The Secret Sauce
At first glance, the Crossover Symmetry System seems to be a very straightforward program for strengthening weak muscles of the shoulder. The simple theory that a weak shoulder leads to a painful shoulder is easy enough to understand and generally holds some truth. However, this one-dimensional view has led to exercise prescriptions for shoulder pain that unfortunately don’t work very well, along with warm-ups that leave strength gains on the table.
The prescription for shoulder health before Crossover Symmetry was developed typically involved: internal and external rotation exercises with the elbow stuck at the side, strengthening the scap stabilizers with I’s, Y’s, and T’s, and maybe a few serratus push-ups.
What is it about the typical shoulder program that falls short while people are raving about Crossover Symmetry saving their shoulders? What is going on beneath the surface that has made our program so effective in treating painful shoulders, adding weight to overhead lifts, or increasing velocity from the mound? What is the secret sauce that has made the Crossover approach so successful?
Many basic corrective exercise programs are missing the importance of motor programming (how the brain controls the muscles). The hundreds of studies on the pathology of shoulder impingement point to multiple causes of shoulder pain. Yet, corrective exercise programs often target only a lack of strength as the cause.
- What about decreased muscle activation of the serratus anterior? 1
- Or delayed contraction of the lower and middle trapezius? 2
- What about an overactive pectoralis minor or upper trap? 3
These are not just strength issues, but also problems with motor control.
A 4-week study of basic corrective shoulder exercises showed strength gains but no change in how the shoulder actually moved. 4 Most clinicians now understand this and include motor programming into their treatment of shoulder pain. But why not include motor programming for home therapy programs as well? Or an even better question, why not incorporate motor programming as part of a strength and conditioning program that maximizes performance along with preventing injury?
Why not incorporate motor programming as part of a strength and conditioning program that maximizes performance along with preventing injury?
The Crossover Symmetry System is designed to train movement patterns, not isolated muscle groups. Strength certainly does increase with Crossover Symmetry, but the primary focus is developing the coordination among muscle groups to accomplish more complex movement tasks, like throwing a baseball, swimming, Olympic lifting, or gymnastics.
Much of the magic behind Crossover Symmetry lies in the sequencing and programming “behind the bands”. The sequencing layers the movement patterns needed for the arm to go overhead.
The first layer establishes the athletic posture key to sport performance. This involves standing upright with a braced core and engaged hips. Not only is this more functional for developing athletic performance, but studies have even indicated that poor core stability and balance are correlated with shoulder dysfunction and an increase in upper extremity injury 5,6. Therefore, a holistic approach is warranted when training the shoulder. This means incorporating an element of balance and core stability into each exercise, which is a stark contrast to traditional shoulder exercises completed either folded over or lying down.
The Crossover program then layers scapular position and shoulder movements to progressively flip the switches on the control system between the brain and muscles. The end result is increased shoulder stability and scapulohumeral rhythm to go overhead no matter the context of the sport. Additionally, the programming has proven effective for rehabbing shoulder pain as well as breaking through plateaus in performance.
TRAIN THE BRAIN
Much like Pavel’s principle of Greasing the Groove, we believe training the neurological pathways is as important for strength gains as developing the muscle fibers. The ability to generate fast and powerful signals between the brain and the muscle is a key nervous system component for developing strength.
Every former couch potato that decided to jump into an exercise program quickly demonstrates the trainability of the neuromuscular system. In the initial weeks of a resistance-training program, strength gains happen faster than any quantifiable muscle tissue can be built. Therefore, more muscle mass cannot be the source of daily PRs, but rather it’s the improved efficiency of the nervous system to use the muscles that are already there.
Therefore, more muscle mass cannot be the source of daily PRs, but rather it’s the improved efficiency of the nervous system to use the muscles that are already there.
Incorporating this into a training program typically involves applying regular submaximal and perfect sets of a desired movement. For instance, pushups can be dramatically improved by doing one set of pushups every hour, while staying well under the point of muscle failure for each set. This stimulus doesn’t necessarily build massive muscles needed for pushups, but rather develops the neural connections needed to optimally contract the muscles already there.
A core component of Crossover Symmetry is consistent repetition of movements needed for developing overhead strength, power, and speed. Our program recommendations are varied based upon the intended stimulus, but a key component is developing the neural connections necessary for firing the muscles that control the scap and humerus.
Completing Crossover Symmetry Activation daily is the minimum requirement, in our mind, for improving or even maintaining shoulder function. It is this repeated stimulus that has proven effective in building a general motor program for shoulder function that truly changes how an athlete’s shoulder feels, moves, and performs.
The primary reason any exercise program fails is due to a lack of consistency. Obviously, even the most advanced shoulder program will never end your shoulder problems if it is only completed a handful of times (yes, that even goes for Crossover Symmetry).
The primary reason any exercise program fails is due to a lack of consistency.
Outside of laziness, too much complexity is the number one reason for poor consistency. This is unfortunate because complexity is often paired with the best of intentions. To put it bluntly, too many exercises paired with too many repetitions kills consistency. You are never going to make corrective exercises fun, so they need to be short and to the point, taking less than 5 minutes or they will never get done.
The second reason for a lack of consistency in the training world is the scatter shooting of exercises with the intention of correcting shoulder dysfunction. No doubt that there are hundreds of exercises that can help the shoulder move better. However, if there is a constantly varied approach to corrective exercises, consistency tends to go out the window.
In regards to developing motor programs, it takes thousands of reps of the same exercise to develop expertise around a movement pattern. When considering the nature of our lives, the motor program the body tends to become accustomed to is shoulders forward and hips flexed in a seated position.
Consequently, for shoulder health, there needs to be a stimulus of movement that will oppose the forward shoulder position. Just like performing a set of air squats throughout the day to keep the hips moving, the shoulders need a low threshold stimulus emphasized several times throughout the day for their proper function as well.
The Crossover Symmetry System creates an easy solution for increasing consistency around arm care. We apply the minimum effective dose to a short series of exercises, for a program that only takes 5 minutes to complete. This simplicity allows the system to be used several times throughout the day, which establishes the consistency needed to create a foundation for shoulder movement. With a solid foundation, throw in any additional shoulder exercise you like, and notice how strength gains are exponentially greater than just attacking those exercises randomly by themselves.
USE THE BLACK BOX
The black box theory is used across multiple industries to describe conclusions created by knowing the inputs and outcomes of a system without consideration of the mechanisms linking the two. Using the black box model to examine the Crossover Symmetry System, we are extremely confident in what we have developed. Considering the thousands of athletes and teams that entered the black box with our equipment and programs, and the countless testimonials and performance gains leaving the black box, it is easy to conclude that Crossover Symmetry is excellent for building stronger and less painful shoulders.
It is amazing how many exercise programs and treatment plans continue to be applied without consideration for both short and long term outcomes. Often, exercises are chosen simply based on EMG results, p-values, or because that’s how things have always been done.
We’ve given you a peek at the current scientific and medical input that makes Crossover Symmetry the greatest shoulder system available. While we work hard to stay up to date with the latest shoulder research, we also continually step back and re-evaluate outcomes in order to drive developments towards an even better system for ending shoulder pain and improving performance.
1. Ludewig, P., & Cook, T. (2000). Alterations in shoulder kinematics and associated muscle activity in people with symptoms of shoulder impingement. Phys Ther , 276-291.
2. Cools, A., Witvrouw, E., Declercq, G., Danneels, L., & Cambier, D. (2003). Scapular muscle recruitment patterns: trapezius muscle latency with and without impingement symptoms. Am J Sports Med , 542-549.
3. Yesilyaprak, S., Yuksel, E., & Kalkan, S. (2016). Influence of pectoralis minor and upper trapezius lengths on observable scapular dyskinesis. Phys Ther Sport , 7-13.
4. Lin, Y.-L., & Karduna, A. (2016). A four-week exercise program does not change rotator cuff muscle activation and scapular kinematics in healthy subjects. J Orthop Res. Epub ahead of print.
5. Radwan, A., Francis, J., Green, A., Kahl, E., Maciurzynski, D., Quartulli, A., et al. (2014). Is there a relation between shoulder dysfunction and core instability? Int J Sports Phys Ther , 8-13.
6. Kibler, W. B., Press, J., & Sciascia, A. (2006). The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports Med. , 36 (6), 189-98.