The Shoulder Pack
The shoulder is and always will be a hot topic in the gym as pursuing flawless shoulder function can be a full time job in itself. Repetitive stress, lifting habits, lifestyle habits, and the wear and tear of the daily routine can all impair shoulder performance. It can be something that causes pain and discomfort, or it can be a limiting factor in a person's true performance potential. The finger often gets pointed to the tight and weak factor associated with the chest and mid back. Common solutions often include shoulder mobility and stability work as well as a greater emphasis on training the posterior chain. While this approach has validity, restoring long term function often requires an element of re-wiring the movement behavior of exercises meant to build the mid and upper back.
This image paints a pretty good picture of the limitations that can occur with upper body postural dysfunction as tension is often put on the traps, neck and pecs. This puts the head and neck into forward flexion and the shoulders into a position of being pulled forward and internally rotated. This is a killer for posterior chain strength for someone who may be simply aspiring to improve their posture. The same can be said for someone looking to hit a personal best in a lift. Not to mention everyone in between. While mobility and stretching will restore movement, the ability to re-program the way an individual is using their shoulders in posterior chain work has proven to be my biggest weapon in restoring true shoulder function.
The shoulder pack is nothing new in resistance training but I think that everyone has their own ways of showcasing it. What has worked for me has been trying to take everything mentioned in the above paragraph and put it in reverse. Retraction and external rotation of the shoulder are two things that I try to drill into the heads of anyone that I see who are incorporating any type of postural work into their program. That counts for just about everyone I see. For any type of pulling, I prefer breaking it down into two movements. First being packing the shoulder by drawing the shoulder blade back and rotating it externally. This allows the muscles of the mid back to turn on and allows the traps to depress. More importantly it allows the appropriate recruitment of the rotator cuff and arm lines in order to have more working for you when it comes to finishing the pull. The ability to drill this into someone's head allows them to begin thinking about using the mid back rather than working in autopilot and letting the traps call the shots. It may mean regressing movements or reducing the weight, but the ability to get this through to somebody has shown me some impressive results when looking at the bigger picture.
Packing The Shoulder In A Row
Shoulder Packing With Chins
Know Your Lines
A great indicator for me has been integrating the front and back arm lines into my way of thinking as assessing the hands has taught me a lot about what is going on with the shoulder. A common occurrence that I see as someone fatigues is the loss of grip function and sore forearms. For anyone dealing with an imbalance in the shoulders it is often the first and second digits that often go first. What this has done for me is re-think the way I build up someone's posterior chain. In the past my answer was hang on and lets get through the set. Now I know that when contact is lost with the hand, so is clear communication with the mid back. This brings us back to using the same old musculature that we are trying to restore a balanced workload for. Make the appropriate adjustments to ensure the hand is doing it's job and your shoulders will thank you.
With what we now know about the way that the body functions, it would be ignorant to limit this conversation to the shoulders. If there is anything that I can say about restoring strength to the mid back and making postural improvements is that it is as much of a hip and ankle topic as it is a shoulder topic. While this opens up a completely different discussion I did want to stress the importance of how it all works as a whole as it all tells a story. Especially with the bigger lifts like the squat and deadlift. Take the right steps in restoring function of the hip and ankle and I can assure you that shoulder function will show improvement without even addressing it.
While this is a small piece of the shoulder correction puzzle, the ability to coach and cue loading the shoulder is huge when looking at big picture shoulder restoration. It takes time, it may take regression, however I have been able to witness first hand what it can do for a variety of goals. It has the ability to reduce the pain associated with common repetitive stress injuries and it has been a big contributor in unleashing the limitless benefits of a better posture. Not to mention it can put you onto a path where you can handle a lot more resistance than your physical appearance may showcase. To me that's where it gets fun.
This is a rather deep topic of discussion and even in the rambling that went on in the above paragraphs I would consider abbreviated. Any further questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or atwww.thechangelink.com as this is a pretty common topic when talking fitness.
Arm line images courtesy of www.anatomytrains.com