Thursday, July 30, 2015

The arms race: Strengthening for the upper body

Working out the arms does not mean bench pressing the most you can or lifting as much weight over your head. This can be detrimental to your athletic performance, instead of beneficial.

The arms race: Strengthening for the upper body


I am always amazed when athletes come to me who have done some of toughest races in the world and I ask them to do twenty push-ups and they cannot. People seem to ignore the arms and the upper body even though the lungs, which feed your muscles with oxygen and can only function at maximal capacity if the arms and shoulders are in the best shape possible, are housed in the rib cage supported by the muscles of the arms and the shoulders. Ignoring the arms does not allow the body to function at the most efficient and strongest that it can.

Working out the arms does not mean bench pressing the most you can or lifting as much weight over your head.  This can be detrimental to your athletic performance, instead of beneficial. The most effective exercises for the arms can most often be done with just your body weight, especially if you are not used to working out your arms.

The most important thing to remember when you are working out any body part is to watch your form.  Improper form can lead to incorrect training and injury. Many people when they lift their arms often use the upper trapezius muscles. The upper trapezius muscle is found on the top of the shoulder.  These are generally very strong and like to be active when moving the arms, especially if the arms are trying to lift too much weight. 

How do you avoid improper form? Watch the shoulder shrugging. Sounds easy, right? Many of you will think that this does not apply to you. However, most of us walk around every day with our upper trapezius muscle activated.

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Go ahead, try to push your shoulders down. 

Most people will find that when they push their shoulders down that they will actually go down. This should not be the case.  The shoulders at rest should be as low as they can go.  But many people due to stress and the way we have trained our muscles, walk around with a slight shrug.  The biggest problem with this is that the muscles have been trained to keep your shoulders in a partial shrug; this can lead to head aches and numbness and tingling in the hands as well as training the muscles improperly when performing upper extremity exercises.

If you find that your shoulders are in a partial shrug you want to roll your shoulders up, back and then let them drop down.  Do not pull your shoulders as far back as they can go, sticking your chest out and standing in attention. This is an over-correction in the other direction. Rolling your shoulders up, back and dropping them down will be an easy position to maintain once the upper trapezius is retrained and should not feel like work.  However, it will take time to retrain the upper trapezius and the other compensating muscles to keep the shoulders in the proper position. 

So rolling the shoulders up, back and dropping them down once or twice a day is not going to do the trick.  It needs to be done many times an hour for weeks before the shoulders are retrained to stay in the proper posture. 

It is important to use this proper posture when you begin performing the exercises shown in the video.  These exercises will help strengthen the entire upper body at home. While weights can be added to make some things more challenging it is imperative that you are able to perform the exercises with the correct posture before adding weights.  

Getting a stronger upper body will allow for more oxygen to get into the lungs which will allow for the muscles in the body to receive more oxygen and be able to function at a stronger capacity for longer, making you a stronger, faster athlete.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
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