Improve Shoulder Mobility with Hands-On SMR Techniques

By Dr. John Rusin

Self Myofascial Release

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Stronger, Leaner, Healtier, FOREVER

Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

Join FST NOw


1. When it comes to advanced soft-tissue work, the foam roller and lacrosse ball just don’t cut it. Quit wasting your valuable training time with minor results to show for your diligent daily work and start doing Hands-On Self Myofascial Release (SMR) Techniques

2. Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Techniques were specifically developed to fill in the gaps left by mainstreamed soft-tissue tools like the roller and ball, and have been battle tested on some of the world’s most elite athletes.

3. The two most effective Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Techniques are concentrated around the shoulder joint, and more specifically the pectoralis group and latissimus dorsi. Using these detailed coaching notes, video based tutorials and execution strategies, you will be able to enhance your posture, rid your shoulders of nagging aches and pains, and transfer these gains directly into your training or sport.


The use of Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Techniques is one of the most original methods that we utilize at John Rusin Fitness Systems. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only coach and practitioner who is teaching and prescribing hands-on manual therapies to his clients and athletes on program. This is one of the many training methodologies that sets our programming apart, and creates unique and dynamic results based strategies for our clients.

Hands-On SMR Techniques were developed over five years ago out of absolute necessity to provide more frequency of gold-standard hands-on treatment for my clients and patients, and has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. Yes, these techniques are a challenge to become truly proficient, but over time your skill set will grow and you will literally develop the skills required to become your own physical therapist.

Want to take it to the next level of your recovery, regeneration and injury prevention to ultimately enhance your performance in the gym and on the field of play? We are going to start you off where it all started for me in my original two Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Techniques that are centered around the shoulder joint. These two techniques are staples of my client’s soft-tissue programs. With the ability to normalize posture, increase mobility of the shoulder and ultimately improve the way you feel and function, these are must-learns when it comes to managing your body. Here’s how to do them, with detailed coaching notes, video tutorials and fine points of each technique.


  • Functional Anatomy- The pectoralis major is a very thick muscle that covers the anterior portion of the chest and is the prime mover that adducts and medial rotates the upper arm in actions such as an upper body pressing. The pec major has a vast insertion that spans from the clavicle to the sternum and down onto the medial portion of the upper six ribs. This wide array of attachments creates a fan shaped muscle with multiple fiber orientations that make it a key mover in many actions. The distal insertion of the pec major is located on the inner portion of the humerus near the attachment point for the biceps.
  • Common Symptoms- In the lifting population, common symptoms can include local pain through the belly of this muscle, but also pain produced near any of the many attachment points of this large muscle. Due to our largely sedentary daily positions sitting at desks, in front of the computer or even using our cell phones for hours on end, the pec major has likely become fibrotic and shortened secondary to poor posturing. A lack of neutral shoulder posturing combined with frequent and heavy training loads and volumes increases the likelihood for injury to this muscle and the AJC, SCJ and GHJ it encompasses. 
  • Hand Placement- We will be using a thumb tension to treat the most lateral portion of this muscle near its insertion onto the humerus. The thumb will be positioned in alignment with the fiber orientation of the pec major facing down towards the nipple. A tension will be taken upward towards the collarbone once the thumb is in proper alignment. The other four fingers of the treatment hand will be active in grasping around the upper portion of the shoulder and over the deltoid to stabilize the thumb tension throughout the active movement.
  • Active Movement- This Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Technique can be executed while lying on your back or sitting. If you are using the supine (lying down) position, be sure to position yourself so your shoulder and arm are off an elevated surface to accentuate the end range of motion during the self-treatment. The upper arm will be left down at the side but brought towards the midline of the body to relax the pec major in order to gain maximal tension with your hand placement. From that starting position, you will move your upper arm slowly into a fully extended position out to the side, stretching the muscle as deeply as possible under tension. Hold for a second or two at end range and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.
  • Parameter Prescription- Due to the sheer size of this muscle, many passes will be necessary to treat the muscle as a whole. When using these techniques for prehabilitation purposes, spend 20-30 reps on each side. If you are experiencing pain in one of the commonly painful sites as described above, pinpoint the dysfunctional portion of the pec and concentrate 10-12 repetitions over this site. Remember to move slowly with your active movements to get the best results from your self-treatments.


  • Functional Anatomy- Similar to the pectoralis major, the latisimus dorsi muscle is a broad muscle that courses the backside of the body. It attaches inferiorly to the lower spinal segments and the pelvic girdle and superiorly to the inner portion of the upper humerus. This muscle is responsible for adduction and extension of the upper arm from an elevated position such as in a pull up variation. The lat also plays a roll in stabilization of the shoulder girdle when activated into internal rotation of the humerus.
  • Common Symptoms- Though this muscle covers an impressive surface area through the posterior trunk and shoulder complex, the body of this muscle rarely presents with notable pain of dysfunction. That being said, the attachments are often a common site of shoulder pain, especially in the deep armpit region. The superior attachment point to the humerus is located extremely close to many other movers of the shoulder and arm, causing many incorrect diagnoses. Treating the region as a whole will be advantageous in differentiating lat pain and dysfunction from other movement issues and symptomology such as biceps tendonitis and other painful presentations. Another common symptom that can be easily assessed is a loss of range of motion into the overhead position.
  • Hand Placement- For best targeting the humeral insertion of the latissimus dorsi, position yourself on your back with your arm free to move off the side and above an elevated surface such as a treatment table or bed. Be sure to position your shoulder blade with full support of the table, as we want to minimize the movement of the shoulder blade when targeting the lat up in this area. You will be using a full five-finger hand placement to treat the front and backsides of the lat simultaneously. Your thumb should be on the anterior surface of the lat, facing up towards the GHJ. Your other four fingers will be on the posterior side of the lat, also facing towards the shoulder. Tension will be taken with your thumb rotating laterally (toward the shoulder) while your other four fingers are holding a direct pressure.
  • Active Movement- The starting position is with your arm placed down at the side and in neutral. Be sure to keep your arm supported by the elevated surface you are laying on to relax the lat muscle in order to gain a maximal tension over the muscle. Slowly, you will move your shoulder into flexion over your head. Only when you get to a fully flexed position with maximal stretch on the lat will you externally rotate your shoulder. This can be simply executed by turning your hand to face the ceiling. This last little bit of tension will make a huge difference in your self-treatment. 
  • Parameter Prescription- While working in the armpit region of the latissimus dorsi, focus your efforts with 12-15 repetitions throughout various aspects of the dysfunctional soft tissues. If you are experiencing any neurological symptoms such as radiating pain down your arm or sensory changes like tingling or numbness, discontinue treatment on that specific point of the muscle and move over the body of the lat.


Now that you have the tools to start treating your own soft-tissues with some of the most novel techniques the fitness and physical therapy industries have to offer, it’s time to place them into your training program, and throughout the day to expedite the process of relearning proper posture, and how to utilize it in your training and sport.

One of the focuses of my Regeneration Day that is a feature of Dr. John Rusin’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training (FHT) Program is, of course, Hands-On SMR Techniques. I have strategically programmed specific Hands-On Self Myofascial Release Techniques around some of my other favorite mobility and regeneration techniques to give you the tools to expedite the recovery process, and leave you fresh and ready to go for every training day in the 12-week program.

Trust me, you are going to have to prioritize your recovery and mobility work with this program that is one hell of a strength and metabolic challenge programmed in a 5-day per week strength and hypertrophy split. For more information about my FHT Program, click into the picture below!

Functional Hypertrophy Training with Hands On SMR

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One Comment

  1. Bruce March 18, 2017 at 10:35 am - Reply

    I’ve been doing PT for 24 years and my thumbs are shot. Dry needling has become my tool of choice for soft tissue work with an emphasis on homeostatic Trp’s. Once in awhile I will rub patients with the metal 100$ Edge tool upon request( not the $3K grasston). I agree the best manual muscle and facial work is done by the patient because I can’t afford to wreck my hands for minimal results.

    Thank you for all the wealth of knowledge you put out there as it has greatly influenced my PT practice for the better. I believe I’m fully rehabilitating my patients back to normal loads rather than relieving their symptoms, sending them on their way and hoping they will magically return to full function or better than they were before. I refer colleagues and my patients to your website and social network presence on a daily basis.

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