Have you ever injured your shoulder from working out? ? Do you know someone who has? Chances are the answer is yes to one of those questions. This is because there are mysteries about the shoulder that the average weightlifter doesn’t know about. You see, the shoulder is the most unstable joint in the body. For this reason there are many muscles, ligaments, and other structures working together to keep the joint in its socket. If these structures aren’t all on the same page, injury ensues.
Stop doing shrugs! Unless you an Olympic weightlifter or an aspiring bodybuilder, I would stay away from shrugs as they may lead to injury. As I mentioned earlier, stability based structures in your shoulder must work together in order to prevent shoulder pathology. I will go into more detail now so bare with me. When you lift up your arm, your scapula upwardly rotates (the shoulder and the scapula are one complex). There are 3 muscles responsible for upward rotation, they are the upper and lower traps, and serratus anterior. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus only on the upper and lower traps. The job of both muscles is of course to upwardly rotate the scapula as the arm comes up, with the difference being that the upper trap simultaneously pulls the scapula up while the lower trap simultaneous pulls the scapula down. So, what would do you think would happen if you had really strong upper traps and really weak lower traps? Well, we actually see it all the time as it is quite common and is the primary reason for the plethora of shoulder injuries now seen in the gym. Your upper traps would pull the scapula nice and high, while the lower trap would be too weak to counteract that force. The result is an elevated scapula, which then leads to an elevated shoulder, which then leads to rotator cuff impingement, which then leads to rotator cuff tears and even labral tears.
It should now make sense why it is important to scale back on the upper traps and focus on the lower traps. There are many exercises we do in the gym that build our upper traps, shrugs don’t have to be one of them. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone work on their lower traps in the gym.
Here is my favorite lower trap exercise that is also a great postural exercise and great for anyone who has a desk job. Get into anatomical position. While maintaining this position, hold either a pair of thera-bands or light cables. Pull the bands or cables down to your side, maintaining anatomical position. Your arms should be at your side, your chin should be slightly tucked and back, and you should be standing nice and upright. The key for this exercise is to draw your shoulders and scapula down, as if you’re trying to push them into the floor (this is what will activate the lower traps which tend to lay dormant in many people), all while maintaining perfect posture. Choose a weight or band color that you can comfortably hold with good posture for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. This is a GREAT exercise that is beneficial in many ways, try it! Thanks for reading and good luck on your journey for healthier shoulders!
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