Mar 21, 2012

The Unhooked Shoulder

The shoulder is an area of frequent injury, and whether the cause is from kiting or the mouse on your computer, a few simple exercises can help keep you safe. When you think about a strongstable shoulder, a picture comes to mind of the kiter that can ride unhooked down the line steering the kite with one hand, or stomp that blind judge.
In order to gain a strong shoulder that can handle the unhooked moves, you need to actually forget about the shoulder and focus on the scapula. The shoulder is made up of small rotator cuff muscles that provide support and stability, but the large muscles in the midback that control the scapula actually provide support and strength to the shoulder.
Think about doing a pull up. Do you use the small muscles in your shoulder, or the large ones of your upper back? For a great test of shoulder strength, try a pull up and see where you feel the work being done. The top of your shoulders should be relaxed while the upper back muscles do the work.
It’s these strong upper back muscles that connect with your core and hips to control your body movements while unhooked. Someone who does not utilize these upper back muscles but simply relies on the small muscles in their shoulders ends up with the bar getting away from their body, which decreases control.
2 Types of Pull Up Tests:
• You should be able to do an equal number of horizontal pull ups to push ups.
• You should feel this exercise in your upper/mid back region between your shoulder blades (scapula).
• Try and relax the top of your shoulders and your lower back. These 2 areas will cheat if your scapula muscles are weak.
• Muscles at work: Rhomboids and Middle and Lower Traps
• The upper traps (top of the shoulder) do not contract. There is a lot of space between the shoulders and the ears.
• If the upper traps contract for this motion, it will cause dysfunction within the joint, that eventually leads to shoulder pain.
• The muscles underneath the arm do the movement, this is where you should feel the exercise working. Not in the top of your shoulder.

Building adequate shoulder strength to handle unhooked kiting can take some work. Cross training on a cable or behind a boat can be an easy and effective way to build strength, but it doesn’t always create balance within the shoulder.
Most shoulder injuries I treat in athletes are actually caused by their “shoulder” being too strong and their midback muscles too weak. If you would like to know where you stand, check out part 1 of the Unhooked Shoulder for the strength tests.
Proper strengthening of the midback muscles (Rhomboids, Middle Traps and Lower Traps) can be done with a few simple exercises.
Reverse Flies
• Use only midback muscles, think about sliding your scapula (shoulder blade) across your back.
• Relax the top of your shoulder.
• Tighten your stomach and have a loose grip on the handle.
• This exercise can also be done face down on a weight bench.


• Squeeze or pinch your scapula together, thinking about opening your chest.
• Relax your arms.
• Remember this is a back exercise, not an arm exercise! It’s up to you to recruit the right muscles.

To finish enhancing scapula control over the shoulder, the serratus anterior muscle ranks top of the list.
This motion is call a scapula press or a push up with a plus. It strengthens scapula control, which in turncreates a very strong stable shoulder.
• Relax the top of your shoulders, try not to active your upper traps.
• Press up keeping your core tight and your chin tucked.
• Keep your elbows straight, this is a small motion that only involves the scapula.
Next on the list after tackling your midback is your rotator cuff. If you start with rotator cuff strengthening before you have adequate scapula strength, your rotator cuff will end up getting over used, leading to possible impingement or tendonitis. Now, if you have ever had rotator cuff tendonitis, you know how painful it can be.
The number one rotator cuff strengthening exercise is external rotation.
• Keep your elbow by your side and bent to 90 degrees
• Think about initiating the movement from your scapula (shoulder blade) in your back and letting your hand just follow along. If you are having trouble with this try looping the band around your wrist, instead of gripping the handle. It should feel like your shoulder rolls open and your hand just follows.
• The work should be coming from the back of the shoulder. If you feel it in the front you are actually doing the exercise incorrectly and can be hurting more than helping. (It may take some practice to get the right muscles to kick in!)
• Take the band back across your body slowly, do not let the band pull you.
• Make sure the band is light, these are small muscles and do not need a whole lot of resistance.