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Get it straight from the shoulder: Bad position hurts

Have you ever seen something that just doesn’t make sense? Like referring to a 5-year-old as being 60 months old? Or maybe it’s so obviously wrong that it kind of hurt your eyes. Like a 2-by-4 wooden car spoiler.

Such unconventional phrases border on nonsense. “Why would someone do that?” you might ask.

As a trainer, I see some movements that fall into the category of “painful to watch.” Some of the worst involve the shoulder. After I reveal them, you may also start to see them.

Crummy shoulder positions occur with one or more of these elements: elevation, pronation and internal rotation of the shoulder.

An elevated shoulder is easy to demonstrate. Just shrug one shoulder upward toward the ear. To pronate that shoulder, push it forward. To internally rotate the shoulder, try to point your elbow forward as it hangs at your side.

Whenever I watch TV and see a cop catch a bad guy, the suspect is always forced to bend over the hood of the patrol car and is twisting his arms in all directions after being handcuffed. Clearly, it hurts. The body recognizes it as bad positioning by sending pain signals to the brain. The suspect quickly begins to cooperate so the cop eases up the tension.

My trainer eyes hurt when I see people do this to themselves during movements. I see people pronating and internally rotating their shoulders while doing bench and shoulder presses. I often see rowing movements done with shoulders elevated and internally rotated.

It won’t cause injury every time; an athlete may go years without incident. But crummy movements can lead to injury and unnecessary wear and tear on joints and connective tissue.

Some people may notice the tightness created by the muscle imbalance and even posture deviations. If pronation of the shoulder has been going on too long, the musculature around the shoulders may be so imbalanced that the shoulders are continuously pulled forward. The same goes with elevation and internal rotation and combinations of two or all three.

However, these movements aren’t all bad. They are part of our anatomy for a reason. Elevating the shoulders into a shrug is necessary in generating force for movements like power cleans. If you couldn’t pronate the shoulder, you couldn’t reach for anything. Without some degree of internal rotation you couldn’t reach behind you to get something out of your back pocket or put on a jacket.

So these shoulder positions do have a purpose for some elements of daily living but also create a crummy shoulder trifecta when seen in performance movements or under heavy loads.

Pressing and pulling are common motions where you will see these faults. Sometimes an athlete will demonstrate only one fault as he/she fatigues. Other times it is two or even the whole trifecta of wonky shoulder faults.

So what is a safe shoulder position? The shoulder is at home when the shoulder blades are pulled back and the core is tight. If you are using a bar as a weight stimulus, cue yourself to “break the bar in half” to put the shoulder in an externally rotated position and create torque for the lift. If you are performing a pushup, then the cue is to “turn the elbows down.” And for the pullup, cue yourself with “bring the elbows to the ribs” to create the needed power.

Look closely at Laura Salcedo in the photos for today’s column. See where her shoulder position is for both the good and bad positioning. Visit lvrj.com/trainer and check out the video for how bad shoulder position can affect the rest of the body during movement.

Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at 702trainer@gmail.com. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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