Fine-Tuning Shoulder Movement During Pushing and Pulling Exercises
Today’s post gets into some details on how you can improve your shoulder health simply by performing pushing and pulling exercises correctly. Many people perform different variations of these exercises, hoping to strengthen their upper body and shoulder joints. However, if not done properly, they can actually place increased strain and risk of injury on the shoulder.
Also, I kept this one rather short because I am working on a larger series of posts that will be coming up soon discussing the topic of “Why Exercise Is Medicine.” I won’t spoil anything now, but I hope you will get a lot of value from this upcoming series. Stay tuned, and enjoy today’s post!
In this week’s post I wanted to give you a couple tips on things to watch for when performing or coaching pushing and pulling exercises.
One of the most common mistakes that I see when observing people performing any kind of pushing and pulling exercise is that they don’t do a good job of using the shoulder blade or scapula. Instead, the motion tends to all come from the upper arm or humerus, and places the shoulder under a ton of unnecessary strain.
What happens when you do this, is that you tend to forfeit good congruency of the ball in the socket, which comprises the shoulder joint. Allowing the head of the humerus (the ball) to move around without keeping good congruency with the socket it’s supposed to fit into, will place much more strain on structures in the shoulder such as the ligaments, the labrum, and the rotator cuff muscles.
Many people believe or even teach that the shoulder blade should be locked in place and held down and back while performing upper body exercises. However, this prevents proper movement of the shoulder joint, and limits mobility while simultaneously increasing injury risk to the shoulder.
Instead, you should use the muscles between your shoulder blades and spine to drive scapular retraction (i.e. pulling the shoulder blade towards the spine) during the pulling part of a row, but also allow those muscles to release and the scapula to protract (i.e. wrap forward around the rib cage) when the arm moves forward during a row.
Likewise, when doing a pushing exercise such as a push-up, scapular protraction (wrapping shoulder blades forward around the rib cage) should take place when pushing, and scapular retraction (pulling shoulder blades together towards the spine) should happen when dropping towards the floor.
This is, by the way, the reason why bench pressing tends to be a lot more demanding on shoulders and potentially dangerous. Essentially, when bench pressing, you lock the shoulder blades down on the bench and use the humerus and shoulder joint to push a bar with lots of weight on it away from your chest.
I’m not against bench pressing, and in fact it’s a great exercise to build some serious upper body strength. But you do need to be aware that it presents more of a challenge to the shoulder joint.
So, if you already have shoulder issues, or are looking to avoid them in the future, performing exercises like push-ups, cable presses, and other variations in which your shoulder blades are free to move is a good option.
Now at this point, you’ve probably heard enough from me about things like scapular protraction and retraction, and scapulohumeral rhythm (Oh I didn’t mention that yet? Well, you can google it for fun :p).
But to help you visualize these concepts more easily, here are a couple of videos from Boston based strength & conditioning coach, Eric Cressey, who specializes in training baseball players (who definitely require good shoulder health!).
While Cressey discusses the importance of good shoulder movement during the row for overhead athletes in the first video, the same remains true for anyone who doesn’t want shoulder problems.
We all need to move our arms overhead and use them to pick things up, push things, and pull things throughout our lives, so it’s important to make sure we train the shoulder properly.
Take a look at these videos, and start practicing good shoulder movement in your pushing and pulling exercises!