In the case of shoulder pain and dysfunction, the lower trapezius and serrates anterior are often implicated as part of the problem. Research has shown that these two muscles often fatigue and don’t contribute equally to the force couple between them and the upper trapezius that facilitates upward rotation of the scapula.
Building scapular stabilization and dynamic stability is a must for those doing repetitive overhead activities such as throwing, swimming, serving, or work-related tasks. It is a given that asymmetries will exist, so optimizing the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers is paramount to prevent injury and recover from overuse syndromes.
To strengthen the lower trapezius, one of my ‘go to’ exercises is the lower trap raise. It can be done with just the weight of your arms or using light dumbbells. The link below includes the full description for the exercise, and I also embedded the video below.
In the next column, I will include a serratus anterior exercise using a kettle bell as a follow-up to this post.
I work with a lot of baseball players in my clinic. In many cases, I see similar issues and recurring problems in them, especially pitchers. Some of these issues include:
I integrate routine mobility exercises for my throwers, as well as other overhead athletes (tennis, swimming, volleyball, etc) to better prepare them for training and their sport, as well as prevent poor mechanics and compensatory motion that may lead to aberrant stress on the rotator cuff and labrum.
The following video reveals five of my preferred exercises using a foam roller to improve thoracic spine mobility, decrease latissimus tightness, and stretch the pec major/minor while facilitating lower trapezius activation.
In order you will see:
I advise performing 5-10 repetitions of each prior to training and sport. These will help improve performance, optimize overhead mechanics and reduce injury risk associated with overhead sports.
Lately, I have been working with an elite swimmer hoping to make it to the 2012 Olympics in London. It has been blast training her since she is so fit, driven and willing to embrace training with a smile each session. I mean seriously, how many 16 year olds do you know that swim 5 hours per day, go to school, and train with someone like me 3x/week?
While I utilize many common exercises in her program, I definitely pepper in several ones aimed at maximizing core and shoulder strength/stability. One of the exercises I use from time to time with her is a shoulder glide exercise. I thought I would share this little gem today.
This is NOT an exercise I recommend for people with shoulder impingement, recurrent instability, poor shoulder mobility or those lacking a high level of fitness to begin with. In other words, this is no sissy exercise and it can be dangerous if used improperly.
To start with, I had my swimmer do it with both hands. Once she demonstrated the right form with ease, we progressed to this version in the video below:
So, if you are looking for a great way to challenge and improve shoulder and core strength, this is one to add to your arsenal. Be wary of gliding out too fast as this is a sign your upper body and/or core is not strong enough to decelerate the motion effectively. The pull back motion is a great way to strengthen the lats and swimming muscles as well, all the while exposing and resolving any single sided deficiencies.