Tag Archives: shoulders

Day 22 – The Seated Trap Stretch

If you’ve been doing CrossFit your traps are sore. Going overhead, cleaning, and snatching put a huge demand on the trapezius muscle. This is a simple way to stretch it out and give your neck some relief. Kneel down and sit on your heels. Reach down and grab one of your ankles. Lean away from that ankle and look away from that ankles as well. Gently grab your head and use the weight of the arm to gently pull your ear toward your shoulder. Adjust your head position periodically to target different parts of your traps to stretch. Breathe deeply and don’t force this stretch. Just allow it to happen. If you can’t sit comfortably like this and grab your ankle, sit on a chair and grab under the seat or hold a light dumbbell in one hand.

Day 22 of 30. The Seated Trap Stretch from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Here are the rules for the 30-Day Stretch Fucking Harder Challenge. Each day do the deep stretch, post it on Instagram and tag some friends to do it with you. Post your stretch with the tags: #stretchfuckingharder #supplepandas #30daypandachallenge Tag me @coachpanda. Come back here to my website or vimeo channel to see more details on each stretch and modifications and scaling options. Try to stay in each stretch for at least 2 minutes per stretch per side. Remember to breathe slowly and deeply and start gradually and move deeper over time. Back off if it hurts.

Day 15 – The Dip Stretch

Face it your chest and shoulders are tight and that means you need this stretch.  I call this the Dip Stretch because it puts your shoulder in the same position as a deep dip: shoulder extension, internal rotation and elbow flexion.  I used to do this with straight arms but this bent arm version takes the slack out of your shoulder and delivers a way more intense stretch.

The focus of this stretch is the chest and shoulder that’s on the ground. Don’t get too worked up over the top arm. I’m grabbing my foot to multitask and get a little quad/hip flexor stretch, but don’t feel like you need to do more than just breathe and lean back into the stretch.

Don’t be alarmed by the large kettlebell.  I just use it as a spacer.  If you don’t use a spacer, your arm will naturally pull itself closer to your body and you won’t get the stretch you deserve.  Try to find something to put in there to keep your arm perpendicular to your body.  If it’s super tight you can lower the arm slightly or just not turn as deeply into the stretch.  Also notice I have a rolled up sweatshirt as a pillow.  You’re going to be here for a couple of minutes so get comfortable.

Day 15 of 30. The Dip Stretch. from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Here are the rules for the 30-Day Stretch Fucking Harder Challenge. Each day do the deep stretch, post it on Instagram and tag some friends to do it with you. Post your stretch with the tags: #stretchfuckingharder #supplepandas #30daypandachallenge Tag me @coachpanda. Come back here to my website or vimeo channel to see more details on each stretch and modifications and scaling options. Try to stay in each stretch for at least 2 minutes per stretch per side. Remember to breathe slowly and deeply and start gradually and move deeper over time. Back off if it hurts.

Shoulders Up?

There is a debate that is still raging on about whether to push your shoulders up or pull them down. This is in reference to the overhead position seen in handstands and some weightlifting moves.  Many schools of thought say the shoulder, or more specifically the scapula, should be depressed when overhead because that is more stable. However, gymnastics and weightlifting coaches often cue “push the shoulders up into your ears.”

What is the correct answer? It depends.  I will examine this from several perspectives.

As an initial point of reference, I refer the reader to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.  Khan was defeated in the end, because he suffered from two-dimension thinking.  Kirk was able to get the jump on Khan by using three-dimensional maneuvers.  In order to understand the shoulder we must think in three-dimensions.

Overhead we seek to create stability.  The body has two basic ways to create stability: active and passive.  Our body defaults to a passive stability all the time: when we lean our hip over when standing in line; when we rest our chin on our chest while texting; or when the arch of our foot collapses and rests on the ground.  A passive stability is where a joint moves into some end range where, because of bone-on-bone restrictions, it can no longer move and is therefore “stable.”  An active stability is created with muscles and bones working together to create position that is strong yet also has movement options.  For example, externally rotating the hips to create stability in the hips that also allows for strong stable hip movement.  See squatting.

The shoulder, much like the hip benefits from active stability through external rotation.  That’s why our rotator cuff is so important: the Teres Minor and Infraspinatus externally rotate the humerus to create stability.  That is not the only mechanism for stability.  The shoulder is a complex system made up of the humerus, scapula and clavicle.  The scapula and clavicle anchor themselves on the axial skeleton (spine and ribs) and, therefore, the core musculature must stabilize the axial skeleton for the scapula and clavicle to be secure and stable.  A weak core leads to a weak shoulder.

A cue is just a cue.  When you hear the cue “shoulders up”, you shouldn’t mistake that for complex anatomical discourse.  It’s merely a direction designed to elicit as certain action from the athlete.  For example, if I cue someone to lift their chest up during a squat, I don’t care about their chest.  I care about their back and that I see it rounding.  Asking the athlete to lift their chest can create a series of events by which they engage their spinal erectors and bring their spine back to neutral or at least stop the flexion fault that is occurring.  It is a very quick shorthand to fix a fault.  Cues can create other faults.  I might cue an athlete to lift their chest and a series of events might unfold where the athlete goes into over extension of the spine and rocks their weight forward onto their toes.  That is a cue misapplied.  it’s not the cue’s fault, it was merely the wrong cue for that athlete.

When I cue “shoulders up” what do I want and what do I not want?  I want my athletes to actively push against gravity.  Always.  I am strength and conditioning coach and overcoming gravity is the means by which people get stronger. In a plank position, I want my athletes to push down on the ground until the scapula protract and their upper back starts to look slightly rounded (kyphotic).  I also want them to externally rotate so that the pits of their elbows face forward.  So I verbally cue “push the ground down.”  I also might give them a tactile cue of putting my hand on their upper back and tell them to push their upper back into my hand.  I would also tell them to screw their hands into the ground to create external rotation.

When the athlete goes into a handstand the same holds true.  I want the athlete to push the ground down.  I want them to externally rotate.  This is optimal.  What we see is that shoulder flexion and external rotation are both necessary components but there is a tension that exists between them, however they are not at odds.  If I cue “shoulders up” it is because I see an athlete that is not pushing down into the ground and is lazy through the shoulders.  However, I do not want to see my athlete push their shoulders so far up that they internally rotate and lose stability.  As is always the case when working with humans, they are fallible and they can misinterpret directions.

What we see can be misinterpreted.  The eye is fallible.  We need to embody these techniques and it is impossible to understand lifting heavy without lifting heavy.  We can get away with a lot of things that seem right in theory but if that theory does not work when applied to maximal loads then the theory was wrong.

Here is what I see: when I drive my shoulder all the way up to my ear, my humerus internal rotates.  When I actively externally rotate, the humerus screws itself back in and the shoulder appears to drop slightly.  When doing this in the mirror, it looks like I am depressing my scapula.  Under load we might end up in essentially in the same place but the muscular action is quite different and important.  Under heavy load the need to tell an athlete to depress is obviated by the fact that A HEAVY FUCKING LOAD IS PUSHING DOWN ON THE ATHLETE!  The athlete’s job is to PUSH AGAINST THE HEAVY LOAD.  This action of pushing is tempered by the act of also having to externally rotate.   Thus the cue would be to “break the bar.”  The best analogy I can give is to that of a screw vs. a nail.  We do not merely hammer our shoulders up into position, we push up and screw in to create stability.  It’s important that we remember that we are working in three dimensions and there is not one simple cue that will fix everything.

Cueing the Overhead Position from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

Overhead strength from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

More About the Overhead Position

Another interesting result of the shoulders down cue is that it limits range of motion in shoulder flexion. There are but a few people that can achieve full 180 degrees of flexion at the gleno-humeral joint with a depressed scapula. Try Warrior 1 with shoulders up and shoulders down and see where the humerae situate themselves. Almost all of you will have your shoulder angle go from 180 to 165 degrees. Now re-orient this position upside down. In an inversion you either compromise position by over-extending the spine (a yogini favorite) or you actually upwardly rotate and elevate your shoulders despite your years of training.

So why the direction to depress them when in Adho Mukha Vrksasana? It is probably an artifact of the Mysore palace where Krishnamacharya watched young english soldiers practice gymnastics. If you follow the history of artistic gymnastics, you will see an evolution of the handstand from a banana-shaped or yoga handstand to a straight vertical handstand—-the modern handstand. Gymnastics evolved as the physical demands of gymnastics increased. The initial banana-shaped handstand is easier to balance and more accessible for people with tighter shoulders (older men in the military and modern yoga practitioners). As the entry into gymnastics got younger and the physical skills became more demanding the straight body handstand became the default. 180 degree shoulder angle and a straight body simply supports more weight (bone stacking) and allows for more advanced skills.

Sadly yoga teaching is more the stuff of mythology and religion than science so there still remain many cues that are passed down from teacher to student without further investigation. Watch this video and see for yourself.