For people who lift heavy things for fitness (weights) or work (farmers, mail carriers), shoulder pains and dysfunction are very common problems.
In part one of my series, you learned why maintaining the proper posture is so important and how working within your shoulder’s optimal range of motion (ROM) saves it from joint damage.
In this final part, you’ll learn more tips to protect your shoulders from injury, including why it’s important NOT to treat them separately from the rest of your body.
5. Perform the lat pull down to the front only.
Few machines are ergonomically designed for the Behind the Head Lat Pull Down without putting undue stress on the shoulder joint (Figure 7).
Fear of hitting your head encourages faulty form and fatigue results in bending forward, moving the forearms out of the vertical plane, thus producing excessive strain on the subscapularis muscle and further loading shoulder joint.
There’s no need to pull the bar behind your head anyway, as the functional carryover zone is equal to plus or minus 15 degrees. So if you train in front of your face, you will be developing strength in the zone behind your head anyway. Keep your forearms vertical in line with the cable and restrict the movement to a natural depth of pull.
6. Avoid movements that cause impingement.
There are potentially many exercises and movements that can cause impingement of the shoulder if performed incorrectly.
Anytime you perform exercises that involve external shoulder rotation (rotator cuff conditioning exercises) or shoulder abduction (lateral dumbbell raises), always supinate the arm and hand as you pass through the 80-degree point of abduction (Figure 8).
To remember which way moves into supination, think of holding a cup of soup in your upturned palm!
7. Row and pull with correct scapulohumeral rhythm.
A common question from clients: Do I pull my shoulder blades together before I start to pull? No! That’s a real disaster for the body. It disrupts the timing of the pull, leading to unnecessary shoulder trauma in the acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joints and surrounding soft tissues, often resulting in chronic pain.
It also creates a faulty motor engram, or movement pattern, which leads to faulty scapulothoracic and glenohumeral rhythm, all of which can lead to impingement syndromes.
In any rowing or pulling exercise (unless it’s for very specific rehabilitation purposes), your arms and shoulder blades should begin moving and end moving at the same time.
You should not be able to differentiate between the movement of these two parts of the body. Try not to think too much… Just pull naturally.
8. Stop using wrist straps!
Using wrist straps creates an imbalance between what you can hold onto and what you can actually lift. Your grip strength is not improved, and the straps allow extension of the set beyond your body’s natural ability to stabilize.
I can get technical here and say that wrist wraps reduce irradiation from distal to proximal due to reduced grip demands, which may allow subclavicular compression and traction of the brachial plexus.
In short, if you can’t lift it without straps, don’t!
9. Don’t bend the elbow past 90 degrees during dips.
When performing dips, don’t bend the elbows past 90 degrees unless your shoulder girdle and chest musculature are highly flexible.
Forcing the shoulder into a dip position with more than 90 degrees of flexion will likely cause anterior capsular laxity in the shoulder if performed repeatedly.
10. Remember the shoulder is connected to your body.
Don’t treat any part of the body as if it’s isolated from the rest. In fact, that’s why the first three tips in this list (read part one for more details) do not directly involve the shoulder at all!
The body works as a system of systems — musculoskeletal, hormonal and circulatory — with each of them composed of many smaller systems. For example, the shoulder works in concert with the opposite hip during gait, throwing and lifting, via the posterior and anterior oblique slings of the outer unit (Figures 9 and 10).
Also, it’s very important to keep the hips flexible and mobile, since any restrictions at the hip will be mirrored in the opposite shoulder over time.
And, don’t forget that the shoulder can be affected by referrals from the internal organs, thus affecting its performance. For example, consider the stomach that can be related to problems with the left or right shoulder.
A chronic stomach complaint can physiologically show up first as pain in one or both shoulders, which may cause confusion for your client who now thinks his/her exercise program is at fault.
So if you have shoulder pain or problems and have eliminated all possible causes from your exercise program and work schedule, it is worth consulting with a holistic practitioner for other causes of the pain.
Love and chi,
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