How to keep your shoulders from feeling older:
3 things to do now
Since Ponce De Leon never found that fountain of youth, there's really no way to
keep your shoulders from getting older, but there are 3 simple things you can do to
keep them from feeling older.
A sad tale of pain and dysfunction
Many of you know the sad-but-true story about how my rotator cuff was torn by a
chiropractor when I was in school. For those of you who don't, here's a recap:
When I was interviewing for my internship during chiro school, a guy we'll call
Dr. Schmidt was one of the chiropractors I went to speak with. A couple of days earlier
I had hurt my shoulder while working out. For some reason, I asked Dr. Schmidt if
there was anything he could do. I'll never forget his smug answer.
"Young man," he said, "I happen to be the Leonardo DaVinci of adjusting.
You've come to the right place." Looking back, I should have run screaming
from his office, but I was young, dumb, and still trusted my elders. He proceeded
to put my elbow on his shoulder, wrap his hands around my shoulder, and blast my arm
toward the floor.
I felt an instant, searing, fire-like sensation deep in my shoulder joint. I knew
something very bad had just happened. It was 1996. What turned out to be a grade-2
rotator cuff tear hurt non-stop until August of 2000. That's right, 4 years of shoulder
pain. In 2000, I met Dr. Mike Leahy, the Active Release® 'guru'. Miraculously,
after two treatments, the pain was gone. I could lift weights and all that stuff again.
That's why I'm an Active Release® guy, but it's not the point of this
I will always be a recovering rotator cuff victim
The point is this: even though Leahy fixed my shoulder, I still must take steps
to make sure that I don't aggravate it again. Before I share what those things are,
I want to explain what the rotator cuff is.
Basically, the rotator cuff is a group of 4 small muscles that run from the shoulder
blade to the top of your arm. (To use the anatomical terms, they run from the scapula
to the humerus.) Their jobs are to rotate the arm, support the arm, and position it
in the joint. I'm not going to get more detailed than that here. (If you want to know
more, I'd be happy to show you pictures and explain the next time you're in the office.)
Because the rotator cuff muscles are small, they are easily injured. Because
their jobs are so important, injuries to the cuff muscles are usually very painful
and annoying. Unfortunately, as we get older, it's more and more likely that
each of us will start feeling some shoulder pain. Here are three things you can do
to keep yours feeling young:
1. Stop the bouncing
Most of you who've come in with shoulder problems have felt the pain while working
out with weights, so my advice centers around that.
One of the first things that I drill into my training clients is the importance
of coming to a full stop at the top and bottom of every rep, every time.
A classic example of not doing this would be a "big guy" benching at the
When the big guy lowers his bar to his chest, he usually will "bounce"
it back up. When he "bounces" the bar, the big guy is taking advantage of
the recoil from his tendons as the bar reverses direction and goes back up. His muscles
are not doing all the work.
So, in addition to cheating his muscles of the effort, he's causing repetitive trauma
to his shoulder tendons. (If you see this guy at your gym, please give him my card.
He'll need it sooner or later.)
Anyway, when you come to a full stop at the top and bottom positions of
an exercise, you lose the tendon-injuring momentum that creates the bounce.
As this momentum drops off, you must use muscular effort to move the weight back up.
This protects your shoulders and makes your muscles work harder. Muscular effort builds
a stronger you.
So, please, come to full stops at the top and bottom of every rep, every time.
2. Find the "Zone of the Dog"
See Spot walk. See Spot run. See how Spot's front legs (his arms) always stay in
line with his shoulders? That's because the shoulder joints of both dogs and
people are more stable when the arms are lined up with the shoulders. I call
this the "Zone of the Dog" because it occurred to me while watching my dog
Homer chase a bunny. The bunny escaped unharmed.
When you're doing chest, shoulder, or back exercises, your shoulders are safer and
more stable when the weights are in line with the joint (see pictures).
Hands in line with shoulders (good)
Hands Outside the Zone of the Dog (bad)
The wider you space your hands, the more physical stress you put
on your shoulders. Most people, especially the guys, notice that they are stronger
when they "go wider". This is an illusion. When you go wider, or space your
hands outside the Zone of the Dog, you shorten the distance that you must move the
weight. This shorter distance lets you pretend that you're stronger than you really
are. It also slowly ruins your shoulders.
So, stay inside of the Zone of the Dog, and come to a full stop at the top and bottom
of every rep, every time.
3. Work the cuff
Generally, I am totally and completely against the idea of "isolating"
a muscle. To find out why, check out the up-coming Stronger-Leaner-Better-Program-In-A-Box:
A Training Manual & DVD. This is the whole Program on paper and video, ready for
you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
Anyway, the rotator cuff muscles need to be worked with as little interference from
the bigger muscles as possible. Unlike using cables or rubber tubing, this exercise
lets you do that.
When you do this, you'll be moving a light dumbbell trough 180 degrees, or making
a semi-circle. This will work both the internal and external rotators. Remember to
move very slowly, and to come to full stops at the top and bottom.
1. Starting Position
2. Middle position
3. End Position
Grab a 5-pound dumbbell (available for about 2 bucks at most sporting goods stores),
lie on the floor with your arm at 90 degrees to your body, elbow bent at 90 degrees,
and your palm facing up (See Picture 1). Keeping your arm on the ground, and elbow
at 90 degrees, roll the weight up (See Picture 2). Keep rolling. You should trace
out a semi-circle with the weight, with your hand ending in a palm-down position (See
Picture 3). Now, reverse that motion and roll all the way back to the starting position.
You'll notice as you come to the position in Picture 3 that you hit a point where
your whole shoulder will want to roll off of the floor. Stop at that point. For now,
that's your range of motion. Over time, that will improve, but don't force it. Do
this exercise at least 2 times a week. Shoot for 1-2 sets of 10-12 reps with each
arm. Remember to use light weights (3, 5, or 8 pound dumbbells are usually plenty)
and move slowly.
And remember, shoulder pain can usually be fixed quickly with Active Release®.
Coming in sooner rather than later is the key to minimizing how much it interferes
with the things you like to do. I may not be a chiropractic Leonardo DaVinci, but
I do know how annoying shoulder pain is.
Call 303-300-0424 today for your appointment.