During my years of working in the gym industry I have noticed as well as learnt that some exercises aggravate the rotator cuff muscles within the shoulder joint and occasionally damage them. In this article I am going to give examples of some exercises that I do not recommend performing if you are a weight trainer just starting out or have suffered from a shoulder injury in the past.
Rotator cuff muscles
The Rotator Cuff muscles are not the Deltoid muscles, they are the supporting muscles surrounding the shoulder capsule. These muscles are called the Supraspinatus, Subscapularis, Teres minor and the Infraspinatus.
If you injure, strain or slightly tear any of rotator cuff muscles I recommend seeing a qualified physiotherapist for exercises to assist in strengthening the injury. To avoid injuring your shoulder joint it is important to perform an adequate warm up before beginning exercises. To save the hassles of injuring yourself avoid the following exercises in your gym program.
Behind the Neck Barbell Shoulder Press:
This is one of the most popular shoulder strengthening exercises performed by trainers of all ability levels. The main problem with this exercise is the fact that many trainers do not have enough flexibility within the shoulder capsule itself to perform the exercise safely. When trainers with poor flexibility do the exercise the small rotator cuff muscles are placed under a significant load resulting in a potential injury. You may have done this exercise in the past or it may be part of your current gym program if it is I advise you to adjust this exercise by bringing the bar in front of your head opposed to behind the head. This will relieve the pressure on your shoulder capsule and still work the shoulder muscles.
Behind the neck lat pull down:
This is one of the most popular exercises to do especially with the older generations of trainers. Many people watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pumping Iron and see him doing behind the neck lat pull down and think this is the way to perform the exercise correctly. A few years ago a new law has passed in Australia stating that no one is allowed to teach a behind the neck lat pull down. This is because in the rare occurrence that the cable snaps the trainer may suddenly smash the bar bell into the base of their neck and could cause a potential injury. Similar to the behind the neck shoulder press a behind the neck lat pull down also puts your shoulder capsule in a weak position. To avoid injury perform a lat pull down by pulling the bar in front of your head not behind.
Pec Dec is an exercise that is very common among trainers wanting to stimulate the chest muscles. To perform a Pec dec most machines ask the trainer to rest their forearms on the pads before pulling the arm rests together. Trainers need to be aware that whenever your elbow joint is at a ninety degree angle and at chest height you are likely to injure the rotator cuff muscles. Try to use the pec dec machine that asks for you to have your arms straight not at a ninety degree angle. If you do not have access to one of these machines then replace the Pec dec with a Dumbbell fly instead.
Overhead triceps extension
This exercise is performed by sitting down and placing a heavy dumbbell behind your head, from here you extend your elbows stimulating the triceps. This exercise is a great exercise to build strong triceps due to the big amount of weight you can lift. It is very rare but if, when you are doing this exercise, you feel a ‘pinch’ feeling within the shoulder joint, stop immediately and replace the exercise. This pinch feeling may lead to injury if one day you lift too much weight or you lower the weight a bit too low and your shoulder can’t handle it.
Upright row is another exercise that many trainers complain of a dull ache or slight pinch in the shoulder the day after doing this exercise. This is due to how trainers perform this exercise. Many trainers each that the top of the movement “the elbows must be higher than the shoulders,” this is incorrect. At the top of the movement the elbows must be level with the wrists, and your forearms horizontal to the floor. If you raise your elbows above the shoulders you are putting extra stress on the shoulder joint but keeping the elbows horizontal to the floor will keep the shoulder in a strong position throughout the entire movement.
With all of the above exercises you may have been doing them for years and never once injured your shoulder. I am not saying that if you perform these exercises you will get injured I am just simply stating that due to the fact that you are lifting in an biomechanically bad position means that these exercises may put you at a higher risk of injury, compared to others. Many Olympic weightlifters perform behind the neck presses all the time but these athletes spend a lot of time stretching their upper-body because they need excellent shoulder flexibility for the lifts their sport.
Author: Matt D’Aquino
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