Pain has a kung fu grip on my shoulders.
September 19, 2007 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Shoulder exercise recommendations to protect my joints from repetitive martial arts drills?

I'm a total skinny freak with no upper body strength. I take Ving Tsun kung fu, which is building up the muscles in my arms slowly but surely. However, the drills are very intense on shoulders, and since I have little muscle to support the joints, I get more than my share of soreness-- some of it is good old-fashioned muscle soreness, but really I can tell the joints themselves are not happy with the stress.

I'd like to do more in my spare time to build up the muscles around the shoulder joints, so that they're not quite so pulverized by my three-day-a-week class schedule? Or anything I can do for them right after class, for example, that will help?

I hate push-ups and while I have a pull-up bar, I can't get into doing them because the three or four a day I can do don't feel like they are helping much (so I don't do them).
posted by hermitosis to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean something like: Rotator cuff exercises?
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2007

I don't know if this helps with joint pain so much but I used to get very sore shoulders when I started kendo. I found that by doing a good 15 minutes of stretching beforehand and a warm bath afterward almost completely eliminated the soreness.
posted by frieze at 11:15 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Sort of, Comrade, except for those seem to be for recovering from injury. Since I'm not injured, I'm not so limited in what I can consider. Also, I've looked over that fourth exercise about five times and I still have no idea what they are talking about. "In a standing position, start with your right arm halfway between the front and side of your body, thumb down," sounds malevolently vague to me.
posted by hermitosis at 11:31 AM on September 19, 2007

For strong, healthy shoulders you want to make sure that they get a balanced workout of pushing and pulling. I don't know about Ving Tsun kung fu, but let's say it involves more pushing/pressing during your classes, then you'd want to supplement with rows and pullups (there's all sorts of advice on how to improve at pullups). Or conversely, if there's lots of pulling, do pushups and presses. Also, rotator cuff exercises that Comrade_robot links to are frequently used for preventative care, not just rehab.
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:08 PM on September 19, 2007

The careful study of a three-part series called Shoulder Savers by Eric Cressey, which was published on the Testosterone Nation website, and the application of the so gained knowledge should cure all your shoulder problems - at least it has for me. Not for nothing did it receive rave reviews by the readers.
[part 1, part 2, part 3]

Concerning your 3-4 pull-ups a day: Everything makes a difference, even 3 or 4 pull-ups a day - assuming that this is the max. number you can crank out. Try the Armstrong Pull-up Program. If you only train hard and regular enough, you will definitively achieve a strength level you thought was beyond reach.

Concerning your dislike of push-ups: I suppose you hate them for a very good reason. :-) At the beginning, I also hated them, because I could only do so few. But that changed, when I got better at doing them. Apart from that the push-up is too valuable to give up on it. But if you do not want do to do them at all, try dips.

And always remember: Slow and steady wins the race.
posted by pu9iad at 12:56 PM on September 19, 2007

Best answer: Play more siu nim tao?
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:27 PM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Ha ha. Thanks, bastionofsanity.
posted by hermitosis at 1:45 PM on September 19, 2007

I don't think pushups and pullups are particularly good for your shoulders. In fact, I think they are kind of hard on the joints (especially pushups). I also think rotator cuff exercises are frequently too easy to do much good, or to tiresome and boring. You really should not need to spend 15 minutes a day on your rotator cuffs unless you are coming off an injury. I've done all of these things, and none of them ever did much at all for my shoulder pain.
However, I have had seen a huge improvement in my shoulder joint pain with exercises that target shoulder stability by having you hold a heavy weight over your head while moving your body. Overhead squats. Windmills and turkish getups (although I do these with dumbbells, no need for kettlebells). Once you feel comfortable with the form, pick a weight that is challenging for 5 or so reps (per arm) and do a set at the beginning or end of your workouts. I rarely have trouble with my shoulders these days and I use them hard.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:24 PM on September 19, 2007

Though it depends on your particular issues, in general, overhead excercises are not good for your shoulders. If the problem is your joint, then, annoying as they are, rotator cuff excercises are what you need. Yes, the weights are light; that is because the muscles are small and you should not be recruiting bigger ones to help. In addition, they are not just for when you are hurt, even if that is when people begin to do them. You should do shoulder exercises at a different time of day than your regular workout. Fatiguing the roator cuff beforehand opens you for injury, while doing it right after has you working with already tired muscles, which is hardly ideal.

If you grab me at a meetup or drop me a line, I can show you some things in person, including exercise #4. I would also recommend some icing, as sometimes it is just minor overuse.

(ch1x0r generally strikes me as knowing what she is talking about, but in this case, I would say the exercises linked look like shoulder injuries waiting to happen. My credentials: I am a swimmer and if anyone knows from shoulder injuries and pain, it's swimmers. I had a bit of overuse trouble last year and have come through it for the better.)
posted by dame at 7:01 PM on September 19, 2007

Well, there's more to the shoulder joint than just the rotator cuff, and muscle imbalances can cause rotator pain that all the rotator cuff work in the world isn't going to help. The shoulder pain I have had comes more from heavy lifts at various angles than the kind of repetitive stress of swimming (although I have certainly felt that as well). For swimming, perhaps the rotator cuff is all that needs to be strengthened, and maybe that is also true for this martial art. But should simple rotator cuff work prove to be inadequate, I would look at strengthening the entire shoulder girdle, not just the cuff. Turkish getups and windmills are both extremely good for that and many people swear by them as shoulder protective work. If you are careful with your form and use a weight that is challenging but that you can control, there is no reason to fear injury from these exercises. Shoulder joint injury is much more likely from repetitive movement than static moderate-weight holds like this.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:57 PM on September 19, 2007

Ah, I see where you're coming from. I would say that rotator cuff exercises are necessary if not sufficient to a certain point. If you are getting biting shoulder pain, it is probably because your shoulder is slipping around in the joint and the small muscles in the rotator cuff are what are going to keep it there. I agree larger muscle imbalances affect that as well and rectifying those is worthwhile.* Likewise, depending on the setup of your shoulder (ie, how mobile or hypermobile it is) and the demands of your sport, once you reach a fair amount of rotator cuff strength, no, you shouldn't have to spend 15 minutes a day on it forever.

I would still not do overhead weight work, though of course that is a risk everyone has to evaluate differently. The overhead position is the least stable for your shoulder, and in fact is why swimmers get such shoulder problems: you are sticking your arms above your head over and over.

Anyway, now hermitosis has two good opinions to consider, I think.

*This I know well. Any doctor or sports PT can peg the swimmers by the way their shoulders pull forward.
posted by dame at 6:06 AM on September 20, 2007

Aye, chain punching and endless chi sau used to fry my shoulders. It gets better in time, trust me...

Persist with a weights program - strengthening your muscles is a sure fire way to minimise the risk of injury.

As with all exercise regimes, make sure you allow for adequate recovery time. I strongly recommend glutamine supplements to aid recovery.
posted by the cuban at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2007

« Older Help me get data from a word doc into a...   |   Problem with iframe, links, and redirects Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.