When it comes to athletes’ injuries, hamstring pulls are some of the most dramatic and concussions are among the most life threatening, but the fact is that shoulder injuries are among the most common. This is true not just in sports but also in weight training programs – which, paradoxically, should be the best way to prevent shoulder injuries!
A review published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research noted that the most commonly injured area during resistance training is the shoulder – approximately 36 percent of trainees suffer shoulder injuries according to one study referenced in the review. Because the shoulders are so susceptible to injury, it’s a no-brainer to be proactive in preventing injury to them in the first place. Here are three practical recommendations:
1. Strive for Structural Balance.
The review I cited said that the supraspinatus, a rotator cuff muscle involved in shoulder abduction, was the shoulder muscle most likely to become injured. One reason could be a strength imbalance between this muscle and those involved in internal rotation, such as the subscapularis. In a study published in the February 2002 European Journal of Applied Physiology that involved 20 elite powerlifters (four who were world champions) the most significant anatomical characteristic relating to performance was the thickness of the subscapularis muscle. With such an emphasis on bench pressing in bodybuilding and strength training programs, strength imbalances can easily develop and lead to injury.
In the structural balance assessment taught in the PICP, we look at the relative strength of not only the muscles that internally and externally rotate the shoulder but also the strength of many other muscles that can affect shoulder health. One muscle tested is the biceps. Although many strength coaches and athletes believe there is little value in performing any isolation exercises for the arms, this review found that injury to the long head of the biceps (at the shoulder origin) was one area identified among individuals who complained of shoulder pain. This is why the first step in working with a new client should be to perform a structural balance assessment and then prescribe initial workouts focused on correcting those imbalances.
2. Learn Proper Technique.
Judging from the fact that Lou Ferrigno was Michael Jackson’s personal trainer and Mike Tyson gave Justin Bieber a boxing lesson (as shown on YouTube), if you want bulging biceps like Michael Jackson and the devastating right hook of Justin Bieber you should give Big Louie and Iron Mike a call. Seriously, whether you’re playing a sport or training in the weightroom, it’s important to seek out coaches who can teach proper technique to minimize the stresses on the body. Just because a kid’s father was a quarterback in college and could bench press 400 pounds doesn’t guarantee he knows how to teach kids how to throw or how to lift. In fact, you cannot achieve the highest levels as a PICP coach unless you prove that you have trained athletes at the highest levels.
3. Invest in Body Work.
Don’t wait until you get hurt to see a soft-tissue specialist. If you’ve been playing a sport or lifting consistently, even if you have good technique and a sound program it’s likely that you have developed some soft-tissue adhesions that can affect your biomechanics and increase your risk of injury. I highly recommend seeking out practitioners trained in Active Release™, the Fascial Abrasion Technique Tool, and also Fascial Stretch Therapy™, as these methods not only help rehabilitate injuries but also help prevent them.
It’s truer than ever that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I hope you’ll follow Ben Franklin’s advice – and mine: Use these precautionary recommendations to develop and maintain strong, healthy shoulders.