In my Training – Then vs. Now
post I made reference to training rotator cuff and the lower trap
muscles to help maintain muscle balance. I mentioned that my posture had
suffered as a result of neglecting these areas. I failed to mention
that improving performance is another very good reason for training
Why will doing external rotation and lower trap movements improve your lifting numbers?
Metaphoric reason – a well tuned car will run better
than a car that misfires on one cylinder, even if each car uses the
same amount of gas in the same period of time. Well the body is the same
way so if it is well tuned (has proper muscle balance) it will be able
to move a greater load with the same amount of energy. When someone
suggests that you do external rotation movements to help you improve any
of your lifts, the goal is to restore or establish balance in your
Practical reason – balanced rotator cuff muscles
allow the shoulder joint to move in a natural way thus reducing
impingement’s while balanced trap strength allows an athlete to retract
and set their scapula correctly before lifting to ensure proper movement
Balanced lower traps and rotator cuff muscles will allow for
appropriate recruitment patterns given that the body does not have to
overcome false load vectors due to bio mechanical compensation caused by
misaligned force vectors (if your not moving the load in the right
direction, part of your body needs to pull it into the right direction
which will waste effort). What it comes down to is if you are able to
use ONLY the muscles that move the load in the direction that is needed
more of the recruitment energies go to those muscles and your lift
numbers will increase.
Aren’t traditional shoulder pressing or lateral raises enough work
for the rotator cuff and lower traps? No. There is almost no humeral
rotation with laterals and overhead pressing so, with these movements,
the rotator cuff muscles play only a stabilizing roll. These isometric
contractions do not improve strength significantly throughout the entire
range of motion so the benefit of these movements is mostly to the
primary movers (deltoids). Therefore, these movements are not sufficient
to correct strength imbalances in the rotator cuff and lower trap
muscles; with someone who is balanced however, they will often be
If you want to lift heavier you need to correct any rotator cuff and
lower trap imbalance as soon as possible. Doing so will not only improve
your numbers, but it will also improve the quality of the movement
sparing your shoulder joint a lot of unnecessary stress.
Recently I’ve reconnected with some old friends who I used to
workout with at the high school weight room. Given what I know now, when
I look back on those days I see that I did more stuff wrong than I did
did right. The purpose of this post is to outline the 5 things I would
do differently if I had it all to do over again.
1) I would train rotator cuff and lower trap muscles. For most of my
life, my posture has been horrible – my shoulders have been extremely
internally rotated and my upper back has been rounded. The day of my
grade 8 graduation I dad told me to stand up straight. I didn’t listen.
Worse still was that I started lifting weights in high school and
trained chest every other day – essentially doing the exact opposite of
what I needed to do to correct the problem.
Now I do a lot of external rotation movements and lower trap work
along with being very conscious to retract my scapula when doing any
lifting. I also train chest once every two weeks. Balance is being
restored for the first time in 25 years and I’m walking taller, feeling
better and lifting more.
2) I would train my weaknesses. I was a tree climber when I was young
because I spent the first 9 years of my life in Ireland. I wasn’t
exposed to any of the throwing sports until I moved to Canada so I had
very little reason of raise my arms above my head. As a consequence, I
never really developed the ability to recruit and fire the muscles in my
shoulders and upper traps so these body parts tended to lag behind.
Given that these body parts didn’t grow when I trained them in high
school, I didn’t put very much time into them. I’ve been playing
catch-up ever since.
3) I would train my legs more. Most than 50% of our muscle fibers are
in our legs. Given that the body will only get as strong and as big as
it needs to be, neglecting them is going to slow mass development. It is
also going to eliminate any of the growth hormone and testosterone
boosting effects that aggressive leg training promotes. More
importantly, I wouldn’t have looked imbalanced for so long. A huge upper
body balanced on tiny chicken legs is not a good look for anyone and it
hurt my credibilty as a fitness professional.
While squatting 225 lbs isn’t exactly the most fun you can have in
the gym, it is very rewarding to be able to lift that much. It’s
probably strength that I will never use but my brain has adapted to the
neurological motor unit recruitment requirements that lifting heavy
loads necessates so lifting things is easier as a result. It’s better to
have more strength than not enough.
4) I would rest more. I trained too much when I was younger and I didn’t allow enough time between workouts to fully recover.
This page from kidshealth.org
goes over some recent numbers about childhood obesity and the finding
that 1 in 3 children is now considered overweight or obese. That’s a
lot of young people who are suffering now and will be suffering for
most of their lives. Carrying extra body fat makes all activity in life
more difficult and there is an innate tendency for people to judge obese
people more harshly as a result of their weight. I think some harsh
judgement is fitting for someone who has control over the food they buy
and eat, it is unfortunate for the younger obese person because up until
a certain age, they have almost no control over what they eat.
I have little doubt that there are psychological reasons for many
eating behaviours but when it applies to the escalating obesity rate
with young people, I believe the obesity preceeds any psychological
problems. If the young person’s brain is void of issues then the cause
of the obesity is environmental in the form of poor eating behaviors
taught by their parents or caregivers. Simply put, fat people breed lean
people and then proceed to make them fat.
Fattening up a child is one of the worst things a parent can do
because it harms their child but there is something even more insidious
about it. Fattening up their children serves to make the obese parent
feel more normal because it creates another fat person. Think about it
this way, if 2 fat parents have 2 lean children, the ratio of fat to
lean people in the family is 1:1. But if 2 fat parents have 1 lean child
and 1 fat child, the ration of fat to lean is 3:1. If 75% of the people
are obese, obesity can be regarded as the norm. If both children are
fat then they have a 100% obesity rate making obesity completely
acceptable. Obese parents, by making their children fat, create a life
preserving fiction that being fat is normal and nothing to be concerned
with or treated.
Fat parents rarely teach their children how they should be eating,
what foods to buy and how to prepare these foods to maintain a lean
body. They also never model lean as a way to live life. Their food
choices are taught to their children, along with the obese lifestyle, as
things that are normal. Lacking evidence that says anything different,
the children learn that these things are how it is. They do not see a
choice until much later in life when the habits are formed and their is a
solid foundation of adipose tissue ready to soak-up the extra calories
and store fat. By the time they realize that they do have a choice the
odds are stacked against them that they will ever be a healthy weight
because their body’s have become so good at storing fat.
For the obese parent it is not too late to stop abusing your child
but you need to start now. You need to make a big effort to eliminate
the behaviors that made you fat in the first place and begin to model
the behaviors that will help to maintain leanness. You need to do this
even if you will never enjoy a long lean life; just because you were
victim to the consequences of poor eating behaviors doesn’t mean that
your children need to be. There is more than enough information
available that will help you make the right choices that to continue to
make the wrong ones amounts to deliberate ignorance. The clock is
ticking because your children are watching you and making your behavior
the reality. How you act now is how they will act in the very near
future. Give them a solid foundation to make their life easier than
yours has been.