It’s pretty obvious why taking care of your shoulders when you train is important. It is one of the most injured joint in the body, or at least one of the joints people often have some kind of issue with. Let’s face it, who many people you know that play sports (especially baseball, tennis and basketball) or have been training consistently for a couple of years that has never had some sort of shoulder pain?
There is a more than just a couple of things you can do to help prevent shoulder injuries. Scapular stability, thoracic spine mobility, soft-tissue work on key muscles, gleno-humeral range of motion and rotator cuff strength are just a couple of examples of what needs to be adressed for optimal shoulder performance.
Let’s take a closer look at the last one: rotator cuff strength. What’s the rotator cuff exactly? It’s a group of 4 muscles that include the infraspinatus, the supraspinatus, the teres minor and the subscapularis.
I’ve outlined in a post on Endeavor’s blog a couple of months ago that there is more than one way to train the rotator cuff, other than doing endless reps of external rotation. If you haven’t read it, you check it out HERE. Another problem we encounter when doing tons of external rotations is that we leave out a big player: the subscapularis. The subscapularis is the only one of the rotator cuff muscles to perform internal rotation. That can cause a problem since the other 2 major muscles that create internal rotation at the humerus are not part of rotator cuff; these 2 muscles being the pec major and the latissimus dorsi. Here is why that is a problem:
If you take a closer look at the insertions of these 2 muscles, you’ll see that they do not attach directly on the humeral head, but rather a little lower on the humerus. So what happens at the gleno-humeral joint if the subscapularis doesn’t have appropriate strength when internal rotation happens at the shoulder? The pec major and latissimus dorsi are going to do all the work, and since they don’t attach directly on the humeral head, they can’t stabilize it. As you’ve probably figured out by now, internal rotation plus unstable humeral head equals not very good.
The best way to train the subscapularis is when the humerus is abducted 90 degrees; that way, there are less chances that the pec major or lat will take over.
Here is one of my favorite ways to strengthen the rotator cuff:
As you lay on your back on the ground your elbow is going to be stabilized more easily and that way you’re going to make sure you don’t compensate with other muscles. You want to make sure that your arm and your elbow are both at a 90 degrees angle and that your shoulder is pulled back against the ground the whole time.
Try to always include subscapularis work in your programs for optimal shoulder health and performance, especially for athletes in sports where the shoulders take a beating like baseball, tennis, basketball, hockey and football just to name a few.