Secrets of Shoulder Success Part Two: Secrets of Training

As discussed in Part 1 the shoulder complex is designed to allow both force generation and force transmission from the legs, hips and trunk. It can only perform these vital functions if adequate mobility and stability are maintained. To quickly evaluate the mobility throughout your shoulder complex, simply try to touch your hands behind your back with one elbow pointing up and the other elbow pointing down. Can you get anywhere close to touching? Do you notice a difference between the two sides? This motion requires full range of motion in the gleno-humeral joints, the scapulas and the thoracic spine and failing to touch or nearly touch the hands behind your back can indicate immobility at one or several of these joints. Re-gaining adequate mobility requires much more than static stretching because the underlying issue may not be the structural length of the tissues but rather the coordination between the brain, spinal reflexes, muscles and proprioceptors. To account for these variable explanations, a successful mobility routine must incorporate several modalities such as self myofascial release (SMR), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (PNF) and dynamic stretching. SMR includes massage-like activities such as foam rolling and increases mobility by relaxing fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscle bellies. PNF is a general type of stretching that involves a pattern of contraction and relaxation, for example stretching a muscle, contracting that muscle against a force and then relaxing to stretch the muscle more. Performing PNF at the beginning of an exercise session provides dramatic transient improvement in range of motion which allows improved mobility for the remainder of the session. Dynamic stretching includes anything that gives the shoulder an opportunity to explore a maximally large range of motion (ROM) at variable speeds and provides practice at incorporating the shoulder into whole body movements.

After acceptable mobility has been established, the ability to maintain a position within this ROM must be developed. Stability is not as dependent on strength as much as coordination; your neuromuscular system must work in harmony to quickly react to a perturbation. Training stabilizer muscles, such as the rotator cuff, for strength (with exercises such as rotator cuff rotations) does not train these muscles for stability and can even contribute to a dysfunctional, unstable shoulder complex. Instead stability exercises should challenge the shoulder to maintain position before, during and after a movement. Exercises such as a one arm bench press, reverse rows from a bar and even pushups can be used to evaluate and develop shoulder stability. The key to stability exercises is that they provide a stimulus-rich environment to teach the body what position is stable and how to maintain this position. Whatever exercises are being used, proper feedback is critical to avoid development of faulty motor patterns and ensure stability.

Both mobility and stability depend on the neuromuscular system to function properly. Several methods can be used to increase mobility and stability but it is imperative that any exercises designed to improve these traits provide an opportunity for the body to learn about moving through a complete ROM and maintaining a stable position. Because the neuromuscular system controls these traits, a chronic adaptation can be made within just 2-4 weeks. Adequate mobility and stability provide a safe and efficient platform from which to develop strength and then power. Mobility and stability in the shoulder are key to pain free, efficient movement and improved performance in racquet sports, golf and daily activities. There is no better investment for your shoulder function than to spend 2-4 weeks developing the mobility and stability you need to thrive! To learn more about shoulder and see if your shoulder mobility and stability are adequate, contact Personal Fitness Trainer Hunter Spencer.

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