How can you NOT learn from a guy whose expertise is used to keep some of the greatest athletes in the world healthy?
So when Mike wrote a blog last week about why he DISLIKED the YTWL shoulder series, I was quick to listen. After all, I’ve spoken numerous times about why I like to use these exercises in my programming.
After reading the post, there were points that I agreed with, as well as a few that I disagreed with.
I want to go through Mike’s points, and add my thoughts as well. I feel like this is a great way to illustrate how people who have both had success treating shoulder issues* may look at the same thing through a slightly different lens.
(*Keep in mind I am in no way, shape or form saying I know as much about treating or dealing with shoulder issues as Mike. I’m pretty sure the guy has forgotten more about shoulders than I will ever know!)
Point #1 – It’s easy to hyperextend the lumbar spine.
This one is dead on – and it’s something that people have a tendency to do in almost ALL exercises, especially if they are weak through the core. Rather than use active stability to maintain a neutral alignment, it’s way easier to over-arch and get bony stability instead.
While I’m going to discuss performing these on an incline down at the bottom, this is one of the reasons I actually prefer starting people on an incline, at least initially. It’s a very stable environment, which allows them to focus on developing the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.
One of the more advanced progressions we use at IFAST is the I, T, Y series with the upper torso off a bench. The key here is to focus on extending through the thoracic spine vs. the lumbar spine, while keeping the neck packed/in neutral.
Is it challenging? Yes.
Can it be done correctly? Yes.
In my estimation, it all comes down to proper coaching, cuing and client education.
Point #2 – Performing on an unstable surface potentially reduces force output and reduces the emphasis of the shoulder and scapular muscles.
Again, this is bang-on. If you missed my article a while back on unstable surface training, now would be a great time to check it out.
There is a time and place for unstable surface training in your upper body programming, but I don’t feel like scap prehab/rehab work is that time.
Point #3 – Performing on a physioball does not allow for full range of motion.
I agree whole-heartedly with Mike on this one. Unfortunately, it’s one I had to learn the hard way myself.
When I was just getting started training clients and athletes, this was how I first learned to perform the exercise. As I got better at my craft and started putting all the pieces together, I realized these exercises, when performed on a physioball, just aren’t that great.
Firstly, you don’t get the same degree of upper back/muscular recruitment because you’re unstable.
Second, I can almost guarantee your spine is nowhere near neutral. Your chest is caved over, your lumbar spine is hyperextended, or your neck is hyperextended. Or possibly, all three!
And third, yeah, you don’t get full range of motion!
All in all, there’s just too much stuff going on, and it’s hard to focus on the muscles you’re actually trying to target.
At this point in time, I don’t ever perform these exercises on a physioball.
Point #4 – If performed off the front of a table or bench, recruits too much upper trapezius and levator to help hold the head up.
This is absolutely correct, but I also feel this is where coaching and cuing come into play.
It’s critical to coach/cue your clients to keep the spine and neck in neutral when performing all exercises, but especially scapular prehab work.
One of the most common faults is inappropriate cuing of the “Y”, or overhead, position. Most people assume they are supposed to shrug, versus posteriorly tilting/depressing the scapulae.
If you need some tips, check out the video below:
Keep in mind as well that when performing these exercises with your head/upper torso off a bench, this is a very advanced progression. This definitely isn’t one you want to start with Day One!
Point #5 – If not performed parallel to the ground, it changes the muscle angle and recruits more deltoid.
While I can’t argue with Mike as far as the biomechanics go, I think there’s a subtle difference of opinion here.
And maybe we have a similar thought process, but the clients we treat and the situations we’re in are a bit different.
While I understand that you’re going to get a bit more deltoid recruitment in this position, I also feel like this is the best position to get most people started.
Firstly, their torso is stable and supported, which allows them to recruit the appropriate muscles.
Secondly, they don’t need as much muscular strength as they would in truly prone position because they aren’t moving directly against gravity. In the incline position, there’s a bit more mechanical advantage, coupled with some room to get a “running start.”
(And yes, I’m ok with a little momentum initially, as long as they get into the appropriate mid-point position.)
So many of my clients/athletes have no clue how to properly move their scapulae it’s ridiculous. When I put them on an incline they can typically start to learn the appropriate positions and start to facilitate the muscles, so that I can eventually get them into a position where they are parallel to the floor.
Is it ideal? Maybe, and maybe not.
But at the end of the day, I feel like it’s worth it. If I can teach them proper mechanics of their scapulae (retraction, depression, posterior tilt, etc.), that’s going to transfer over into better overall scapular stability, and as a result, fewer shoulder and upper extremity injuries.
Keep in mind, though, there’s one big thing that I need to mention: With my clients (and all our clients at IFAST), they get a ton of coaching.
This was the crux of one of Mike’s arguments – it’s not so much that these exercises are bad, but they must be coached effectively. And it’s hard to argue that.
I think we know that there are very bad exercises – but performed poorly, almost any exercise is bad.
One final point that Mike made that I am going to try out soon is performing all of these exercises in a unilateral fashion. I’ve done that in the past with clients who have issues that are more prevalent on one sides versus the other, but if I can get better results with a subtle tweak like this I’m all for it!
How do you feel about the shoulder series?
Do you use it with your clients, or in your programs?
I’m looking forward to some great discussion in the “Comments” section below!
PS – If you’d like to learn more about Mike’s (and Eric Cressey’s) thoughts on evaluating and treating shoulder injuries, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of their Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD’s. This DVD series is a must-have in your collection.