Sun’s Out – Guns Out!
Every spring, as blossoms pop out on trees, temps rise, and spring apparel appears in stores, that little voice in the back of the mind says “Let’s get the arms ready for tank top season!” What can I do to make my shoulders and arms look good for summer? Deltoids, biceps, triceps. HOLD IT, SISTER.
PLEASE DO NOT START PUMPING WEIGHT TO MAKE THESE PRETTY MUSCLES BIGGER!
If you were to ask me, “Carina, what can I do to get my arms looking great this summer?” I’d answer with a question: “Friend, what do you want to DO this summer?” Hike, kayak, swim, work, throw, climb, run? All of that and more? OK, let’s get your arms ready for THAT.
Because here’s the deal. If you were to do tons of exercises to make those big pretty muscles bigger and prettier, you may run into a problem. Exercises designed to target the prime movers (deltoid, biceps, triceps) typically require big movement of the arm and shoulder and therefore require excellent scapular stability. WHAAA?!?! The scapula (shoulder blade) is the anchor point for the arm. If the arm and shoulder are going to work well the scapula has to be stable. That means the 30 or so muscles that attach to it need to work well together. Without this, you’re building a house without a foundation. The house may crumble. That means your plans for swimming, kayaking, climbing… Maybe affected. Good thing your arms would look good! But we can’t have your adventures limited.
But can we have both?! You betcha. Let’s be smart. Ready? Here we go.
Train Smart, Play Hard.
The other piece that goes into this puzzle is thoracic mobility (the ability to lengthen and rotate your upper back). Our posture typically limits our opportunities to lengthen and rotate through this part of the spine, as we are often rounded as we drive, bike, type… In training we must include something to reverse this posture prior to attempting big movements with the shoulder.
3 Elements for Healthy Strong Summer Shoulders are:
1) Thoracic mobility
2) Scapular stability
3) Shoulder and arm strength
1) Thoracic Mobility
- Standing full body turns, side bends, and toe touch to back bend – these can be done as warm up for your workout or as a posture break during work or road trip! https://youtu.be/lid6TeQGk8A
- Foam Rolling – open the chest and let gravity help lengthen out the upper back and chest.
- Upward Facing Dog, Cobra – excellent heart openers and spine lengtheners. Get the shoulders loose too by alternating these with Child’s Pose. https://youtu.be/J7O4HVaxBwE
- All Fours Twists: Blending mobility work for the back, chest, shoulders with a little stability work too! I love a good efficient exercise! https://youtu.be/qOBR9oUGdGE
2) Scapular Stability
- Wall Presses – can also be done lying flat on your back! Lying is best to start with, then progress to standing where you’ve got to hold up your coconut! (Don’t get distracted thinking about that post workout coconut water! Stay with me!) Activate scapular team by pressing back into the wall/floor, keep the tension out of the neck (be a bobble-head for a second to make sure your big neck muscles aren’t trying to help). https://youtu.be/KwENq6OMiec
- Tubing T’s and Diagonals – also standing or on your back! Attach the band out on front of you, or use shorten it and hold it in both hands. Focus is moving the shoulder blades first, then the arms. https://youtu.be/OU5xA3lvgSM
- Scap Pulls -like you’re going to do a pull up, but don’t move the arms. Hang and your head toward the bar solely with the action of the shoulder blades. This happens to be the key link in progression of pull up training anyway. https://youtu.be/8qUNDlPV2UY (scap pulls shown about half way through this video)
- Scap Presses – From Down Dog and Push Up Positions – again, just move the shoulder blades and let your brain get used to that control, stability. Coaches say shoulder blades down and back all the time, let’s practice how to actually do that! From down dog, press the head away from the floor and slowly release, with no movement of the shoulder or elbow joints. From the top of a push up, lower the chest toward the floor and then press it away, doming the upper back, again, without moving the elbows.
3) Shoulder Strength:
- Rotator Cuff – famous for causing problems, these guys are the deep stabilizers of the shoulder, and are key for anything we do overhead. https://youtu.be/GEYNvGPE1TU https://youtu.be/a5ZXUXLwlcw
- Delts! Guess what, you already got them when you did your scapular stability stuff. You could add in some lateral raises (once you’ve nailed the scapular stability part), just keep the weight light and arms straight. Yes, there are those who do bent arm deltoid flies… But this version puts the shoulder in a position likely to cause pinching of various tissues. There’s a better way. Straight arm lateral raises, thumbs up, light weight. The weight doesn’t need to be heavy because the lever arm is so long.
- Bi’s and Tri’s: tubing works great here, from a standing position for bicep curls and overhead tricep press. Additional work for the back of the shoulder (lats, triceps) can be on your back with some added benefits included at no extra charge. Lying on your back with your back flat (not arching) and moving weight with either straight or bent arms gets the backs of shoulders and abs too!
- Body weight: push ups and pull ups and all your favorite variations thereof – as long as you’ve got #1 and #2 nailed! These are fabulous because they include so much! You’re busy, you might as well get a lot done in one exercise.
If you approach training in general like this, with considerations of the elements that can get you to your goal (whether it be photogenic deltoids or a long kayak trip) you’re more likely to have success both in training and playing. Train smart, play hard.
Check it out @kaiamoves and on the Kaia Moves YouTube Channel.
Move well. Be well.
~ Coach Carina