Chest is out….Back is in!
Unfortunately as a society we exist in an anteriorly dominated world, from driving our car, to texting our friends and families and even eating and drinking, we are constantly reinforcing this anterior dominance in our body that can result in the hunched over posture that is becoming all too common these days.
The hunched posture can be regressed to two main components. The first is the increasingly “tight” anterior musculature which includes the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, upper trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid and secondly a weak and stretched out (eccentric) upper back muscles which are responsible for scapula retraction and external rotation of the shoulders. When we combine these with a rubbish gym rat strength program that focuses on the mirror muscles (10 variations of Bench press and some bicep curls) and not on the rowing exercises and you have the perfect recipe for that shoulder pain that seems to have become the norm in your life. But before you say “oh I do some Lat pulldowns, isn’t that training the back?” you must first realise that biomechanically the latissimus dorsi is a SYNERGIST with the pectoralis major for internal rotation of the shoulder, as such you are just causing the issue to become even more pronounced.
So how do you really know if your one of the many who are suffering from these issues? Well there is an easy test. Stand up where you are, shake out the shoulders and just relax. Now simply look at your hands, if they naturally move in front of your body and the thumbs are pointing towards each other then the following is directed at you. Normal healthy posture has the hands by your side and thumbs pointing directly ahead of you.
So how are we gonna fix this? Well we are going to use a two-pronged approach, firstly is some Self-myofascial release and stretching the tight musculature, this includes all of the following;
- Pectoralis minor
- Pectoralis major
- Anterior deltoid
- Latissimus dorsi
- Long head of biceps
You can easily google SMR techniques for all the above, but I suggest you invest in a ball, lacrosse ball would be best but a tennis or cricket ball will do, and a foam roller as they will give you the best results. For stretching mostly focus on Proprioceptive Neuromusclar facilitiation (PNF) style of stretching which has been show to be superior to static stretching in a randomized controlled trial (Sady, Wortman and Blane 1982). This involves taking the muscle into a comfortable stretched position, before contracting the muscle for 5-10 seconds, then relaxing and stretching the muscle further. For the best results PNF should be done several times per day.
The second side to solving this issue is to strengthen and train the upper back muscles responsible for external rotation of the shoulder (Supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor) and retraction of the scapula (Rhomboids and mid trapezius).
For the best results Joe Defranco, one of the top Strength and conditioning coaches in North America, recommends the following
- Lots of time under tension (10-15 reps) as the muscles of the upper back are postural muscles and don’t fatigue easily, as a side note its important to check the ego and lighten the load if you are going to achieve this high TUT
- Try and improve your mind muscle connection with the muscles you are training, this means slow down and squeeze, to make sure you are getting the most out of this training.
The best exercises for achieving both time under tension and significant loading of the muscles would be
- Band Pull Apart (100+ per day with a light band)
- Cable Face Pulls (with the rope attachment)
- Chest Supported Incline Dumbbell Rows (row dumbbell to hips not straight up)
- Y – Handcuffs (Slow and controlled, keep neck in a neutral position through out the movement)
If the thought of reducing shoulder pain isn’t enough to get you moving down the straight and narrow then let the following mull around in your noggin. The Upper back can be described as the foundation of a strong bench press, by strengthening these muscles not only will your shoulder pain go away but also your bench press numbers will go up. This can be put down to an increase in strength of the small shoulder muscles which are act as dynamic stabilizers (Wattanaprokomkul et al 2011) during the bench press (Visualize shooting a cannon out of a canoe verses a concrete platform) and are often the weakest link in the shoulder and can inhibit tension being produced in the larger prime movers.
Sady S, Wortman M, Blanke D, 1982, ‘Flexibility training: Ballistic, static or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilation?’, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation’, Vol 63(6), pp 261-263
Wattanaprokomkul D, Halaki M, Cathers I, Ginn K, 2011, ‘Direction Specific recruitment of rotator cuff muscles during bench press and row’, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Vol 21(6) pp 1041-1049