Injuries happen. When they happen we blame the activity at hand and quote Roger Murtaugh saying something lame like “I’m getting too old for this…..” In reality age has a lot less to do with our injury than the fact we didn’t do anything to prevent it. During my short history in law enforcement I’ve seen more cops get sidelined for shoulder injuries than anything else. Know anyone that has trashed their shoulder recently? Ask them what they were doing to prevent it. I’m betting the answer is a blank stare.
Your crappy shoulder mobility is a ticking time bomb. It’s way past time to start working on some shoulder maintenance strategies. The implications of your junky shoulders go well beyond the obvious torn rotator cuff or dislocation injuries that come to mind when you think shoulder problems. Even if you don’t outright injure your shoulder it’s responsible for pain in more places than you think.
Do you have neck pain? Fix the shoulder.
Do you have back pain? Fix the shoulder.
Want to prevent pectoral tears? Fix the shoulder.
What about your elbow problems? Big surprise, fix the shoulder.
The list just keeps going.
If left unchecked sitting in a squad car in uniform all day will trash your shoulder mobility (Are you starting to notice a common theme with my writing here?). Spending year after year in a squad car with your shoulders in midrange flexion and anterior translation (shoulder sitting in the front of the socket) is a massive maladaptive positional load to overcome. It quickly becomes your default position which is not where you want it to be if you’re trying to be powerful and injury free.
By the way if you’re a big into bench and biceps curls there’s a really good chance your show muscle has you locked in some crappy positions and the timer is ticking faster. Don’t get me wrong I like getting a sweet pump from a good chest and arms session too, and nothing is specifically wrong with either exercise, but too much focus on both really shortens the pecs and biceps and will age your body faster than chain smoking in tanning booth.
Your shoulder is an officer safety issue.
Almost all of us know a cop that jacked up their shoulder while scrapping with a suspect at work. Chances are they fought through the pain won the fight and got the arrest. They dealt with the pain for a few days, weeks or months before finally getting it checked out and ended up under the surgeon’s knife and off the schedule. Despite our best efforts to be safe the same thing happens during training. Think about the last time you practiced handcuffing at defensive tactics. How many guys took it way too easy or avoided being the suspect because of their shoulder? What about working on joint locks? Have you ever worked on an Americana or Kimura at ¼ speed and the guy playing suspect is tapping before it’s locked in? Yeah we’ve got serious problems if we can’t drill important skills at speed and be safe about it. These techniques can be effective but need to be trained often and sometimes at full intensity. Practicing them puts a stress on our bodies and too many of our compromised shoulders can’t handle it. If the training is not safe or effective then what’s the point? Ask your departments’ workman’s compensation provider how they feel about you drilling some ground fighting skills. I’m willing to bet they prefer you do something else because with little doubt they will be paying out for something.
I wish I could tell you that I had a quick fix for this problem, but it’s going to take some work. Step 1: Keep working on thoracic spine extension. Step 2: You have to pay attention to your shoulder position at work: retract the shoulder blades just a little bit and keep the shoulders back. When you see yourself defaulting to a hunched over shoulder forward position slap yourself of the wrist and make a better decision. Step 3: Start building some shoulder maintenance into your life.
Introducing the MAWAP™ ® © <———My idea, you can’t have it, but I’ll let you use it…. For a nominal fee.
Crossfit may be the king of popularizing the use of acronyms in the fitness world. They got WOD- Workout Of the Day, AMRAP- As Many Rounds As Possible, EMOM- Every Minute On the Minute. Here’s one they missed MAWAP- Move As Well As Possible. This is a workout that has very little to do with rep volume and how many rounds you perform. Frankly it’s the anti-AMRAP. The purpose is to work in as much time under tension in various positions as you possibly can while moving. Going slow makes it harder and more effective.
One of the many knowledge bombs I picked up from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Kettlebell Simple and Sinister comes from the section about the benefits of preforming the Turkish getup slowly. Pavel uses the example of martial artists preforming katas real slow to expose flaws in form and balance that would otherwise be rushed past and unnoticed. After perfecting movements at slower speeds the accuracy and quality of movement at full speed is impressive.
What we’re shooting for is mastery of shoulder positions but I’ll happily take simple competency for now. I can’t stress this point enough. Slow it down. I guarantee if you do you will find out why less is more.
The proposed version of workout is a half hour long and should give you plenty of time under tension in these positions to not only mobilize the shoulder but give you a pretty solid workout even if you only do one round. In fact if you are moving the entire time and you only do one round you can consider yourself a beast.
If your shoulder is a ticking time bomb consider this the bomb squad.
We’re going to utilize variations of the animal movements you haven’t done since elementary physical education in combination with some loaded pushes and carries alternating movements in a down and back fashion. The goal is to work on mobility and stability in as many shoulder positions as possible. 30 min MAWAP.
A quick aside about the animal movements and P.E. I’ve only practiced these movements once since school and that was training for a GORUCK. Even being involved in fitness mostof my life the benefit of these movements never dawned on me as anything other than a method of fitness torture until recently in a moment of satori that was like Daniel LaRusso figuring out that wax on/wax off was actually allegory for deflecting an attack. It turns out these movements are just ways of challenging full expression of shoulder mobility under body weight load. Those tricky gym teachers are smarter than you think.
Push– For this I used my trusty Westside butcher sled. If you don’t have some sort of push sled then use a vehicle with training partner behind the wheel, or just push the training partner if you have one heavy enough to create enough resistance. Whatever the load is, make sure it’s enough to make you grind a little and move slow. Depending on your forward lean and torso position this can be analogous to the press (vertical torso) or overhead position (forward lean).
Bear Crawl– I like the knee-less bear crawl because it really gets after end range of shoulder flexion. Think about hitting your best possible downward dog and move. Take slow small steps across the yard using the pattern hand, hand, foot, foot. Focus on how this reaching overhead while keeping the shoulder stable in external rotation (get the creases of the elbows pointing toward your fingers) and did I mention to move slowly?
Crab walk– This is the arguably the most beneficial movement of the workout. Shoulder extension (arm behind the body) is the key here. If you can, take the kink out of the hips Squeeze the butt and get yourself in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Open the chest and feel the stretch in the biceps. The goal here is a little closer to the yoga position of tabletop than what you remember crab being. Call it walking table top if you want I don’t care. Take your time and do the best you can. A lot of cops are going to be missing shoulder extension so scale this to be as safe as you can.
If your hips need to drop, let them drop take a few steps and press back up into table top. Ideally you will have fingers pointing toward your feet. This stabilizes the shoulder with internal rotation. If you’re missing that you can let the hands turn out a little but keep working on it.
Ape walk– Bend over, touch your hands to the ground, then drop your hips all the way down and try to posture your torso up until the weight is about 80% on the feet 20% on the hands. The shoulders are going to reach forward a little here. Suck the shoulder in and keep the lats turned on to keep it stable. It seems to work best if you keep the pattern foot, hand, hand, foot.
Sandbag bear-hug walk – After I get the bag into position I prefer to grab the bag with closed fists and focus on pulling the weight into my body with the shoulders. You have a couple options with bag position: 1) you can keep it vertical and hug the bag with your arms in the center or 2) start to challenge yourself with a horizontal bag and use over-the-top grasp. If you have to start bending your legs to support the weight from underneath, you either need a lighter weight or a stronger grip position.
Farmer walk– Few things hammer posture and rotator cuff stability better than a farmer walk. Pull your shoulders back just slightly and grab the weight just a little off center to the back so it tips forward a few inches. Flex your triceps and you’ll get a fantastic stretch in the biceps to undo some of those preacher curls while you’re at it. I’m fortunate enough to have some farmer walk handles but a couple of big dumbbells or kettlebells will work just fine.
Overhead walk– Pure stabilization of flexion and external rotation here kids. If you don’t have a good overhead position then this may not be for you for a while. If you can’t do two weights overhead try one sided overhead walks. If you want to make it harder do a one side overhead in combination with a heavy farmer carry in the other hand.
Putting it together
On the experimental trial I did 30 minutes of this in the back yard which is about 50’ fence to fence.
Prowler push down, Bear Crawl back
Farmer Carry down, Crab Walk Back
Ape walk down, sandbag bear-hug walk back
Overhead walk down start over with prowler push and repeat until the timer says stop.
And that’s pretty much it. The day after doing this my shoulders felt strong so I gave it a try and crushed a personal best on a strict kettlebell shoulder press. Maybe that was coincidence but probably not.
You can modify according to the implements you have and your ability to get into any of the shapes. I’ll only judge you a tiny bit if you don’t have a bag of sand, kettlebells, a prowler and some farmers walk handles available in your garage or gym. Experiment with it and try new movements.
Q: Should you do the animal moves forward or backward?
A: Yes and maybe even laterally or not at all if necessary.
You’ll reap benefit from variety here. I’ll use the crab walk to explain why. When crab walking feet first you see that you load the shoulder in less extension and use the movement of your body to bias it into more extension. If you move head first you’ll see that you have to use active shoulder extension to move your arm back and stabilize before receiving the load of your bodyweight. If you want to go laterally you can apply the same ideas to some horizontal abduction and adduction. Even vary which hand or foot you lead off with will make a subtle difference as you grind this one out.
If you find that you absolutely cannot get into a shape and move then get in the best version you can and perform a static hold. When you’ve had enough, walk down and move on to the next movement. Take your time and do it right. What happens when the bomb squad goes fast and screws up? BOOM!If you fear this workout is beyond your physical ability just alternate some downward dog and Crab/table top static holds for about 10 minutes a couple of times a week to get started. Work them into walks and start adding everything else.
This thing is great for the shoulders but I can’t ignore the other pieces this workout hits. This post is getting long so here are the bullet points of some of the other benefits.
- Spending time with your hands on the ground hits wrist flexibility.
- The various forms of crawling challenge hip and ankle mobility and motor control.
- The farmers carry works on grip strength and posture mechanics.
- The sandbag bear hug walk challenges posture and breathing mechanics.
- Pretty much everything can be used to challenge reflexive trunk stability.
It’s time to start reintroducing full range of motion to your shoulders. Take your time and whatever you do don’t force or rush any part of it. Your body can take months to adapt, and you’ve got a ways to go. Keeping that in mind this is not a one and done experiment. Work it in about once a week or so for a few months and defuse that bomb. You’ll be stronger, able to trainer harder and safer for your efforts.