drive your forearm into the supporting surface to round your spine before raising the opposite arm.
Supported Y & Supported Arm Cocking
4. Wall Supported: Drive your hand into the wall to round your spine before raising the opposite arm.
Wall Y & Wall Arm Cocking