Shoulder injuries are one of the most common problems athletes encounter in all sports, including CrossFit. The reason is that the shoulder is not only the most mobile joint in the body, but also the most unstable. Knowing how the shoulder works can help you prevent injury and better treat it should injury occur.
Although both the hip and shoulder are ball-and-socket joints, the hip is more stable because the ball is surrounded by bone, making it difficult to dislocate. The ball of the shoulder, however, is larger than the socket, so it doesn’t fit inside. Think of a golf ball sitting upon a tee.
This makes the shoulder wonderfully flexible, but instead of bone keeping the joint in place, it relies instead on muscles, tendons and connective tissue. In particular, tendons and connective tissue are susceptible to tear or strain when they are overextended or strained more than they are used to.
For athletes new to gymnastics and Olympic lifting, movements such as push-ups, handstand push-ups, push presses, jerks, overhead squats and kipping pull-ups can all pose challenges to the shoulders. That’s why it’s important to start with light weights and lower reps while building up strength in the soft tissue surrounding the shoulder. The shoulder is surrounded by tiny muscles and tendons that need time to adapt to the stress you want to impose upon it.
Prevention really is the best medicine for shoulder health. Light resistance and mobility exercises will help to strengthen the surrounding tissue and make it far less prone to injury. These exercises are equally useful for rehabilitation of the shoulder after you have incurred some type of injury.
These are some of the exercises we recommend:
20 Reps Each:
- Scapula Push-up: targets the Serratus Anterior; for more resistance, try with a thin band wrapped over your shoulder blades, holding the ends in each hand.
- Dumbbell Front Lateral Raise: targets the Supraspinatus; use very light weight (only about 3 pounds).
- Lateral Rotation (External Rotation): targets the Infraspinatus & Teres minor; use a thin blue band wrapped around a pole or a light weight lying on your side.
- Medial Rotation (Internal Rotation): target the Subscapularis & Teres major; use a thin blue band wrapped around a pole.
Three times a week, take five or ten minutes before or after a workout to complete these movements. Here are some videos of other great shoulder exercises from CrossFit New England and California Strength:
If you do suffer an injury, remember the RICE method as a first response: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. When it comes to shoulders, never push through pain. Avoid using the joint until the pain is minimal, then work on slow rehabilitation with the exercises above. Introduce weight very gradually. Never jump right back into heavy workouts, even if the pain is gone. Always consult a physician if the pain is chronic or severe.
If you’re really interested into learning more about the makeup of your shoulders and other parts of the body, download the iMuscle 2 app ($4.99). It’s a great anatomy and workout tool. Not only does it allow you to explore muscular and skeletal parts of the body with detailed graphics, it will then suggest exercises you can do to work on particular muscles and muscle groups.