Train smarter at the gym: Part 2
A 2010 survey of more than 100 recreational weight training participants revealed that two-thirds of them had reported shoulder pain while weight training in the past year, whereas one third had pain during training in the three days prior to the survey. Moreover, the literature shows that just over one third of all weight training-related injuries and disorders occur at the shoulder joint. The majority of these injuries and disorders during weight training are due to anterior instability and what is termed sub-acromial impingement of the rotator cuff.
Last column I discussed how the standard method of bench press creates extremely high forces in very unstable, poorly supported anterior portion of the shoulder. In this column I will discuss four more common exercises that are dangerous and should be modified in the weight room.
The upright row has been a traditional weight room exercise, but despite its’ popularity, the common technique that is used increases the risk for impingement of the rotator cuff tendons on the bone near the junction of the collar bone (clavicle) and shoulder blade (called the acromion).
The specific problem with the upright row is that it requires the elbows to be elevated above shoulder height while the arms are in what’s called an internally rotated position.
Performing this movement in the aforementioned manner leads to rubbing and irritation of the cuff tendon on the bone which causes a tendonitis.
Another problem with this exercise is that as we age, the acromion sometimes develops boney projections or spurs, and these can do further damage if the tendon if rubbed up against the bone repeatedly.
One way to modify this exercise would be vastly reduce the height that the arms are lifted, but this would render the value of the exercise as basically ineffectual. Instead, there are many other safe, effective exercises for the shoulder that you can do.
Two other exercises that are dangerous and should be avoided are the latissimus pulldown and military press while bringing the bar behind the neck.
The problem with this position for the barbell is that it puts the shoulder in a non-functional range-of-motion and requires aberrant biomechanics which will unnecessarily load the rotator cuff muscles, the capsule and front joint of the shoulder (the acromioclavicular or “AC” joint). The anterior joint is already quite small and unstable with only small ligaments holding the bones together and loading up with weight in this position is asking for trouble.
The better method for these exercises is to bring the bar down toward your collar bone in front of your head. However, the military press is subject to the same warnings as the bench press as I mentioned in the last column. That is, reduce the width of your grip from the standard width and do not let the elbows fall below shoulder height.
The last of the dangerous exercises for this column is called dips. During dips the exerciser is suspended in mid-air while holding on to a support with each hand and lowers the body against gravity. The problem with dips, like the bench press, is that the shoulders are put into an enormous amount of extension and it unnecessarily loads all the anterior structures.
What all of these movements have in common is that while performing them you are holding one fixed bar or support with both hands and they all put the shoulder in unstable positions. With dumbbells or cables, your hands are free to move in their normal range of motion. Instead of these exercises try substituting them with cable or dumbbell exercises while keeping the shoulder in safe, stable positions. All of these movements will help you build a strong chest, shoulders, and triceps without the inherent risk of shoulder injury.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge (westcoastkinesiology).