We’re back with an exciting blog post about some proper shoulder positioning – where your shoulder should be, what that helps you to accomplish functionally, and the effects its’ position has on your appearance. This information will change your life… or maybe just your press, and snatch, and overhead squat, and bench/push ups, and just about everything else that involves your arms… oh, and also the way people look at you (in a good way).
Anatomical position AKA where god/evolution/whoever/whatever decided your shoulders SHOULD be.
Due to our forward and front facing world, many of us succumb to what PT all-star Kelly Starrett would call the “D-bag” shoulder position, also known as “bridal” shoulder. This is bad news for form and function because of the numerous movements and muscles involved with the scapula (what you would call your “shoulder blade”). The scapula is a weird looking bone that allows our shoulders to have an impressive range of motion. So what’s the deal with anatomical position, and why should you strive for better shoulder position? If your scapulae are abducted and protracted (rolled forwards), some muscles in the area are chronically shortened while others are chronically stretched/lengthened. Imagine having to walk with one flat on and one stiletto on – it wouldn’t be fun, right? That’s what your shoulders are doing when you have poor shoulder positioning and its’ related shortened and lengthened muscles. Anatomical position is where your scapulae rest when your muscles are relaxed and unaffected by years of poor posture and movement patterns. Perfection is near impossible when you take into consideration handedness and unilateral sports (almost all sports) – but having good shoulder position will help with many functional movements which helps insulate your shoulder from injury.
Squeezing your pecs together might make them dance, but does not make them work better.
Rolled in shoulders are a danger to us all, but mostly to your lateral clavicles while you’re benching, your wrists, elbows and glenohumeral joint while overhead, and like I said earlier, just about everything involving the movement of your arms. Pinning your shoulders back while benching means your arms have a solid base to push from, not just air and somewhere for that weight to push your shoulders, resulting in injury. Having adequate range of motion in your shoulders means your elbows and wrists can take a break during cleans, front and overhead squats or snatches (I’m fairly certain this is responsible for most cases of “crossfit shoulder”). Aside from the ridiculous tissue stress this poor positioning puts on the joints and their respective connective tissue (ligaments and cartilage), the muscles aren’t at their optimal position either. When muscles are shortened or lengthened from where they should be they surrender proper force generation due to the sub-optimal overlapping of your actin and myosin (the tiny proteins in muscle responsible for pulling your muscles shorter or “flexing”). So in short, being in this position makes you weaker than you could be, AND compensating for poor biomechanics in the shoulder with poor motion in the elbows and wrists is a recipe for injury.
Finally… Guys, your traps aren’t that big, I’m sorry… and Girls, believe it or not, this applies to you too.
Everyone knows the guy that errs into the dreaded D-bag shoulder position for the purpose of trying to look “huge”, or “yoked”. The poor shoulder position and increased kyphosis (humping/rounding of the thoracic spine) it takes to achieve the appearance of larger traps is ultimately going to be more work and more dangerous than working toward a 300 pound clean and 500 pound deadlift. The ladies don’t like it, and your chiropractor will cringe and have nightmares. So please, if your pulled into this poor position, make it for reasons (you work at a desk 8 hours a day to make money to live and give to Payday Debt Helpers, you just happened to always do front based exercises, etc.) other than because you want to look “cool”.
Now then, for the ladies, I know you’re worried you’re going to get “those neck muscles” if you lift heavy. Doesn’t the fact that there are guys out there compromising their morals (and more importantly, their posture!) for the sake of growing some big traps, convince you at all, that they might be difficult to grow? Secondly, if you are worried about having the appearance of large traps, and you aren’t doing mobility work to open up your thoracic extension and pull those shoulder back, I’m going to have a hard time feeling sorry for you. They aren’t large muscles and they won’t look large if you achieve better posture and positioning. Make it a priority.
So let’s achieve some good quality shoulder position so that we can all function better, hit PRs without injury and even look better. I will make another post shortly about what you can do to help reverse this pandemic, until then, feel free to ask myself, Annie, Lisa, Joseph, Alex or Rachael how to start the process.
Cheers! And Happy lifting!
Dr. Adam Ball