Just the other day, I was mentioning to a trainer that one of my clients had jokingly asked if I was going to really push him hard the next week because the workout that we had done that day wasn’t very hard. She asked me why my client thought he had an easy workout. I explained that to her that he had let me know his shoulder was bothering him with certain movements, so I had taken his workout down to the basics by working on his internal shoulder muscles with very light weights. I really liked her response of “the hardest workout is not always the best workout.”
Certainly something to keep in mind. If you are fit as a fiddle, then go for it. But if you have a nagging pain or impingement, tell your trainer. They can then really analyze your movement. See if you are favouring one side or the other and then tailor some workouts to work on the much smaller but just as important muscles.
There was no point in having my client do chest presses or lat pulldowns with a heavy weight if the small muscles that are meant to stabilize the shoulder joint were injured or tweaked.
Underneath the deltoids, you have a set of four small muscles known as your rotator cuff muscles or SITS. These individual muscles combine at the shoulder to form a “cuff” over the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder as well as elevates and rotates the arm. Each muscle originates on the shoulder blade, or scapula, and inserts on the arm bone, or humerus.
The four SITS muscles are:
Supraspinatus which abducts (draws away from the midline) the shoulder out to the side.
Infrasprinatus which externally rotates the shoulder joint
Teres minor also aids in external rotation of the shoulder joint.
Subscapularis internally rotates the humerus, and it is a powerful muscle that works with the other rotator cuff muscles to prevent displacement of the humerus head.
These muscles have a powerful job, but are also fairly small so if you overload the weight on specific exercises you risk injury.
Whereas one may use 15-20lb weights on a lateral or front raise, when working with the rotator cuff muscles, I will start with 1-2lb weights and maybe work my way up to 5lb weights. In addition to weights, I will use resistance band and do high repetition to fatigue the muscle.
The goal is not hypertrophy (building the muscle); rather strengthening so your shoulder joint has a full, pain free range of motion.
When it was all said and done, I don’t believe we used weights higher than 5lbs for the entire session. So did he sweat a ton and feel that exhaustion from pushing hard, NO. However, what did happen was we worked to strengthen the muscles that are crucial to his overall mobility in the future.
We will continue to work in rehabilitation exercises to strengthen these muscles with the goal of being able to engage all muscles without pain.
Maybe I can throw in some quick sprint intervals to get his heart rate up 🙂
Remember: Just because it isn’t “hard”, it doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard.