Bulletproof Your Shoulders for Combat Sports (and Life)

Your neck hurts, your shoulders are tight. Maybe you had one of those "rotator cuff tears" years ago. You try to massage the sore spots, maybe throw around some dumbbells and do some shoulder exercises here and there. You find a popular rotator cuff exercise and do it.

No relief?

That's because you may be treating the wrong area. If your issue is scapular stabilization: it's all in the back. Specifically, the area and muscles around the scapula. 

As a "scapular sufferer" of many years myself, the following workout and video came from years of picking up little tricks from trainers, athletes, fighters, instructors and physical therapists.  What you see is a weekly little routine of mine to stay flexible, strong and healthy.
 

What's In A Scapula

The scapula refers to your shoulder blades, essentially. It's connect to the humerus (upper arm) with the clavicle.  In Latin medical terminology, it's referred to as "omo." (Probably where the word "omoplata" comes from, too.)

If you bust out an anatomy book or are familiar with anatomy yourself, it probably just clicked as why your scapula is involved with your shoulder pain: it's directly connected to it all.

Most importantly though (read carefully long-term shoulder injury sufferers): the rotator cuff muscles are indeed involved in scapular issues, but most of the time, they're only relevant in issues of internal and external rotation of the humerus/arm. Pictured above are the muscles responsible for scapular stabilization: the trapezius, serratus anterior, levator scapula, and rhomboid muscles. These are the muscles, if weak, cause you day-to-day issues because they physically cannot complete the job of maintaining your posture.

When the scapula can't be in a nice relaxed position, or better yet, in a nice state of retraction during movement, you begin to take on the T-Rex or Velociraptor pose. If your shoulder blades were wings, and you wanted to open them, you wouldn't stay hunched-over in those dinosaur poses, you'd be puffed up, chest out, shoulders back and proudly opening those suckers. 

This is how you want to think of your posture. If you're a forward head sufferer, internally rotated shoulder sufferer, are a boxer or kick boxer, or play a lot of butterfly and open guard in jiu jitsu/combat sports, you need this program.

Perhaps even more importantly, if you're a runner, you need a strong, stable upper back. You are physically unable to run with proper form without it. Ever have lower neck pain after or during running? My money is on this as the culprit. 

Let's talk solutions (I could talk science and anatomy all day, but most of you don't care/need that).


The Program

I've written out what you'll find in the video below for your quick reference, though I recommend watching for proper form demonstration.

Warm Up:

  • Indian Club Shoulder Rotation (straight arm) -
    • 3 x 12
      • If you do not have Indian Clubs, you can easily get them these days and they are well worth the investment for the constant shoulder-pain sufferer. HOWEVER, 2.5 dumbbells can be used for similar effect, but it's not the same asymmetrical weight distribution which really causes the deep stretch and work.

Workout:

  • Kettlebell Arm Bars
    • 3x/side, 30 second holds minimum
  • "Scapular" Push-Ups 
    • 3 x 10 
  • "Scapular" Pull-Up 
    • 4 x 10
  • Deadlift
    • 3 x 10 to start*, light weight (~70% 1RM)
      • When using a main/major lift in a corrective manner, you're going for stability, not 1RM record setting days.  Let's be honest, your "record setting form" is shitty. Here, we're trying reinforce the positive attributes of proper deadlift form: retracted scapula, strong and stable trapezius muscles all stabilizing the load.  Aim for that. Secondly, we're after good, strong postural endurance. We have a higher rep scheme to test the integrity of your postural endurance. Start slow.

All of these exercises are demonstrated in the video above. You can also easily add this sequence to existing strength programs up to 3-4 times per week.


Say good bye to omoplata-like pain while you're laying on the couch and let me know how these exercises are helping you.

Finally, I'll close by saying I recommend following my Instagram and Facebook page, as I give daily updates on performance enhancing tips through simple, achievable measures. I'll always blog (I have the heart of a writer), but if you want more "constant attention," you'll find it there.

Take care.