Baseball players, volleyball players and many other overhead athletes have long understood the importance of strengthening the muscles of the rotator cuff as a strategy for preventing injury. Unfortunately, many of these popular cuff strengthening protocols have been ineffective for one simple reason. Lack of QUALITY.
Any program will work if it is done correctly and consistently (this principle applies to most things in life, not just strength training by the way). The problem arises when programs are designed to be too long and complicated to be done correctly and consistently. Some of the most prevalent shoulder pre-hab or rotator cuff programs in use with many professional sports teams around the world are based on doing multiple high rep sets of multiple exercises at multiple joint angles. These programs are often performed with light dumbbells or resistance bands. A common program might contain:
10-20 reps (each arm)
5 or more different exercises
All said and done, the program can easily end up well over 100, 200, or even 300 repetitions. The problem with a program like this is that the athlete can easily lose focus on the quality of each repetition and, as a result, diminish the effectiveness of the movements, or even cause more harm than good.
Why Is Quality So Important?
Performing exercises that simply strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff is a short-sighted approach to preventing injury. Rotator cuff work must also address scapular stability, which is affected by spinal alignment which depends on pelvic position. The problem with complex cuff protocols is that by the time the athlete starts to feel their rotator cuff muscles burn they have long since forgotten about posture and body position. As a result, they are reinforcing poor movement patterns by strengthening a muscle in a bad position. Maybe they are even doing more harm than good, for the same reasons swimming can be harmful to overhead athletes.The Answer To Arm Care
Start with Posture: Good posture is a result of addressing imbalances and improving movement signatureTM with proper strength training from the ground up
Set the Scaps: Set the scapulae and thoracic spine position before every rep.
Focus on Time: Isometric holds and fewer reps allow for more focused attention while still getting the necessary time under tension.
Check back next week when we go through some of the specific exercises that we do for rotator cuff strength and scapular stability. In the meantime, remember that quality and consistency are the keys to success no matter what you are working towards.