Surviving Summit: Strengthen your shoulders for ski season
January 5, 2016
Everybody falls. Whether it's overshooting a big hit in the park, losing an edge on a slick face or slipping on ice in the parking lot, falls are a common occurrence with potentially big consequences.
Instinctually, we outstretch our arms to brace for impact, but often this exposes our wrists and shoulders to injury. Shoulder injuries, specifically dislocations, are commonly caused by awkward landings and braced falls. But there's hope: You can reduce you risk for shoulder injury by focusing on training the small muscles that stabilize and protect the shoulders.
Meet your shoulders
Your shoulders are very complex with amazing range of motion. To allow for optimal mobility, the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder is very shallow, but there is a cartilage rim, called the labrum, that deepens the socket and improves stability. Surrounding the joint is a connective tissue capsule and several ligaments that also help stabilize the ball in the socket. Then there is the rotator cuff, which consists of four small muscles and tendons. These muscles move the arm and help keep the ball centered in the socket during motion.
With such a wide range of mobility, you have to keep things strong and stable. Shoulder injuries are painful and take a long time to heal, so let's try to avoid them by being proactive. Below are several easy strengthening exercises you can do to keep your shoulders strong and stable — long before your next fall.
From the ground up
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Start with ground-based exercises. First, focus on shoulder blade positioning and stability.
1. I's, T's and Y's over the ball: These should be performed with emphasis on holding your shoulder blades neutral and stable. Adding a subtle backwards squeezing motion to pull the blades together is a helpful cue.
The shoulder blades are the mobile platform from which the ball-and-socket joint articulates. Having a stable foundation is key to healthy shoulder function.
2. External and internal rotation: Now, work on the rotator cuff. Start with good posture, keeping the shoulder blades neutral and stabile. Also, add a pillow or towel roll between your arm and torso to improve rotator cuff muscle activation.
Keeping the elbow at your side and at a 90-degree bend, rotate the arm in (internal rotation) or out (external rotation).
Use light resistance and high repetition training to target the small muscles here. The progression to this is performing external rotation with your arm at 90 degrees to the side (abducted).
3. Planks and push-ups: Now, work it all at once. Everything comes together with these weight-bearing exercises, when you focus on quality alignment and controlled motion instead of high repetitions or speed.
Perform a regular plank on your elbows, a side plank with one elbow, or just do push-ups. These are all advanced training exercises that challenge shoulder blade stability, rotator cuff strength and overall core conditioning.
Our shoulders are designed with very specific features to be optimally functional. However, the shoulder is at risk for injury when it comes to slips, falls or other incidents on and off the hill.
Whether you are healthy or recovering from an acute or chronic shoulder injury, it's worthwhile to consider targeting the small muscles of your shoulders to improve the alignment, stability and function of your arms.
Eric Dube is a licensed physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist with Howard Head Sports Medicine in Summit County. His specialty is shoulder rehabilitation.
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