Guest Post from Lee Boyce
Random Thoughts from Lee Boyce
To say that adding strength and muscle is a simple process is worthy of a backhand upside the head. Anyone who’s spent any time in the gym knows that sometimes it seems easier to achieve any other goal. With that said, if you’re an intermediate who may be reaching a plateau in your programming or in your gains, these random thoughts may be just the shining light you need to see gains you’ve been waiting for. Especially when looking at the shoulder joint – a major hub for any upper body movement and arguably the most delicate load bearing joint in the entire body – special measures need to be taken to both strengthen it and its components, and to protect it from injury. Having light shed on these three topics can lead to unstopped gains in your progress.
Gravity is a force angle
Remembering that gravity is its own force angle can cause a lifter to take another look at his exercises, and how they’re affecting his muscles. I’m a believer that the skeleton isn’t “set” the same way at rest depending on the position you put it in, since gravitational pull will affect those resting positions. Apply this to a standing exercise like a shoulder press or an upright exercise like a seated chest press, and to avoid shoulder pain or impingement, lifters will grab a ball or foam roller, lie flat on their back, and thoroughly roll the tissue of their scapular muscles, and then turn over and do the same for the chest.
When you lie back, gravity pulls your shoulders back towards the ground. The acromion process, superior humerus, subacromial bursae, and other parts of the region likely undergo some transition in resting position – even if it’s sheer millimeters. In my books, that matters – especially if you’re about to bear possibly hundreds of pounds of load through a pressing movement where you’re standing up, and your shoulders fall naturally thanks to gravity. That acts on the way your muscles sill “sit” on your skeleton at rest.
Solution: Put a ball against a wall, and lean against it when attacking the upper back. Especially when you try to do active arm mobility drills on trigger points (like raising overhead), it’s important that you do so under your own power, rather than with the assistance of gravitational pull. This is of prime importance when you’re about to lift weights using your own power. We can’t get around the laws of the universe.
Add Rotation for Rear deltoids
Somewhere along the way, people forgot that the rear deltoids have a role in external rotation of the upper arm. Fly patterns, high row patterns, and behind the neck press patterns became the main staples for developing the rear deltoids. The problem is, these movements don’t train rotation, and at the very best, make the posterior delts hold an isometric position in that capacity. If you’re wondering why your shoulers look like cannonballs from the front, but chicken wings from the back, it could be due to the lack of addition of the right rear deltoid movements. Instead of only doing wide rows and high pulls alone, remember to also choose movements that make the hand change from facing down to facing up on each rep. Here’s an example. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz5pdYI2Li8
Let’s not forget the fact that knowing the rear delts are also rotators, strong rear deltoids are instrumental in decelerating the upper arm after throwing a baseball. Just sayin’.
My Case against the Overhead Squat – Even for People who can Do It
The overhead squat demonstrates large capabilities where mobility is concerned, at basically every load baring joint that relies on it for proper function (think ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders). Doing the exercise with a full snatch grip, however, can “fool” a lifter into thinking that he has more mobility than he may actually have, simply for the fact that he can get all the way to the bottom range and back up to count it as a “rep”. Activating the correct muscles aside, a lack of proper thoracic spine extension, for instance, can cause the shoulders to make up for a forward torso lean by bearing load in a position much further behind the body than what’s ideal (this is often seen in crossfit snatch and overhead squat sessions), with shoulders that aren’t quite capable of handling those stresses. This can cause the phenomenon of anterior shoulder glide due to front side tightness – which is bad news, and worse news if you’ve got a full-coverage or even beaked acromion process. Remember, your hands are locked to the bar overhead, so the wrist can’t rotate when this rotation at the shoulder occurs.
The cost/benefit of a loaded bar overhead for overhead squat reps was already questionable to begin with – Olympic lifters may need it for their sport, but the rest of us can train for proper shoulder health, strength and function through the use of other movements and drills.
Was this fairly arbitrary? Yes it was.
The good news, however, is the fact that each of these can have a positive effect on the training habits of lifters and athletes who are after strength or performance alike. These actionable tips for your shoulder capsule can be a make or break for long term results. Taking care of your muscles before your workout and being aware of the tools available to you for your programming are quintessential steps to getting the results you seek. Remember – it’s not about lifting big weight now; it’s about lifting it always.
Lee Boyce is a strength coach based in Toronto, Canada, and has been featured in the world’s largest platforms for training content. In 2013, he worked on the training and treatment staff for Team Jamaica at the Penn Relays international track meet. A former university level sprinter and long jumper, Boyce now works with clients and athletes for strength, size and sport performance. Follow him on twitter www.twitter.com/coachleeboyce, facebook www.facebookcom/lee.boyce.52, and view his website www.leeboycetraining.com