Our mission at Driven is to elevate the standard for how we approach training so that we put ourselves in the best position possible to achieve our goals and reach our potential.
Because of our mission we are often the ones who hear about training experiences gone wrong. We see and hear from so many athletes and adults who have consistently been pounding away at exercises without making progress or getting themselves hurt in the process. We hear of velocity programs that hurt athletes elbows or shoulders, we talk to athletes who live or die by band exercises so that their throwing improves or that it’s the secret sauce to a strong upper body and we have trained hundreds of athletes and adults who have never been educated on proper movement function of the different joints in the body.
Because of that this article is going to BEGIN to dissect the shoulder so that it is understandable for the average mom, dad, athlete or coach. The purpose of this article is to create an “aha” moment so that individuals apply smarter and more purposeful training principles.
The shoulder is a multi-directional joint in the body that can get beat up pretty quickly and easily if we do not respect and understand the mechanics governing its movement. With traditional knowledge being that we just need to do band drills and lateral raises, to keep it healthy and functioning there is a lot of room for growth when it comes to proper training.
When we talk about the shoulder joint it is actually multiple joints that work together smoothly and effectively. To keep things simple for this article we will focus on two joints of the shoulder.
Two Joints Of the Shoulder
The first is the gleno-humeral joint. This is the ball and socket that we are familiar with and that we normally think of when we think of the shoulder. The key aspect is to appreciate that the humeral head (arm-bone) sits very shallow in the glenoid (shoulder socket). With this positioning the joint itself must be trained to be very stable so as to not abuse the range of motion that is given to us by the positioning.
The second joint is the scapular-thoracic joint. The scapula is the shoulder blade that literally sits (floating) on the thoracic spine. The key to this joint is to understand how the scapula sits at rest and then if the scapula properly rotates as the arm moves.
The Rotator Cuff
Understanding the role and function of the rotator cuff muscles is very important to keeping the shoulder joint healthy. The rotator cuff is four muscles that can externally and internally rotate the gleno-humeral joint (ball-and-socket). Most people can visualize band drills where athletes and adults who were told they need a stronger rotator cuff. However, what gets lost in typical training environments is that the key function of the rotator cuff is to stabilize the GH joint as it goes through motion. Think of marbles in a jar where the rotator cuff keeps the marbles from rattling around inside the jar (joint).
Unfortunately what we see with athletes and adults who are trying to optimize performance, fitness and health is the constant barrage of exercises that do not have the impact that people think they do. The reason for this is that the exercises burn so they assume that it is working and making the shoulder a stronger and healthier joint. Instead, we actually get over-compensation and poor movement.
The Shoulder Blade
A large percentage of the population sits with a depressed and rounded shoulder and so doing constant rotator cuff band exercises is just trying to strengthen a muscle group that is not properly positioned in the first place. Instead of these exercises you need to focus on getting the scapular to upwardly rotate which positions the entire joint in a more optimal position while going through a functional range of motion.
It does not matter if you are a baseball, softball player or a weekend warrior who wants to stay in great shape the foundational principles of shoulder health and training need to be applied.
- Make sure that your static posture is aligned and you do not present with excessive low-back arching or rib flare.
- Based on how your scapula and shoulder present statically is how you must attack your training and health approach to keeping it healthy
- Only after a proper assessment can one determine the course of action for maintaining shoulder healthy or optimizing the joint for performance
We see and hear of too many people close to us who have been poorly training the shoulder and wonder why they are having pain, discomfort or have not achieved significant improvement.
I encourage you to think about the shoulder joint and if you are actually training it the proper way. Just like any other joint in the body it is sensitive to poor movement, it has a lot of demand placed on it and athletes and adults just plow through it with exercises.
My recommendation is that in order to maximize the joint you must first understand it. If not you are potentially doing more harm than good in long-term health and performance.