In a recent article, we offered a few specific stretches to get your shoulders ready for outdoor activities after spending a winter indoors. In this article, we want to talk a little bit more about how the shoulder functions in winter vs. spring, and why it’s important to prepare accordingly.
The Shoulder Girdle
The shoulder girdle plays a crucial role in a good majority of American sports as well as back yard activities. An important point to consider is that improved functional strength through the lower extremities, pelvis and torso will help the overall function of the shoulder girdle since the arm frequently disperses forces created throughout these regions to complete a task. For example, consider throwing a ball, swinging a tennis racket or pushing a boulder up a hill.
Functional mobility and strength loss dissipate at a level below our cognitive appreciation and over the course of a winter. You maintain strength through particular positions in space via recurring activities (ie lifting a box from knee to waist height). We generally feel comfortable lifting loads of significance as we have done for many years. What changes is the outcome of falling on the ice and grabbing for a railing. When we are 20 years old, we are strong in outlying ranges of motion and we save ourselves from injury. At 65 it’s a different story. We get hurt.
Restoring Flexibility & Strength
Restoring flexibility is like restoring youth. One just needs to move toward 3 dimensional realms of tightness (appreciating that at one time it was well within one’s scope of mobility) and slowly move past the barrier into a realm of a mild/comfortable stretch. Deep breathing at this extreme may help with the process. The length of time a stretch is held is debatable. Find a time that seems to provide the greatest reward for you – from a few seconds to a minute or two.
From a strengthening perspective, add weight in ½ to 1 pound increments (the best place to find small weights is in the kitchen cupboard). If you are able to do a particular exercise with a particular weight fairly easily and with good form twice in a row within the realm of repetitions described below, add a weight and drop the number of reps. With successive workouts restart this same progression again, building to 15 to 20 reps. One can be more aggressive with biceps and triceps strengthening, these larger muscle groups can handle 2 to 5 pound incremental gains, again use the same set progressions.
Be Wary of Health Club Exercises
Being mindful at the health club from a shoulder perspective is also important. Beware of the overzealous 22 year old trainer trying to implement the latest strengthening technique (ie kettle bells) to take you from A to Z in a matter of weeks. As with everything, there is a right and wrong way to implement. The appreciation of what a shoulder can tolerate decade to decade is an education in itself.
Common shoulder exercises utilized at the club (bench pressing with a bar, triceps dips, shoulder height rotational patterns, lateral and front raises) can be harmful. A trainer should be mindful of, in part, your bony/joint history and desired shoulder capacities (ie endurance vs power) with the ability to lay out an exercise program that has multiple checks and balances as well as alternatives to allow you to achieve your desired goals in safe fashion.