Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What does it mean to have an active shoulder?

Danica Rue busts out a 120 jerk at the 2005 National Championships. You don't see her shrugging up, do you? But you can be damn sure her shoulders are "active."
Photo by Bruce Klemens.

The shoulder is a marvelous thing. Designed for maximal mobility for our bipedal, upright selves, it lacks the bony stability of the hip. Thus, it relies on active (muscle, tendon) and passive (ligament, joint capsule) structures around the joint to provide maximal stability with the overhead lifts; there is no ball/socket mechanism to rely upon. For the upper body to receive heavy overhead loads, we need to optimize the shoulder position to support not only the weight, but also put the wrist and the elbow in a strong, safe position. This is especially important in the snatch, with the wide grip.

At a weightlifting meet, you'll hear coaches yell "push" or "reach" to their athletes. The athlete must aggressively resist the downward forces of gravity and barbell to successfully receive the bar and complete the lift. Many people confuse this aggressive "push" with a shrug of the upper trap. Yes, the upper traps are strong, but we do not want to elevate the shoulder girdle and decrease approximation of the scapula on the rib cage; nor do even want to think we can hold that weight up with upper body muscular strength. We receive the bar at arms length, lock the wrist and elbow in a fully extended position, and maximize contact of the scapula with the thorax via serious isometric contraction of scapular stabilizers. The human body supports the overhead load with the greatest area of bony stability possible, and transfers that force over the entire musculoskeletal system.

The "active shoulder" musculature used by competitive weightlifters is the serratus anterior, the rhomboids and the middle traps. These aren't big, sexy muscles, like the upper traps are, so it might be more difficult for some of you to see and appreciate what is happening. But these little guys are the muscles you want to engage when receiving a snatch or jerk. These muscles also help the scapula upwardly rotate, rather than elevate, to give the rotator cuff room and seat the humerus in the glenoid cavity of the scapula.

Think of it as supporting the weight from the bottom of the scapula, not the top. Resisting the downward push of the weight with an isometric hold, not a concentric shrug up. Remember, we are stronger eccentrically and isometrically. The only way a human being can support 2-3x bodyweight overhead is to create a platform of maximal musculoskeletal stability, and that means keeping as much of the scapula as possible on the rib cage.

More on the shoulder and proper overhead positioning later this week.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Favorite Signing

A few weeks ago, the papers and sportscasts were all abuzz with what high school football players signed where. In my world, the most important signing had nothing to do with football; it had everything to do with academic excellence, character, determination, duty, honor and country.

Hats off to my friend Charles Gerber on being nominated by and accepted by the United States Military Academy at West Point. And kudos to Jill and Geoff Gerber for bringing up a terrific young man. Let the training for Beast Barracks begin!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Cotter!

If you don't know Steve Cotter, you should. He is a wealth of knowledge and he walks the walk. This Tea Cup Shoulder Mobility Exercise is outstanding for anyone, particularly Crossfitters and weightlifters. Sagittal plane barbell junkies need dynamic mobility work like this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Great Weekend

Thanks to Mike Manning and all of the people at Harbor City Crossfit in Melbourne, FL for a fantastic weekend of learning and fun.