Low Trap Pulls for Increased Stability and Strength

Often when we look at shoulder stability, we focus on the scapulae retractors, the postural muscles that pull and squeeze the shoulder blades together, for greater stability during pushing and pulling movements. However, an often neglected aspect of scapulothoracic and glenohumeral rhythm involves the scapulae depressors as well. Not only is it important to squeeze and retract the shoulder blades together, but in order to create more space at the glenohumeral joint, thus decreasing impingement pathologies, the shoulder blades must rotate down and depress as well. Often these muscles are weak and or long, due to over active upper traps, and or overly kyphotic thoracic spines (poor posture). To improve both the length/tension relationship of your lower traps, and their strength, try a few of the following soft tissue, activation and strengthening exercises. You ll notice both increased strength in movements such as pull ups and the bench press, and you ll decrease your risk of achy or injured shoulders.

Begin with some soft tissue work at the thoracic spine. Lie on a foam roller. With your hands clasped behind your head or hugging opposing shoulders, gentle roll the upper 2/3 of your back. This exercise is great for loosening up the fascia around the thoracic spine (mid back), thus allowing for better mobility at the shoulder blade which should sit flush on your back, but is often protracted and rounded out, due to poor, kyphotic posture.

From there, foam roll your lats. Immediately after your SMR work, perform several reps of your favorite thoracic mobility drill, followed by an activation exercise like the one performed with a band in the video or the wall angels in the next video.

 

Wall Angels can be done against a wall or lying on the floor. Pulling your shoulder blades down and together, slowly flex your arms straight overhead, maintaining contact with the wall or floor throughout the movement. Focus on pulling the shoulder blades down and together as you lower your arms.

 

After your done a few minutes of soft tissue and activation work. Perform a low trap exercise like the one below. If you aren't strong enough to do them from a pull up bar, begin with a lat pull down machine, progressing the load to body weight. Make sure you are able to get a good symmetrical squeeze as you pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. Notice in this example as my client begins to fatigue, an asymmetry on his right side is more pronounced and uneven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dynamic Mobility 2.0

By now many of you have incorporated soft tissue and dynamic stretching work (see foam rolling and dynamic stretching) into your warm up routines.  You know that static stretching is an ineffective and outdated mode of warm up, because it decreases strength and performance, develops little if any range of motion (ROM) prior to getting warm, and has been disproven in preventing injury. You also know that 5 min or so in the cardio section prior to training does not prepare your joints and soft tissues for the rigors and full ROM of a resistance workout. So per you highly qualified fitness coach, and or the eloquent well-researched fitness blog you follow, you’ve established a thorough dynamic warm up routine prior to your training.  So thorough in fact, that it may be cutting into your limited training time. 5-10 minutes foam rolling, 5-10 minutes dynamic stretching, and 5-10 minutes activation work leaves little time for training. While you may be covering all your bases, perhaps you could be spending more time on certain deficiencies and less on others. And maybe the order and sequencing of these exercises could elicit greater short-term mobility for your workout, and long-term gains in tissue quality day to day. Below are a few suggestions for developing even greater specificity in your warm up.

Order ABCs – Sequencing your warm up routine is no different that choosing the appropriate order of exercises for your workout. You wouldn’t do (I hope) a single joint movement before a compound movement.  So don’t start your warm up stretching muscles with adhesions (knots). You’re essentially pulling those knots tighter, and limiting the length and quality of the muscle. Following the order and sequencing below, with enough frequency, may help counteract the adaptive stresses and postural changes of day-to-day work and activity. (see The Sitting Disease)

A - Release – choose 1 soft tissue exercise for the targeted muscle of the day to improve the quality of that tissue, improving movement and strength – SMR, ART, ETC

B - Mobilize – follow an active release exercise with a specific dynamic stretch or mobility movement to improve the length and range of motion of that muscle

C - Activation – Once you’ve released and mobilized the selected muscle, hammer it home with an activation exercise of that muscle’s antagonist (opposing muscle group). By law of reciprocal inhibition, activating (contracting) an opposing muscle group, will allow for a greater stretch (release) and length in the targeted muscle.

 

Ankle Mobility

 

Hip Mobility - Flexors

 

Hip Mobility - Adductors

 

Hip Mobility - Gluteals

 

Pec Mobility

 

Thoracic Mobility

 

 

 

Soft Body Pilates

Pilates is great for creating mind/body awareness, skilled movement, and physical introspection that we do not always spend time with on the gym floor. It is sometime defined as controlled movements through a strong core. Id like to think all training could be described this way. The "long, lean look" they preach is more of a selling point. Long lean muscles are created in the kitchen with your diet, and your genetics. Though I know what everyone means, when they say they want to get "toned," its actually a reflection of the tension or strength your muscles can create. Strength and tension is created using resistances of progressive intensity. Being defined, is a reflection of your body composition, which is 80% diet, some training, and genetics. Using "smaller muscles" is not entirely true either. Muscles used for movement can be categorized as agonists, antagonists, stabilizers, and neutralizers. They are all involved in any body movement, from getting out of a chair, to walking, movements on a Pilates reformer, or bench pressing in the gym. Agonists and antagonists are your main movers, the pushers and pullers, flexors and extensors. They re the muscles you see and become developed, hence their focus in exercise. You also have muscles that aid these movements called stabilizers and neutralizers. Theses muscles stabilize joints throughout your agonist movements and neutralize any unwanted movement elsewhere in the body when performing an exercise. These muscles are often under your superficial muscles, making them harder to visualize. They are also not as voluntary, making it harder for you to recruit and engage, sometimes even involuntary, and do not need to be engaged, i.e. the transverse abdominus. This lack of awareness or ability to engage or recruit has made Pilates and mind/body training popular. However, in Pilates, like any other mode of exercise, all four types of muscle actions are taking place, and no single mode of exercise truly isolates any of these. So to say Pilates works small muscles is not entirely true. In fact, I would argue that the resistance generated during a barbell squat or dead lift recruits more of your smaller stabilizing/neutralizing muscles, than a resistance created on the reformer with resistant springs attached, much like a bench press or pull up, trains the smaller muscles more than pulls on the cadillac, or equivalent pushing movement in Pilates. It does have application for corrective exercise and injury prevention/rehabilitation in addition to traditional resistance training. However, it lacks progressions, scientific periodization, and objective measures of its training protocols. If you continued to use the same resistance for a given exercise, you would plateau and eventually regress, as that stimulus would no longer elicit a response. There s a diminishing return for the same intensity, which is why strength and conditioning applies systematic progressions.

Often yogis, dancers, and individuals that are already genetically lean, long, and flexible, are drawn to Pilates, which allowed for a subcultural attractive look to develop. You don't see overweight Pilates clients, because they are doing something more efficient for fat loss, and an overweight Pilates instructor can not stay in business long. It would be fair to say that many personal trainers are former athletes or fitness enthusiasts that always had good genetics and results too, but there are many trainers with life transforming stories. Because Pilates is fairly new and does not have mass appeal yet, there is little science or research to support any of its benefits. The entire philosophy of Pilates was developed by one German man looking for an alternative way to be healthy through physical activity. It is now passed on from instructor to instructor and has evolved over time. Many fitness professionals, on the other hand, have degrees in exercise science and internationally recognized certifications. Their training and expertise is routed in science, supported by facts and centuries of historical application. I recently had a conversation with a Pilates instructor who mentioned their instruction specifically avoids anatomical terminology, in terms of their branding and imaging. And while some instructors are educated in anatomy and physiology, the focus of Pilates is more about feeling and less about applying real theory. In some ways it made me think of a placebo....