The shoulder joints are called upon to perform a wide range of dynamic movements in CrossFit, incorporating weightlifting, gymnastic and conditioning disciplines. Given that two of the main objectives of CrossFit are to raise work capacity and improve movement efficiency, dynamic exercises are often performed at high speed / intensity. If the health and function of the shoulder joint is already compromised prior to training, then the chances of injury during training are substantially higher. This blog will identify some of the common problems that can lead to increased likelihood of a shoulder injury and also strategies to help remedy existing problems.
Anatomy of the Shoulder Joint
The anatomy of the shoulder joint allows the arms to rotate 360 degrees in the sagittal plane, in addition to being able to hinge up and away from the body. The shoulder joints must be mobile enough to perform a wide range of actions with the arms and hands, but also be stable and strong enough to push and pull.
Common Problems + Possible Solutions
1) Poor Posture – Rounded shoulders, or Thoracic Kyphosis if you want the technical term – often arises from ‘slouching’ posture, and/or an over reliance on pressing based movements over a prolonged period (as oppose to a balanced training programme incorporating pulling based movements also)
Possible Solution – Postural correction work is important to eliminate the default slouched position that most likely contributed to the problem. Bringing a greater awareness to the posture whist standing and sitting, with simple queues such as “shoulders back” “sit / stand tall”. Increasing the amount of pulling based movements in the training programme (e.g. pull-up variations, rowing variations) can also help to strengthen muscles at the rear of the shoulders and correct an over-reliance on the pectoral muscles.
2) Poor ROM – If you have a restricted range of movement (ROM) at the joint, for whatever reason (e.g. muscular tightness, prior injury, congenital structure), asking the shoulder to perform dynamic, explosive movements in high volume is asking for trouble.
Possible Solution – Prioritising mobility in the training programme is important if there is an obvious restriction in ROM at the shoulders. Quite often, stiffness in the thoracic spine can also contribute to problems in achieving the correct mechanics in overhead movements. Therefore, a combination of thoracic spine and shoulder mobility drills can help to achieve optimal movements. Consistently spending time before and after training sessions is the key to improving mobility. At CFL we have resources on the mezzanine floor to help with this, including the blue Mobility WOD posters and our own laminated mobility cards.
3) Poor Stability – The smaller stabilising muscles around the shoulder often get neglected in favour of the larger more dominant muscles such as the deltoids and latissimus dorsi that are responsible for pressing and pulling, respectively.
Possible Solution – Incorporating lower threshold activation exercises as either warm up exercises, or assistance exercises within a training programme can be extremely beneficial for joint strength, positioning and stability. These feature regularly within the programming at CrossFit Leyland, but there is always room for additional individual work. The ‘Crossover Symmetry’ resistance bands on the mezzanine floor, are a great tool for this, which include a visual guide and advice on reps and sets.
4) Poor Strength
Time should always be taken to develop foundational strength, before attempting complex/technical strength and gymnastic exercises. This is why it is so important to ‘leave your ego at the door’ and follow the coach’s recommendations for scaling any given exercise to your current level.
Possible Solution – Focus on developing strength in key functional movements, such as; Squats, Deadlifts, Press Ups, Pull Ups, Plank Holds. Be prepared to scale each movement so that 12+ repetitions can be completed with good form. An example would be scaling press-ups to inclined press-ups on a box. Strength can still be developed throughout the desired movement pattern, but without being full body weight / high resistance.
As always, at CrossFit Leyland we pride ourselves on the quality and passion of our coaching staff. If you are having issues with any of the above, it may something that a coach can help you with during a class, or through additional individual work. If a solution can’t be achieved from a coaching perspective, then it may be time to seek some medical attention from one of our therapists at the gym.
Sometimes, it is necessary to take a step backward (focusing on corrective exercises), in order to take two steps forward (hitting new skills and PB’s). Stay patient and always be prepared to identify and prioritise the limitations in your movement.