By Justin Dudley, PT, DPT, EMT & Matt Unthank MS, CSCS
There is no doubt that strong and healthy shoulders are absolutely essential for a high-intensity athlete, and we are sure that no one would be surprised to hear that over half of the injuries that occur in Cross-Training are shoulder related. Here at Crossover Symmetry, we believe that many of these injuries can be prevented by taking proactive measures to address dysfunctions and prepare athletes for demands of the sport. For the high-intensity athlete, this is often related to muscular imbalances of the scapular stabilizers, rotator cuff deconditioning/fatigue, and/or poor shoulder posture leading to a breakdown of shoulder mechanics and thereby causing injury. Therefore, a call to all athletes! Don’t sit on the sideline because your shoulders suck, fix the dysfunction.
The first issue for many high-intensity athletes is the breakdown of the intricate link between the scapula and humerus. The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, is the foundation upon which all upper extremity strength and function is built. It moves in three planes of motion and must be both stable and dynamic to facilitate energy transfer and proper shoulder position when moving the arm overhead. upward-rotation-2 If the scapula muscles are functioning sub-optimally due to weakness, imbalance, or lack of neuromuscular control, the shoulder complex will lose energy and create a poor foundation for the arm. For many high-intensity athletes an imbalance in the upper trap, comparative to the lower/mid trap, results in limitations in the ability to upwardly rotate the scapula when going overhead and sets the shoulder up for injury with repetitive overhead movement. The serratus anterior is another muscle group often overlooked that plays an important role in scapular function. It holds the scapula onto the rib cage, assists in upward rotation when moving the arm overhead, and protracts the shoulder around the body with pushing movements. While dysfunction of the serratus anterior is often observed in a condition called scapular winging, it may go unrecognized without a thorough examination of movement patterns by a trained professional. The Crossover Symmetry H.I.I.T system corrects the issues in these scapular stabilizers, plus the other 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, through a variety of functional movement patterns. By enhancing the balance and function of the stabilizing structures in the shoulder, the prime movers are able to perform their duty without wasting energy attempting to perform a secondary task like stability.
A second issue for high-intensity athletes relates to problems with the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles that are responsible for keeping the humeral head centered in the socket during arm movement. While the shoulder is called a “ball and socket” joint, it is important to realize that it is structured more like a golf ball on a tee, with the ball being much larger than the socket. This inherently allows for a great deal of mobility but at the expense of stability. Therefore, the rotator cuff plays a key role in stabilizing the joint, which, if done poorly, can lead to a huge potential for injury and impaired performance. High-Intensity athletes often have highly developed deltoids by the nature of their sport, which counteracts the stabilizing action of the rotator cuff. The Crossover Symmetry system facilitates rotator cuff strength, endurance, and motor control to help the shoulder slide and glide through the socket even under high workloads seen during Cross-Training workouts.
Finally, forward shoulder posture plagues our society and wrecks good shoulder position. Time spent working at a desk, driving, texting, eating, and other typical sedentary activities in our day and age result in a chronic state of shoulder impingement which inhibits good overhead movement. While the Crossover Symmetry system can’t fix your commute to work or social media addiction, it does incorporate active stretching for the shorted pectoralis minor and strengthens the muscles that support the thoracic spine, both major issues seen in those with the dreaded forward shoulder position.
As highlighted above, high-intensity athletes need to take care of the dysfunction that occurs as a result of lifestyle adaptations and the sport itself. Cross-Training demands speed through a variety of shoulder movements and an abundance of heavy vertical pulling. Due to this, continuing to compete in Cross-Training tends to further complicate shoulder issues until the underlying dysfunction is corrected. The Crossover Symmetry High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T) System is the evolution of the original Crossover Symmetry System designed to address the specific needs, time constraints, and demands of the high-intensity athlete. With the combination of the three phases of the Crossover Symmetry System (Activation, Recovery, and Plyometric) and the IRON SCAP scapular strengthening program, the H.I.I.T system promotes, restores, and maintains the function of the shoulder complex, allowing athletes at all levels to reach their full potential.