Addressing poor shoulder movement

Shoulder packing. Yes, that’s right: shoulder packing. It’s really a thing.

It’s a concept of how we should position our shoulder when doing any sort of lifting with our arms. Now some will say that this is ridiculous – we just move our arms and that’s how they should move. I could get behind that line of thinking. Except for one thing: many of the people that come and train with me don’t actually position their shoulder properly when moving their arms, and then they complain of pain or discomfort in their shoulder or neck when doing exercises like pushups, rows, and planks. But when I help them to position their shoulder properly, they proceed to exercise without pain or discomfort.

That’s pretty convincing for me. Why does this happen? I’d say it’s a fair bet that your computer is the culprit. In fact take a look at your shoulders right now. They’re rounded, aren’t they? We tend to round our shoulders forward as we work at a desk, which can lead to shortened pectoral muscles, which then continue to pull our shoulders into this rounded position even when we are not working at our computers. And the pulling forces the neck stabilizer muscles to turn on so that the neck remains safe in this new posture. There’s more: the short pectoral muscles tend to leave our upper back muscles stretched and weak, so even if you stretch the pecs, it often doesn’t last because the back muscles that should balance them out are now too weak to do so. It’s no surprise that when you take those shoulders that are sitting too far forward in the joint socket and try to use them to pull and push things in the gym, that you feel discomfort.

What can you do about it? If you are in pain, you should really go see a health care professional for help. Odds are, they will work on the surrounding soft tissue, but will also try to help you to re-learn proper shoulder movement, including how to “pack the shoulder”. If you are not actively in pain, then a trainer such as myself can be of great value in helping you to move better. The following two videos show an exercise that I often give to my clients when they have trouble with shoulder movement.

The first video shows an exercise that I use for “shoulder packing”, which really just means, bringing the shoulder back to a neutral position before using it. For most computer users, this means thinking about bringing the shoulder blades back and down. The following video shows an exercise I like to use to teach this:

A client of mine had a great cue for this exercise: think about extending your hand to shake someone’s hand and then just as they go to shake it, you take your hand back. Now I think of Nelson from The Simpsons whenever I do this.

Most clients improve a little bit from this exercise right away, but it takes a while for them to master it. As long as there is progress, I view this as a success. I have tried many other exercises to get thsi same effect, but so far find this one works the best. I do have some clients who have a little more trouble with this exercise. And that led me to try to try another option: RNT! That is Reactive Neuromuscular Training, which is a fancy term for “bands cure all”. RNT is actually really cool. The concept is that if you pull or push the body further into the faulty movement, then the body will become uncomfortable and will respond by activating the opposite muscles. In this case, I have some clients who continue to elevate instead of depress the shoulder when doing this exercise, and so I used a band to pull them further into elevation, and suddenly I see what looks like the lower traps, and lats firing. Yes! Here’s a video to demonstrate:

Give these a try!

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