Over the past month, I have been trying to rehab my left rotator cuff along with some other nagging injuries. I hate nagging injuries because they are like a bitchy girlfriend who won't let you go out with your buddies in peace; they're always trying to call you and interrupt a good time. Those nagging injuries just keep interrupting my good time in the gym; too bad I can't break up with them like I would a pain-in-the-ass girlfriend. While trying to get my rotator cuff back in working order, I came to the realization of how vital shoulder joint mobility and the strength of the shoulder stabilizers are. Without these two things, there is no way that you can effectively train your upper body without eventually developing tendonitis and, possibly worse, muscle tears. In dealing with my rotator cuff issues, I resorted to training with machines for the past few years. Big mistake!
A few weeks ago, I started preparing IFBB Pro Mike Asiedu for the Toronto Pro in June. Part of the prep includes me training with him and we started using a lot of free weight movements. While it's great having a training partner again, it's like starting over since I got so used to my ole faithful machines. What I noticed, immediately, was that my stabilizer muscles have gotten as weak as an old shoestring. Somehow, in my infinite wisdom, I overlooked all those lil' fellas in my shoulder that keep that bad boy stable (rotator cuff and supraspinatus). I was, actually, feeling a burning inside of my shoulders, like lactic acid, because these rotators were getting so untrained. Anyway, these lil' fellas are integral to being able to execute free weight exercises properly. Without keeping them strong, it is near impossible to keep balance and maintain shoulder alignment. Luckily, I am finding that the strength is coming back quickly as I use more free weights and techniques to strengthen them.
Machines certainly have a spot in any workout; however, they are best placed towards the end of a training session. At the end of the workout, you're tired and you can focus on squeezing out that last little bit of effort you have left without having to worry about stabilizing a big weight over your head. Mike and I did a chest workout yesterday and I have outlined it below, maybe you can use this in your next chest training day.
* Incline Dumbbell Press – 4 Sets // 12-15 Reps
* Incline Barbell Press – 4 Sets // 12-15 Reps
* Flat Dumbbell Flyes – 4 Sets // 12 Reps
* Seated Machine Press – 3 Sets // 10 Reps
* Cable Crossovers – 2 Sets // 20 Reps
I know what some of you are thinking, "Greg just said to do machine excercises last." Yeah, I did say that. Cables are going to utilize your stabilizers still but the weight is so light that it is more about contraction and squeezing than using a weight that is challenging.
I would recommend that before any upper body training session, always warm-up your shoulders properly. Spend a few minutes doing a few simple rotator cuff exercises and just use some really light weight in the 2.5lbs. to 5lbs. range. You can also use bands or a pulley. You can even warm it up without any weight at all. Don't forget to do some light stretching for the area and include the pecs, lats, biceps and triceps. Some people would even think that warming up the lower body would be a bad idea, or silly. I think not! When you are bench pressing, you are using everything from your heels digging into the ground to your pecs. Don't forget the lower body.
The big lesson that I learned over these past weeks is how important it is to pay attention to the little non-mirror muscles. My editor, Jeff Pearce, penned an article for Strong-Athlete.com (you can find it here: www.http://strong-athlete.com/top-10-tips-for-getting-stronger.html) about how to get stronger. He mentioned not to ignore the non-mirror muscles, like the rotator cuff and he is most certainly right. Don't ignore them. Machines are great but don't forget the basic free weight movements. I thought sticking to machines would help my problem but it just exacerbated it. I should've learned my lesson from the Terminator movies; you just can't trust machines with your future.
All articles by Greg Kovacs have been edited and arranged by Jeff Pearce since April 2011. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions e-mail him at [email protected]