No one likes an injury. No one likes an injury when the gym has been going so well for you either. I’ve written extensively in the past about how to deal with injuries physically and mentally. Often we have discussed the best methods to treat an injury but this month we are going to look at how to “bullet proof” or “injury proof” an individual.
This is a topic that is as broad as it is wide, so I’ll focus on just a few simple key points to give you the guidelines you will need to operate with a reduced risk of injury.
Robert MacDonald, or @bobbymaximus if you’re following him on Instagram, is often heard referring to the importance of structural work. To him it’s as important as any other aspect of programming. “If you are hurt or injured, you can’t perform. Protect your performance by injury-proofing and keeping balance.” If anyone should know this, it’s a guy like Bobby who has an extensive background in MMA, and more recently as the GM and “Diversity Director” of Gym Jones in the U.S. Not sure what Gym Jones is? Think of the Spartan movie 300 whose actor’s physiques were the result of a perfect storm of training and nutrition factors, all orchestrated by trainer Mark Twight and the other staff from this Salt Lake City-based gym, Gym Jones.
Most senior strength and conditioning coaches talk about structural work, and as I’ve mentioned before, even coaches such as Charles Poliquin have arrived at their own mathematical formula for upper and lower body muscle groups. For example, if your flat bench press is X amount of weight, then you should be able to shoulder press Y amount of weight. Having practiced what he preaches, I have found his methods to be excellent.
So, how do we reach a balance and how do we, say, “bullet proof” a shoulder. Eric Cressey, who is a world renowned, certified strength and conditioning specialist, has written much on the topics of bullet proofing and improving the body against injury. He’s often referred to as the “shoulder guy” by many of the athletes in the world. But what is more pleasing to see is that Eric uses many of the methods I see experienced coaches in Kuwait use at facilities like Inspire Pure Fitness, Inspire at Sahara and Al Corniche Club.
So here is a glimpse of my version of bullet proofing required for the shoulder joint. The first area to address is the flexibly of the shoulder as well as the mobility. Some might say there is controversy on the definition of these words. Certain authors might describe mobility as related to the range of movement capacity plus the strength. This can be referred to as active flexibility. Whilst other authors say that mobility is for joints and flexibility is for muscles and connective tissues. Regardless, check for suitable flexibility and mobility in the shoulder girdle. I prefer to lay the client length ways on a foam roller and check to see the range in the joint as both hands are extended behind the head and toward the floor. Issues in the chest muscles and larger muscles like the lats can be identified here. Often some foam rolling on the lats and a chest release can improve the range of the shoulder instantly. The overhead squat with a piece of PVC piping or light dowel also speaks volumes in shoulder mobility. Make sure you’re doubling up on the volume of overhead reaching in your program in order to iron out the top-to-bottom imbalance at your shoulder girdle. Good additions to your program would be wall slide variations, overhead carries and presses, and overhead reaching during warm-up drills.
Three key exercises I always add into a program, should the client require them, is the standing or seated-behind-the-neck press, the trap 3 exercise and the seated dumbbell external rotator drill. The client should be able to perform the latter two at set percentages of a one rep max flat bench press under tempo. I have yet to see a client not increase in their pushing, power, strength and endurance when these percentages start to correlate. At the opposite end of the scale every client I’ve seen with shoulder aches and pains just happen to have very low scores in both these exercises.
Depending on the client’s abilities and goals, yoga inversion drills can be extremely beneficial. I remember the handstand craze that swept Kuwait less than a year and a half ago. Everyone wanted to get upside down or do pushups from a handstand position, yet they believed a barbell behind the neck press was dangerous or didn’t even do any accessory exercises to improve their shoulder strength.
I, like many my age, learnt the hard way. My advice is to start with these exercises. Look to improve your mobility, flexibility and strength through Yoga and Pilates. Check out your percent lifts with an experienced and qualified trainer and if they don’t add up, then start working on them today. No one I know ever lost anything from adding these solutions to their training program.
Stay healthy and injury free!