Taking Care of Your Shoulders

Taking Care Of Your Shoulders

A Navy Chief emailed me about his recent shoulder injury. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and freak accidents can occur at the strangest of times. He writes:

"I am an avid lifter. I lift all the time and have done bodybuilding competitions, so you would think I would be pretty strong. At only thirty years old, I was closing the trunk of my car with one arm as I was walking around to the side of the car and DISLOCATED my shoulder. I read your Shoulder Workout article and noticed a few new exercises I should try. In fact, they are what my physical therapist gave me to do with rubber bands. When this heals, what is next?"

Oh yes, the shoulder dislocation. That is quite an injury to occur on such a young guy doing something as common as closing a car trunk. The bad thing about this injury is that a dislocation can occur again, but you can prevent another injury by listening to your physical therapist and doing the light weight/rubber band shoulder exercises that strengthen the shoulder girdle.

There are eight ligaments and 15 muscles that directly affect the shoulder and its movements. The shoulder being such a versatile joint can easily get injured by falling or throwing or even closing a trunk door of your car. Being a bodybuilder is a great exercise and usually means your major muscle groups are pretty strong and well-trained. However, a common error in bodybuilders and as well as other athletes like runners or cyclists is they tend neglect muscular balance. Whether that imbalance in the hamstring / thigh, abdominals/lower back, chest/upper back, hips or shoulder girdles, people who focus on major muscles groups or just cardiovascular activities can injury themselves as easily as an unconditioned person.

The shoulder muscles you should get to know well are your rotator cuff muscles. A common acronym is SITS which stands for: 

Rotator Cuff Muscles:  SITS
Subscapularis
Infraspinatus
Teres Minor
Suprasinatus

These muscles and connective tendons form the rotator cuff which can be strengthened to "tighten up" the shoulder. Those 6-8 exercises done with rubber bands or 5 lb dumbbells are highly effective in working these muscles. Heavier weight should NOT be used when exercising the SITS muscles as these are easily injured (as you know).

Here are a few shoulder tips to help you to reduce the chances of injury to the shoulder again:

Stretch Shoulders Well

Stretch shoulders well after light warm up, especially before lifting or throwing. See "The Stretching Plan" in the Military.com article archive.

Eliminate Risky Workouts From Your Routine

Eliminate behind the neck military press/ pull-downs / upright rows from your routine. These can dislocate your shoulder and place strain on the SITS muscles.  Shoulder impingement can occur when going through a full range of motion of these exercises.

Don't Lift Too Much Weight

Don't ever lift 1 rep max effort on military presses. Too much weight on your shoulders is not good. The shoulder joint can barely handle bodyweight, much less greater than bodyweight lifts overhead.

Do not Fully Hang From a Pull-up Bar

Do not fully hang from a pull-up bar unless shoulders remain tight. (No relaxed dead hang)  This causes the only muscles working other than your hand grip muscles are your SITS muscles when hanging relaxed on a pull-up bar.

There is nothing wrong with lifting heavy weights if you are into that. I used to be a power lifter myself and enjoy and heavy cycle every now and then. However, you must remember BALANCE of the core, legs, and shoulders. You do not need to replace your workout, just supplement it with a 4-5 minute shoulder routine on your upper body days.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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