Are You Leaking Part III

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

In Part I and Part II of this series I informed you about energy leaks, how they can lead to decreased performance and how, when they are neglected, will often lead to injuries that could have been prevented through proper training. If you haven’t read Part I and Part II, I suggest you do so before continuing with Part III.

 

From Part I to Part II the focus moved up the kinetic chain from the hip to the core, and in this piece I am going to travel a bit further north and discuss the thoracic, scapular and humeral region (upper back, shoulder blade and shoulder, which I will refer to as the thoracoscapulohumeral region).

Like the hip and core, the thoracoscapulohumeral region is a “junction” that requires an adequate amount of stability in order to efficiently transfer energy from one point to another. While many would have you believe that it is the lack of mobility at the shoulder that limits performance and increases your chances for potential shoulder/elbow injuries (sometimes it definitely is), it is more often the lack of stability at the thoracoscapular junction (upper back and shoulder blade)  that causes improper movement and the resulting symptoms at the shoulder and elbow.

The scapula (shoulder blade) is a zone of attachment for nearly 20 muscles, all of which have influence on the movement that takes place within the region.

 

With so many muscles influencing the movement (both stability and mobility), it is no wonder that there is a high instance for improper movement. Commonly, the scapula is not positioned or moving correctly, and therefore the rotator cuff and other muscles that control movement at the shoulder cannot adequately function.

With an unstable and “leaking” thoracoscapula junction, energy is lost and proper position, function and movement of the shoulder is compromised. If repeated with improper training and sport movement, the shoulder and elbow often fall victim of high forces that cause inefficient and painful movement.

You can think of the scapula as being the platform or base for proper movement and energy transfer through the shoulder and elbow. If the platform is not stabilized, the base for proper movement will be inadequate and energy will be lost and placed on the wrong structures leading to poor performance and overuse injuries. A fair depiction that will help you better understand this scenario is to imagine shooting a cannon from a rowboat (think throwing a baseball or football, serving in tennis, swinging a golf club, etc  with an unstable scapula for example)…it works a lot better from a battleship (stable scapula).

 

VS

I’LL TAKE THE BATTLESHIP PLEASE

The energy that is traveling through the scapula and shoulder, and down the arm has to go somewhere (according to the laws of conservation of energy).  If it is not able to travel the path that is most efficient, optimal performance is compromised and injury potential is increased as the energy and movement takes place at the wrong “spot.” The “wrong spot” often occurs at the shoulder (ball and socket) and elbow instead of making it all the way to the end of the chain (hand).

This will cause unwanted stress at the shoulder and/or elbow. When accumulated through repeated movement (improper training and/or sports), the unwanted stress will result in pain and injury…again resulting in decreased performance and a hiatus from sport / exercise / physical activities…pretty much life sucks!

So in order to prevent this from happening, we must first address the stability at the scapula in order to allow proper movement and energy transfer through the thoracoscapulohumeral region. When performed CORRECTLY, the following exercises are a good start to promote stability and proper movement, and help to minimize the unwanted energy leaks.

 

WALL SLIDE: Be sure to keep the core tight as you slide your forearms up the wall and get the shoulder blade as high towards the ears as possible at the top of the movement.

 

STABILITY BALL Y: Keep the core tight and focus on bringing the shoulder blades together to initiate the movement.

 

CABLE / BAND ROW: Like the SB Retraction, focus on initiating the movement with the shoulder blades coming together and focus on finishing with the elbow in line with the body and shoulder back…always keeping the core engaged.

While these exercises are great for promoting stability and proper movement at the thoracoscapulohumeral region for a majority of people, the most optimal training program will be one that is individualized. If you skip these steps and go straight to the “rotator cuff strengthening” as many programs do, you will only be reinforcing poor movement patterns that lead to decreased performance and injury.

When the information from Part I, Part II and Part III of this series is appropriately applied within a training program, significant performance gains (movement efficiency, strength, power, muscle size, etc) will be achieved and injury potential will be reduced.

In the fourth and final installment I will bring all of the information together and share with you the results of a performance program that incorporated these principles and helped an athlete achieve a pain free and high performing body…and 15 extra pounds of lean muscle in two months!…stay tuned.

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