For boot campers and gym rats looking to build strength, poor form or technique can turn shoulder workouts into a fast track to physical therapy. About a third of all resistance training injuries involve the deltoids--the muscles that form the rounded contour of the shoulder, making them one of the most common injuries that occur in the weight room.
But many of these injuries can be prevented with small changes in technique, a fact highlighted by new research published in the latest issue of Strength & Conditioning Journal.
The research focuses on one of the most popular shoulder exercises for men and women: the upright row. If you spend any time around the weight rack at your gym, chances are you know it.
To perform an upright row, pick up a barbell with an overhand grip, hold it by your waist, and lift straight up toward your chin. Some people use a pair of light dumbbells, kettle bells or a cable machine. All accomplish the same goal, strengthening the trapezius (a large muscle that spans the neck, shoulders and back) and the medial deltoid (the middle of the three muscles that make up the deltoids).
The problem, research shows, is that most people invariably lift the weight too high, which can lead to shoulder impingement, in which the shoulder blade rubs, or impinges, on the rotator cuff, causing pain and irritation.
...So, here are three simple steps to remember, which can reduce the risk of injury:
1) Keep the weight as close to your body as possible during the movement.
2) Avoid the temptation to pull the weight up to your chin or nose.
3) Don’t let your elbows or the weight climb any higher than your shoulders.
The same rule holds for another popular exercise called the lateral raise, which develops the medial deltoids. For this exercise, it's important to lift the weights out to the side, arms slightly bent — but do not extend any higher than the level of your shoulders. Just as with the upright row, poor form in the lateral raise can lead to impingement.
Exercising the medial deltoids carries a number of aesthetic and practical benefits. In addition to creating more muscle definition, the exercises can round out the shoulders and enhance the look of the upper arms. They can also build strength for everyday activities like carrying groceries, lifting heavy objects or hoisting small children.