Thursday Tip: Shoulder Strengthening
There has been some hubbub recently about shoulder injuries, especially from tricks like Phoenix, Twisted Grip Handspring, reverse/blind/flying grabs, and even one-handed spins. This was posted a while back, but I think it’s relevant– and important! To bring it up again… and to add it to the “Tips” section of the site. So, here you go!
Okay guys. For today’s entry, I’m going to go out on a limb and give you all a basic anatomy lesson. Or, attempt to.
Why? Well. Because I’m hearing more and more stories about shoulder injuries. People are feeling chronic pain in their shoulders, resting them, coming back to pole, and getting frustrated when the pain reappears. And this drives me absolutely crazy. It’s like walking out into the rain without an umbrella and always wondering why you eventually get wet. Are you doing anything to address the rain, or just giving yourself time to dry off before getting wet again?
Shoulder injuries are super common in pole dancing—nearly all the spins we do, and many of the static holds and tricks, require you to suspend your weight from the pole with your arms. If you have a responsible teacher, they have taught you how to engage through your shoulder to prevent harm to your shoulder joint. But a lot of people don’t really understand why that is so important.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint… like your hip. The round top of your arm bone (the ball) fits into a shallow dish-like depression created by the bones of your shoulder (the socket), and is held together with four small and short muscles and tendons that are called the “rotator cuff”. Over the top of the whole thing, is the shoulder muscle (deltoid) which connects your collarbone and shoulder bone (blade) to the upper arm. The ball-and-socket setup allows for a huge range of motion—I mean, think about what other joints in the body allow for movement in every plane of motion! You can swing your arm around like a monkey if you want to. But the downside is that with that huge range of motion comes very little stability. Because the joint has to be free to move a lot, it means that there aren’t a lot of controls on the joint that keep it within a safe range of motion. That’s where those four little muscles come into play.
If you’re learning about this rotator cuff stuff for the first time, take a look at this video. It is a great 3D illustration. I’ll be right here waiting while you watch it.
So, now that you can see how the shoulder joint works, think about this: When you hang off your arm in a spin, you are hanging the entire weight of your body off the tendons and relaxed muscles of your rotator cuff. They aren’t that big, right? That sounds pretty bad, right? Like maybe you could tear something. Or rip something. Or at the very least, stretch some tendons beyond their comfort zone.
On the other hand, if you engage big lovely muscles, and the little itty bitty muscles of the rotator cuff (pulling your shoulder down and away from your ear, and sliding your shoulder blade down and into the center of your back), you are using the strength of those contracted muscles to hold you up.
If you don’t have the strength in the shoulder muscles to engage properly, you WILL hurt yourself. Maybe not now, maybe not 6 months from now, but all the accumulated damage you are doing to your shoulder will catch up with you. THAT is why beginners should NOT do one-handed spins until they have built up serious strength and are able to maintain good form. And that damage is the reason that many of us have shoulder problems and pain. I was never taught how to engage my shoulder in a spin, and my right shoulder actually clicks when I make a big circle with my arm. It sucks.
Pole dancing creates imbalances in our bodies. We are constantly having to pull up, pull in, contract towards the pole. So all of the muscles that are used for opposing actions suffer: I have very strong biceps to lift my body up, but my triceps are very weak. Or my inner thighs are very strong because I have to squeeze my legs around the pole, but my outer thighs are weak and I can’t generate nearly as much force at opening my legs (insert dirty joke here). There are a lot of muscles that get neglected, for the simple reason that they’re difficult to work in exercises using our apparatus of choice. The muscles of the rotator cuff in particular are often ignored and very difficult to strengthen in traditional pole strengthening moves.
If you have chronic shoulder pain, re-evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. You can’t just “rest” it and think that the problem will go away. You need to address the root of the problem and take steps to eliminate it.
For some suggestions on how to strengthen your shoulder, take a look at this video below. Doing these exercises in my weekly Pilates privates have made my shoulder SO much stronger and more stable, and completely eliminated all the discomfort and pain that I was feeling in my shoulders. Angel (an awesome reader) pointed out that “The second vid has good exercises and the nice thing is you can tie the resistance band to the pole instead of the door. The funny thing is that he cues you to keep the elbow in during the external rotation exercises, but then he doesn’t”– so do as he says, and not as he does.
I hope that helps some of you! If you’re more knowledgeable on this topic please feel free to chime in/correct using the comments!!
Tomorrow’s post: In my bag, part 2!…