ESPN Radio interviews Movement Guides C0-Founder and strength coach for 3 time Olympic Gold medalist Kristin Armstrong
The Shoulder Rules
The shoulder girdle. It’s complicated: 3 true joints, 1 muscular joint, little inherent stability, much inherent mobility all mixed together with over one billion (I counted) exercises. A perfect storm is the result leading to pain, injury, confusion and frustration for a whole bunch of people who just want to train, work out perform better.
If you have current shoulder issues, want to prevent future problems or break through a training plateau, I want to lay out two simple concepts that can help you out as you move forward with strength training. The concepts are simple, but the execution is not. I treat some extremely fit and athletic people and most of them struggle with one or both of these rules.
FYI: shoulder blade = scapula
THE SHOULDER RULES:
Now let’s dig in deep to each rule.
In the sports medicine and strength and conditioning worlds, this scapular position is often called the “set” position. The idea here is that we need to place the shoulder in an optimal position so that we don’t put too much stress on any one part of the shoulder and that our muscles and joints are in the optimal place to perform. What typically happens with inexperience, mobility issues or poor control is that as the elbows move towards the body (i.e. top of the pull up or bottom of the push up) the shoulder blades tip forward as well as up towards the ears putting a great amount of stress and strain on the front and top of the shoulder. This is bad.
Picture yourself at the bottom of your push-up position; your shoulders should be pulled back away from the ground and also down away from your ears. This is good. Same goes with the pull up. As you near the top of your pull up, the elbows are coming towards your side, so your shoulder blades need to be pulled back and down. Get it?
1. This can help avoid the onset of or decrease shoulder pain. There is not a lot of space between the ball and socket shoulder joint and the hard protective shelf above it, called your acromion process. By externally rotating your shoulder during overhead movements, you maintain more space between these structures which decreases the pinching of the soft tissues in this space. That pinching is often called “impingement” and can be the cause of that all too common, non-traumatic shoulder pain.
2. This creates a more stable shoulder. The external rotation will take out the slack of the connective tissue at the joint capsule increasing the static stability. The external rotation of the humerus (long bone of the arm) also facilitates an improved socket position by aiding in upward rotation of the scapula (shoulder blade). This also improves stability by creating boney shelf for the ball of the socket to rest on when pressing or sustaining loads above shoulder height.
This concept is much easier to learn and apply when dealing with “open chain” exercises. These exercises allow your hands to move freely and independently so the applied rotational force will cause rotation of the shoulders and of your hands which is easier to see and feel. For instance, a vertical press with dumbbells will be easier than with the barbell.
These shoulder rules sound pretty easy to follow. However, they are often very challenging if you lack mobility, control or if you throw fatigue and heavy loads into the picture. You can probably think of a movement or exercise that this may not apply to, but for most strength and body weight movements these two rules will keep you safe, help break through plateaus and likely decrease pain. Remember, retooling a movement may result in a temporary decrease in performance but in the long run performing movements the right way will always get you closer to your genetic potential.
I want to introduce you Jedidiah Snelson. I've only known him for a short period of time, but he's already been an encouragement to me. Two years ago, his love for motocross changed his life. A nasty crash left him with an array of injuries at both his upper and lower extremities, but most detrimental was an incomplete spinal cord injury at T12 (lowest segment of the mid-back). As a result, he's been adjusting to continuing life in a wheelchair for the last two years. Let me tell you though, it hasn't slowed him down.
He's actively involved at Snake River CrossFit in Nampa, Idaho on a regular basis. Whether it's working on his strength or mobility he's credited the CrossFit community in playing a part of maintaining a high level of function after his injury. "Aside from giving me an outlet to satisfy my thirst to compete, CrossFit is the most functional training out there that has improved my ability for increased independence. Simply put, functioning in a wheel chair can be awkward. The adaptation of CrossFit is strengthening under awkward movements which directly reflects being able to function at a higher level with increased strength," Snelson said. His dedication recently landed him a spot at the CrossFit World Championships for adaptive athletes in which he placed second overall. Here's a video from the championships below.
As a result of having to use his upper extremities as the primary source of his transportation, his shoulders take on a significant amount of stress getting from point A to point B. Add CrossFit workouts to this and Snelson mentioned that his pecs, upper traps, lats, serratus, and his deltoid muscles are areas that take the most punishment. He understands the importance of mobility and maintaining adequate range of motion at his shoulders. "Spending most of my day in a sitting position it’s hard not to slouch and hunch forward, this causes my muscles to tighten and with the constant use of my upper body it can put a strain on things. By mobilizing and keeping things loose, my body is much more efficient and less uncomfortable," Snelson said.
Recovering hard is just as important as training hard and Jedidiah dedicates quality time to recovery to get the most out of his training sessions. "I spend quite a bit of time mobilizing, 10-15 minutes after each workout stretching and mobilizing key areas that were worked that day. I also get a 75 minute massage weekly and spend two days a week doing a full mobility session for an hour to an hour and a half," he said.
The challenge Jedidiah and other adaptive athletes have is getting down on the floor or up against a wall to effectively foam roll or use a lacrosse ball to decrease soft tissue tension. Over the last year and a half in working with Movement Guides, Inc., we've designed the T-Dot Mobility System with this in mind. I have a desire to provide adaptive athletes with more independence and they shouldn't have to be limited in the type of mobility work they can do. Even more independence is provided with the newly released Mobile T-Dot Mobility System allowing the athlete to take the device with them wherever they go. It also gives them clearance from a squat rack to provide enough room to position their chair and incorporate movement to assist in reducing soft tissue tension.
Jedidiah loosening up his upper traps with the Mobile T-Dot Mobility System
Decreasing tension at the pecs can assist in improving posture and movement
Jedidiah's feedback on our newest product was great. He's not slowing down due to his injury and his mobility work shouldn't have to either. I look forward to providing the T-Dot Mobility System to many other adaptive athletes to assist them in being at their best each day.
“The T-Dot is a great tool that allows for optimization of my mobility program. It allows me to do more detailed work with greater independence. The size of the system allows me to carry it with ease from home to gym and from competition to competition. It also allows me to do a greater amount of mobility and tight muscle release from my wheel chair and on my own. Consistency to mobility is the key, and with the universal use of the T-Dot, it allows me to be more consistent with my mobility.”
Check out the video below as Jedidiah goes through some example mobility exercises on the newly released Mobile T-Dot Mobility System.
For more information on the T-Dot Mobility System, please visit www.movementguides.com.
For more on Jedidiah, follow him on Instagram or Twitter.
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