I was speaking with a friend of mine who fancies himself at an intermediate trainee level. The other day he mentioned that he thought he had injured his shoulder performing overhead presses with dumbbells in the attempt of enhancing his deltoids.
My suspicions began as I asked him to pull off his shirt and let me have a look at his shoulder. My suspicions to his dilemma were confirmed. Based on my friend’s posture, combined with the effort he puts into his workouts, it is apparent to me that his predisposition for an injury, could blow up at any time into something more serious. If you’re a member at a gym, you’ve seen these guys before in the grid-iron section of the gym. You know the look! A short-statured, boxer-like with the forward, rounded shoulders, and forward head, that almost gives him the appearance of a gorilla? (not as hairy??) Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!
Now, I’m not going to put my friend on display,( yes, he’s still my friend) but I will show you a picture the posture-type I’m referring to. So I explained to my friend what can happen when your shoulders are rounded forward and you’re lifting weights over your head in that rounded position. (Geek alert ON-sciency explanation coming…)
To put it simply, the shoulder joint itself (gleno-humeral joint (GH) or ball in socket joint), is placed relatively forward (more specifically turned in, or internally rotated) compared to the scapula (shoulder blade) and ear, etc. This forward position minimizes to eliminates the space that exists in what we call the “sub-acromial space” where the rotator-cuff tendons attach the head of the humerus (large arm bone).
You see, the forward shoulder position, (see image on left) is mainly caused by the tension of your tight pec-muscles both major and minor, along with a tight Lats (latissimus dorsi), and abdominals. These muscles are grouped and linked together in a fascial chain (a chain of neighboring muscles that are interconnected and support each other’s movement and forces.) They also tend to be the most overly-exercised muscles due to the fact that there the ones
Gorilla-like, forward shoulder, and forward head.
we can immediately see and identify with when we look in the mirror. The fascia (see image on right) which is like a sinewy and white endless web, that connects and allows muscles to work in harmony to produce movements in an efficient way. So, if you have high tone in your pecs, abdominals and lat muscles, these muscle are likely be shorter in length. The result is the forward, and inward migration of your GH joint (forward shoulder) which ultimately also creates a slumped-forward posture and forward head position.
So, I told Sebastien that I’ve seen his type of case many times before, and the first thing he needed to do, was to stop the lifts that were aggravating his shoulder. Next, I told him that we needed to correct his posture and the likely cause of his chronic shoulder injury.
The first order of business in correcting the forward, rounded shoulders is to correct the tone/tension in the short, tight muscles, such as the pecs, major and minor, and lats muscles. Even if you don’t work out and lift weights over your head, you can still benefit from correcting your shoulder position and overall posture to remove your potential for a shoulder injury. See the video below to learn how to properly stretch your pec muscles.
This next video will demonstrate how to effectively stretch out the pecs, along with the associated fascia chains of the arms, helping you to reduce overall tension. This stretch is called the Doorway stretch and gets you to stretch both shoulders at the same time. It is quite effective. View the picture, but please refer to the video to gain the proper instruction on executing this stretch.
For those who can’t seem to stand up straight, or perform a lot of crunches, or sit-ups from the floor, this video demonstrates an effective stretch on the stability ball to effectively elongate the abs (rectus abdominus, and portions of the obliques to also facilitate better breathing patterns which can hindered by a depressed rib cage and front superficial chain (see image above)
The next drill hat I use to help rehabilitate the forward, rounded shoulders are what we call “Wall or Floor slides”. The floor slides are the easier variation, so you may want to start there. Sorry, I don’t have videos for these stretches, but they are simple enough to do.
Wall Slides: Floor Slides
Floor slides: Lie on your back, knees bent at 90 degrees, place your arms and shoulders in a W-formation. Keep all of your upper-body and extremities connected to the floor. Next, while maintaining this floor connection, press your arms over head, reaching as far as you can maintain contact with the floor, or before your lower back arches. See the photos for further clarification.
Once you have sufficiently mastered the Floor variation with little effort, you can then progress to the Wall Slide, which is more challenging.
Wall slides: you stand with your back up against the wall. Make sure you connect your butt, upper back, and your arms and shoulders.
As in both variations, pretend as if you are “sanding the hair off of your forearms” as you slide your arms along the surface of the floor or wall. Assume the same W-formation as in the floor version, and press your arms overhead while maintaining contact with the wall. Be sure to not allow your lower back to arch excessively while you press your arms over head. Stop the pressing action if this happens, or maintain a strong pelvic tilt to reverse your back from arching. Don’t be too concerned if you lose contact with the wall or floor with your arms as you proceed through the range of motion. As you progress through these stretches over a month or two, you will observe your ability to manage better contact against floor or wall with the arms as the arms elevate up over head and down at your side. Perseverance will prevail here!!
Based on my clinical observations, patients/client perform better with a more balanced shoulder position,once they are achieving even to 85% of the floor and wall slide drills. These drills are part of the fundamental preparation to allow a client perform what we call a “shoulder set”. The shoulder set recruits the scapular muscles, namely the middle and lower traperzius muscles that assist the scapular to tilt posteriorly. Once this posterior tilt can be achieved consistently, we then can start adding load to the drills by low increments. (2.5lbs, 5 lbs, 6 and 7lbs).
At this point, adding the weights further recruits the necessary stabilizers of the scapular and rotator cuff musculature in order to create an “optimal loading position” (OLP) for the shoulder.(GH joint) This OLP optimizes the space under the clavicle, (sub-acromial space) where nerves, rotator cuff tendons, and blood vessels pass through into the upper extremities. The sub-acromial space and under the clavicle are areas of the shoulder where shoulder impingements occur. The process of correcting short and tight postural muscles, to arrive at achieving the OLP for the shoulder, is addressing the cause and effect of many shoulder injuries. This destination for the shoulder must look and feel symmetrical and balanced for the client. Below is an active drill for the scapular muscles to place the shoulder in a OLP, for example, shoulder presses.
For the best results in correcting your posture……
Perform the stretches daily, and hold the stretches 4 x 30 seconds, alternating sides. Then, you can attempt at using the shoulder set by placing your shoulder blades, in a “down and in” position as illustrated in the image above. The shoulder set should start to feel easier to perform and you persist with your stretching.
In our next sequel post, will demonstrate using the shoulder set with a more active range of motion and elevation of the shoulder. Stay tuned!!!
If you have any further questions about the content in this post or want to get more specific with your posture or shoulder condition, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in health and fitness,