One of the most common training mistakes we see people making is letting the mirror or their ego be their guide – as opposed to a logical, thought out and planned training session.
Training only what you can see in the mirror, or falling into the trap of needing a testosterone fuelled answer to ‘how much do you bench?’ can lead to an unbalanced program. Unbalanced programming leads to an unbalanced body. An unbalanced body can, and in the majority of cases, will, lead to injury or pain – not cool.
In this day and age of limited time, anything that seems like a quick fix or giving instant results will have its appeal. However, taking a few minutes at the start of every workout on some of the vastly overlook smaller stabilising muscles will pay off tenfold when it comes to training the bigger muscle groups.
One of the smaller areas that almost everyone can benefit from paying some attention to is the stabilising musculature of the scapular. The scapular, or shoulder blade, has two quite different but interdependent functions in upper limb mechanics. It both provides stability, and assists with movement at our most mobile joint – the shoulder.
FACT – Did you know that the humorous, or upper arm, can only abduct (raise outwards) by 30 degrees? The rest of the movement is provided by the scapular.
We all know that people interested in weight training, whether its for sports performance, health, or simple aesthetics all get a kick out of lifting heavy things.
However, how many times do you stop and think about what must happen within the body to provide that force? A bench press, overhead press, or the humble push-up all require an expression of force during shoulder flexion (driving the upper arm away from the body). If the upper arm can only abduct by 30 degrees without needing assistance from the shoulder blade then we can start to see how important healthy and functional scapulae are during international bench press hour (that’s Monday at 6pm to the uninitiated).
So what does this all mean? Well – did you ever hear the expression ‘you can’t shoot a canon from a canoe’? Most often quoted when talking about core training – but equally important in shoulder function.
There is no way that 100kg bench press is going anywhere in a hurry without being propelled from a stable base – and that stability comes from the shoulder blade. If there is no stability in the scapular then the body will find it some place else. All that shrugging and wriggling around that you see during a bench press or a push up is not so much people trying to hoist up a weight – but more the body looking for a stable platform from which to exert a force. The body will find stability somewhere – it doesn’t want a 100kg barbell crashing down on it any more than it wants to go face first into the matt during a push up. Another way to look at this is trying to exert a force with your arms without stable scapulae is a bit like trying to sprint on sand – its possible, but it isn’t half hard work!
How do we achieve this?
You can ‘set’ your scapulae by going through some very simple activation drills for the surrounding musculature. Try running through the following before performing any kind of upper body push (or pull) and you should be able to feel the effect of having a stable platform.
*Prone ‘scaptions’ or flying Ys
*Scapular push ups (also known as serratus punch)
*Hanging scapular retractions (hand from a chin up bar, and simply try to pinch your shoulder blades together)
*Scapular wall slides
Each of these movements will help you to be aware of where your shoulder blades are sitting, but also to innervate the smaller muscles that hold the scapulae in place. The shoulder blades should feel as though they are sucked down and back and are flat against the back of the rib cage.
It may go against your instincts in a time pressured lunchtime training session, but if you want to train the big muscle groups effectively then invest 10 mins at the start of every workout on some of the small ones.