The shoulders play a key role in many basic day-to-day activities, which is why it is imperative that trainers do their part to keep clients strong and free of injury. Physiotherapist and Director at Active Anatomy, Merrin Martin, explains that tight muscles that pull the humeral head too far forward in its socket, (glenohumeral joint), are the cause of the most common shoulder injuries. “If trainers understood the role muscles play in pulling the humeral head into a more central position, or down and back into the socket, a lot of the overuse injuries that happen within the shoulder joint could be avoided.” A lack of thoracic flexibility is a common issue that is exacerbated by poor technique.
The average individual spends a large portion of their day performing forward focused activities that load the shoulder, such as sitting at a desk or driving a car, all of which produce changes in standing posture and balance in the shoulder complex. Along with daily activities, there are a number of training scenarios that exacerbate this imbalance. When working the shoulders, people often only focus on the chest (through push up, plank and bench press type exercises) and back (often through lat pull downs). Martin explains that because these are both very big global muscles, having them as your primary focus can internally rotate the shoulder.
To prevent this scenario from happening, Martin says trainers should instruct their clients to stretch the chest and latissimus dorsi muscles, which are the strong shoulder internal rotator muscles, making sure there is adequate mobility in both areas. To counteract this pull into internal rotation, it is essential to strengthen the external shoulder rotator muscles (rotator cuff). It is recommended that trainers follow the 3:2 ratio, where there are three back/pull exercises to every two chest/push exercises.
Another overused muscle in the shoulder girdle that becomes tight is the upper trapezius muscle. Too often when people are using their arms they recruit their upper trapezius causing a hitching movement of the shoulder girdle and scapula. Again, to counteract this upward pull and achieve a well-rounded shoulder workout, lower trapezius exercises should be included.
Achieving a well-rounded shoulder workout doesn’t mean focusing on the shoulders alone. Along with rotator cuff and lower trapezius strengthening exercises, Martin recommends that trainers focus on scapula stability and serratus anterior strengthening, upper body posture, thoracic spine mobility, core activation, monitoring the position of their clients shoulders at all times.
You can read the full article in our Spring eJournal.