Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shoulder the Load

by Doug Ward on May 31, 2012

Due to the specific movements that boxing requires, one of the most common areas that become susceptible to injury or overuse are the shoulder muscles.  This sometimes relates to rotator cuff injuries or just basic shoulder joint stabilization issues.  The shoulder is a very complex joint, so that also makes it one of the most injury-prone.

The shoulder joint is comprised of a ball and socket structure that allows for twisting and turning.  It basically looks like a bone that has a ball on one end and it connects with a socket, which has the appearance of a cup – the two fit together to rotate and bend multi-directionally.  The shoulder joint is actually one of the more flexible joints in the body, but that is also the reason that it is one of the most commonly overused and ultimately most injured joints in the gym.

Boxers are especially susceptible to shoulder injuries because they are a primary focal point when delivering punches, clinching, blocking punches and keeping your hands up.  There are close to two dozen various muscles that help stabilize the rotator cuff and maintain shoulder joint integrity throughout a range of movements.  In order to strengthen those muscles and protect your shoulders from injury, there are a few exercises and approaches you can incorporate into your workout.

Deliver your punches with your elbows tucked in. When you let your arms stray away from your body, you are forcing your shoulder joint to generate the force and movement.  If you keep your arms and elbows tucked in close, you can better utilize your natural body weight and rotational force to create leverage on your punches.

When doing push-ups don’t utilize the traditional form of having your elbows pointed outward, in line with your shoulder.  Instead, keep your elbows tucked in close to your body throughout the movement.  This places more, correct emphasis on the chest, arms and shoulder muscles and less unnecessary stress on the joint itself.

Pay attention to your posture.  In the ring, you typically keep your head down and your shoulders rounded – that’s good form.  However, outside the ring, keeping your head down and your shoulders rounded is bad for your posture and it weakens your shoulder joints.  You might be surprised how bad your posture is until you focus on it throughout your day. Keep your shoulders back (consciously press your shoulder blades together), your chest out and your chin straight.  Because of bad habits and poorly developed back muscles, this might initially require some effort and might even make you a little sore, but over-time, you will notice a difference.  You will likely see a change in how you carry yourself, but especially in the how much less pressure you’re placing on your shoulder joints.

Resistance bands are a great tool to use to strengthen the many muscles that make up the shoulder joint.  They are easy to use and you can tack on a few to the beginning or end of your workout as part of the warm-up or cool down.  They are a fantastic way to stretch and lengthen those over-used and abused muscles after a hard workout.  You can start by standing on one end of the resistance band/cord and do a series of lateral and forward raises.  With your elbow slightly bent, you can simply raise the band out to shoulder height in front of you and then out to your side for anywhere from 15-20 times.  After that, you can attach it to a wall, a door knob or any anchor point about waist high.  With your elbow placed firmly against your side, pull the band across your body.  Then, turn your body around and, using the same arm placement, rotate your arm so that you pull the cord across your body.  You can quickly and easily do this for both arms from both directions.

Obviously, by strengthening the shoulder joint, you will allow for better delivery of your punches and you will also be decreasing the amount of shoulder pain you might be having.  You are also lessening the chance for nagging injuries or doing greater, more serious damage to your rotator cuff.  The shoulder joint is an integral part of your physicality in the ring and ability to generate power.  By paying attention to how you carry yourself outside the ring, how you conduct your business in the gym and how closely you hold true to good boxing form, you could be setting yourself head and shoulders above the competition.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.

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