Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Infamous Shoulder Joint

While it may be a fact that the most common injury is the sprained ankle, I firmly believe that torn and otherwise tortured rotator cuffs check in at a close second. I have at least three clients and two people in my Circuit Sculpt class, and I have done countless orientations for people with some type of bum shoulder syndrome. (And no, "bum shoulder syndrome" is not a scientific term but I like it anyway.) Keep in mind that our shoulder joints give us the ability to move our arms here, there and everywhere which ultimately means they are our most flexible joints. Unfortunately, that also means they are extremely susceptible to injury.

At right is a basic lesson in shoulder joint anatomy. Really long words aside, know that it's the point at which your biceps and humerus (upper arm bone) meet up with your scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle (collar bone). Keeping them together as one joint—a system of ligaments, tendons and rotator cuff muscles. S.I.T.S muscles, to be specific. Subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus (pictured). (I rocked that extra credit test question every single time!) And on top of those muscles? The deltoids, otherwise known as the muscles we train the most when it comes to shoulder strength and conditioning. But we tend to forget about our rotator cuff muscles (I can repeat them if you want) because they're generally not that visible to the naked eye. And we also may or may not realize that our chest, back and arm muscles play into our shoulder strength.

So with all of those parts and pieces working together to move our arms every which way, you can imagine why the shoulder joint is so susceptible to injury. Things can get pinched, torn or just generally overused. Or something traumatic might happen to that specific area of our body. These things do happen and they're not fun, which is why it's a good idea to devote some time to your shoulders when you strength train. Specifically speaking, your rotator cuff muscles.

Try this: Grab a set of dumbbells, one in each hand. Bend your arms to 90 degrees, palms facing each other. Rotate the weights out to your side as if you were opening a jacket, taking care to keep your elbows and the upper part of your arms tight to your side. Return to start and repeat until you've completed your desired number of repetitions. (Note that this can also be done with a cable machine or an elastic band. You'll just have to do one arm at a time.)

Don't try this: upright rows, behind-the-neck pull-downs, over-head presses, dropping your elbows below your chest in a dumbbell bench fly or press, or raising your arms higher than 90 degrees in a shoulder abduction. All of which can put some major strain on your shoulder joints.

And always, always stretch your shoulders before and after you strength train to keep them as flexible as possible. Pull each arm across your chest. Hold on to each side of a door opening and gently lean forward. Just Google "shoulder stretches" and you'll find hundreds of options.

Hopefully you don't, but if at any point you begin to experience any type of shoulder pain...if it persists longer than a normal sore muscle would persist...I advise you to seek the help of a professional. Once again, your shoulder joint is widely used so you'll want to keep it as healthy as possible.

Question: What is your favorite shoulder exercise? Do you currently work your rotator cuff muscles as frequently as you do your delts? Or is that something you need to work on?


Unknown said...

I've always heard you shouldn't static stretch muscles before working out, unless you've warmed up first. In this post you said stretch before and after. What's your take?

TARA said...

Active stretching before, static stretching after. Active stretching is nothing more than moving around, which increases the flow of blood to your muscles. So in the case of the infamous shoulder joint, arm circles and shoulder shrugs would be examples of appropriate forms of stretching. Perhaps I should have been more specific in that part of my post.

Unknown said...

Awesome! Thanks. And tonight in Cardio Sculpt I was thinking a lot about you because we were doing lots of shoulder work, including some moves you mentioned in this post. :)

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