I learned this protocol from Scott Sonnon’s “Caduceus Healing Staff” which came with the “Tactical Gymnastics” (TACGYM) program. The Healing Staff protocol is a set of closed chain mobility exercises for the arms, in particular the shoulders. I’ve found these exercises so beneficial that I perform them multiple times per week. They help avoid injury in performing loaded upper body strength exercises, and serve as restorative therapy when I push too hard and get injured.

The exercises are performed with a smooth rod, approximately the length of a broom handle. I use a practice fighting staff I got when I took Aikido years ago, but any smooth (no splinters) rod will work. The rod should be uniform in diameter (e.g. not like a pool cue) and weight (e.g. no brush on the end of a broom shaft).

As with all other exercise, it’s critical to apply the Intuitive Training Compass (Scott Sonnon’s term) to the Healing Staff exercises:

  • Rate of Perceived Discomfort (RPD): On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = no pain, 10 = the worst pain you can imagine), no movement should register more than 3. Beyond that I’m likely to get injured, so I find a regression of the exercise that I can perform without pain. For example, perform the exercise with less range of movement, less weight, more slowly, etc.
  • Rate of Perceived Technique (RPT): On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 = perfect), every movement should be practiced at 8 or higher. Less than that and I’m unlikely to accrue the maximum benefit of the exercise and open myself to injury.
  • Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE): On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 is resting and 10 is maximum effort just this side of failure. For strength exercises, if RPE is less than 6 then it’s time to find a more challenging progression. For mobility exercises like the Healing Staff, I target a low RPE (below 3). A good indicator of effort is what my face is doing. If my face isn’t relaxed (e.g. gritting my teeth, pursed lips, puffed cheeks), then I’m exerting myself too much for a mobility exercise.

The Healing Staff protocol consists of these movements:

  • Double lift up front (also known as a “shoulder dislocate“)
  • Double lift up rear
  • Double lift up side
  • Guard cast
  • Monkey swing
  • Alternating shield cast
  • Single parry cast
  • Double parry cast
  • Single elbow screw
  • Double elbow screw
  • Alternating elbow screw

Demonstration Video