Not many people know it, but Einstein used to be a crusher. Photoshop Credit: Jordan Haag. IG: @passionhorse
…so you don’t have to.
The scientific process requires thorough (often tedious) recording of pretty much everything involved in the research process. This allows the next group of researchers to replicate the study, if need be, or continue to progress the line of thinking that spurred the original study. This results in the publishing of informative, but tedious, articles in scholarly journals. They’re tough to read, but if you put the time in, you can come away with helpful information that you can use to get stronger, stay injury free, and crush your goals.
Let’s get to it.
Shoulder Joint and Muscle Characteristics Among Weight Training Participants With and Without Impingement Syndrome
Kolber et al. 2017
The study we’re going to look at today took place recently, and examined some characteristics of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome (SIS). SIS is an umbrella-ish term that is used to describe certain instances of shoulder pain. Sometimes, if certain movement or structural characteristics are out of whack, the Rotator cuff tendons or the sac of fluid that separates these tendons from bony structures in the shoulder might get stuck or pinched by these bony structures when reaching overhead. Over time, this can lead to degradation of the Rotator cuff soft tissues and that fluid sac (Subacromial bursa, if you want the scientific term). Persistent shoulder pain is usually the inevitable destination of that road.
The researchers involved in this study wanted to see if there was a trend with certain muscle strength and range of motion characteristics among people with Impingement Syndrome, and were curious if any differences existed for people without Impingement Syndrome.
How They Did It
The researchers selected 55 male adults with ages from 21 to 56. The average age was 27 years old. All subjects had been strength training 2-5 times a week for an average of 9 years, so all subjects were relatively seasoned lifters. They were separated into two groups, those with Shoulder Impingement, and those without.
To determine whether a subject had Impingement or not, two tests were administered. –
***DON’T just have your friend do this. This is a hands-on test meant for use by a clinician that provokes pain to get a diagnosis. If you don’t have the word “Doctor” in front of your name, you shouldn’t be doing this to someone. End Rant.***
The second test looked for a pain during a shoulder arc
If these tests were positive for pain, the subject was placed in the Impingement group. If the tests were negative, and the subject had experienced no pain for the previous 72 hours during training or daily living, they were placed in the Non-impingement group.
There were three areas of testing: Muscle Strength, Muscle Strength Ratios, and Active Range of Motion
The first attribute tested was muscle strength. The researchers looked at five muscle group’s strength levels, using a hand digital dynamometer. These muscle groups were the shoulder abductor group, external rotators, internal rotators, and the upper and lower trapezius muscles.
Muscle Strength Ratios
After these values were obtained the ratios of these groups’ strength levels were compared with one another. The relationships examined were:
-Internal Rotator Strength to External Rotator Strength
-Shoulder Abductor strength to External Rotator Strength
-Upper Trapezius Strength to Lower Trapezius Strength
Active Range of Motion
The researches examined each subjects active flexion, abduction, external rotation and internal rotation using a goniometer, a device used to measure joint angles.
External and Internal Rotation
After all the data had been collected, certain trends existed.
-Shoulder External Rotators and the Lower Trapezius muscles were significantly weaker in individuals with Impingement Syndrome compared to individuals without.
-The strength ratio of Internal Rotators vs. External Rotators was significantly skewed towards Internal Rotators (Internal Rotators were way stronger than the external rotators) in individuals with Impingement.
-The strength ratio of Abductors vs. External Rotators was significantly skewed towards the Abductors in individuals with Impingement.
-The strength ratio of Lower Trapezius vs. Upper Trapezius was significantly skewed towards the Upper Traps in individuals with impingement.
-Individuals with Impingement had significantly less Internal AND External Rotation than individuals without impingement.
-One takeaway from this study is the importance of shoulder external rotator and lower trapezius strength. Keeping these muscles and groups of muscles strong help keep the “ball” of the humerus centered in the shoulder socket. The shoulder relies on a relatively large amount of soft tissue to keep the joint centered, so a weakness in certain groups may allow the ball to creep out of the center position. Poor position means a higher chance of running out of room during a movement, and therefore a higher chance of trapping soft tissue and getting impingement. It seems external rotators and lower traps tend to be weaker in individuals with impingement, so it miiight be a good idea to keep them strong. Here are some simple and effective exercises to address that.
-Another takeaway I got from this study was discrepancy in strength that was related to shoulder impingement.
It’s seems as if people can be pulled into internal rotation if they neglect proper form during training, or have certain lifestyle factors, such as sitting at a computer for extended periods of time, drive for extended periods of time, or have poor posture (the standard climber hunchback). All these can lead to an imbalance in which our joint position and muscle strength is skewed towards shoulder internal rotation and lead to a weakness in our external rotators.
Another factor seems to be the imbalance between lower trap and upper trap strength. We’ve gone over a way to work on lower trap weakness, but the upper traps can end up being to “switched on” by something we do every day:Breathing. When we breathe incorrectly, it’s often by using our accessory muscles which are in our shoulders, upper traps, and neck. Ideally, we want to be using our diaphragm to pull air into our lungs, and crocodile breathing is a great way to reinforce this pattern. Lay on your belly and take relaxed, complete inhales through your nose. Your midsection should rise and expand laterally, and your shoulders should stay relaxed.
Wrapping it Up
Give some thought to how you breathe and what positions you spend the majority of your day in. If there’s some things you can work on, start doing them! The examples I talked about in the videos are just a few of the myriad of ways you can begin to address these issues.
I think these exercise form corrections are crucial to the health of the shoulder joint, as strength training with proper form helps reinforce movement characteristics. You’re either building bad habits and making them harder to break, or you are reinforcing healthy and balanced joint mechanics. You make the choice.
Have questions, comments, rants and raves related to this article? Feel free to reach out to me!
Here’s the citation and link to the abstract if you want to read the full study.
Kolber et al. Shoulder Joint and Muscle Characteristics Among Weight Training Participants With and Without Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
It’s that time of year. It seems as though the cold days and winter friction are leaving us, so sessions on boulders such as the one above might be in danger of getting pushed back to next season, at least here in the south. It’s all good though! It’s time to put on a rope, realize my endurance sucks, and work on improving it. It’s also time to dig back into Jiu-Jitsu and continue that journey of improvement as well.
Earlier this week, I published a piece that hopefully will the start of a series. Scientific journals are incredible informative, but synthesizing that usable information can be a pain. I try to do some of the work and break articles down into actual english in this new series. The inaugural article examines a study exploring cardiovascular fitness and blood flow characteristics in the forearm, and relates these two factors to sport climbing performance. Check it out.
Mark Seigrist shared this article in a few groups I’m a part of (thanks Mark!) and it’s incredible! This interview opens a window into the mind of an individual who was one of the first to train specifically for climbing, put up an insane amount of hard climbs, and undoubtedly responsible for some of the directions the evolution of climbing has taken. A must read if you rock climb.
“Maybe lifting all the weight possible like a weightlifter is not the end-all-be-all to being a top athlete”
I’m all about lifting weights and getting stronger. However, I don’t have any illusions that that’s the most important aspect of performance training, especially in skill-based sports. Strength training has its place, but training like a powerlifter or olympic weightlifter doesn’t necessarily mean that performance in a given sport will increase. It’s up to the coach to figure out a way to make training “measurable” and continue to improve that metric. Some good thoughts from some smart people.
….I’m still gonna keep picking up heavy shit, though. You can do both.
Westbrook’s Weisse Weisse Baby is a Berlinerweisse style beer. These beers are light, slightly tart and super refreshing. The folks at Westbrook took the base beer and aged it in wine barrels with blueberries. It pours a crazy purplish color with a thin white head. The tartness is definitely present, with a wine-grape like character. The blueberry flavor slides in during the back half of the taste, and is nice and mellow. While fruity, there’s still a dryness to the overall taste and the fizziness makes it really refreshing. I probably should have waited to crack it open during one of the 100 degree days of summer, but oh well. It’s a great beer.
Strongfirst Kettlebell User Course
I’m excited to announce that the Strongfirst Kettlebell User course is coming back to Chattanooga! On May 27, Senior SFG Delaine Ross will be at Scenic City Strength and Fitness for an 8 hour workshop breaking down fundamental kettlebell skills. These skills lay the foundation for a lifetime of effective kettlebell training, so this course is not to be missed. You can find more information here.
Nobody wants to waste time in the gym when they could be outside or developing the specific skills for their passion. I deliver efficient and effective programming that gets the job done without demanding too much of your valuable time. I have two open spots for distance coaching, so if you are interested, please reach out ASAP. These spots will fill up. You can find more information here.
I’m playing around with a newsletter. It will contain article alerts, special content promotions, and offers exclusive to subscribers. You can sign up here if you’d like. It’s completely free.
I’m teaching two kettlebell classes at Scenic City Strength and Fitness.
An entry-level class that emphasizes the foundations of safe and effective kettlebell training is held Tuesdays at 6:15 pm. It’s only 10 bucks and spots will be limited to ensure a great experience. If you are in the Chattanooga area and have always been curious about trying out kettlebells, it’ll be tough to find a better opportunity.
I also teach a class for folks who are more familiar with kettlebells on Thursdays at the same time. We will dive into some more advanced kettlebell movements and concepts, and push the intensity up a bit more than Tuesday.
You can check out the calendar and register online for any of these classes here. Each class is 10$. Hurry, because the spots fill up fast.
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The scientific method is arguably the most important process in terms of furthering our knowledge that’s been developed in human history. Objective glimpses into conditions to reinforce or refute an idea we may have are critical to discover the way things are, or the best way to do a certain thing. In modern times, the results of these glimpses (experiments and studies) are published in a variety of journals. It’s important to be up to date with the current research to make sure training programs and metrics are on target to ensure better performance. There is one problem, though.
They’re a pain in the ass to read.
And it’s necessary! The scientific process requires thorough (often tedious) recording of pretty much everything involved in the research process. This allows the next group of researchers to replicate the study, if need be, or continue to progress the line of thinking that spurred the original study.
This series is going to be my attempt to read certain studies that apply to outdoor sports, or just ones regarding effective strength training that I find interesting. After I read them, I’ll try and deconstruct them and write a recap in layperson’s terms, summarizing the experimental design and actionable information that stems from the study. (This is for selfish purposes, too. By breaking these down, I’ll be able to retain and apply the concepts as well. Getting better every day, right?)
Let’s dig in!
Hemodynamic and Cardiorespiratory Predictors of Sport Rock Climbing Performance
Fryer et al. 2017
Dr. Simon Fryer and others recently published this article examining aerobic system factors, blood flow factors, and how well these factors relate to sport climbing performance.
In the past, early climbing energy system research was performed with treadmills. Obviously, there’s not a lot in terms of specificity, so while early research provided good signposts to continue research, definite answers didn’t really exist. Treadwalls were then utilized, but oftentimes the research methods didn’t map out well to the energy system demands of sport climbing.
A standard treadwall
In addition, as modern sport climbing has progressed, routes have gotten steeper and more demanding in terms of finger strength. Due to the smaller (relatively) size of the forearm muscles, some current thinking has been pointing to idea that the aerobic and blood flow characteristics of the forearms are one of the focal points of climbing performance.
Flexor Digitorum-The muscle the researchers monitored for the study
This study took climbers from three different ability levels and tested four factors: forearm recovery capacity, peak VO2 on a treadwall, maximal forearm deoxygenation, and a VO2 max on a traditional treadmill.
The hypothesis was that the forearm recovery capacity, treadwall peak VO2, and maximal forearm deoxygenation would be the best predictors of climbing performance. Since treadmill VO2 max wasn’t listed in the hypothesis, it is implied that treadmill VO2 max isn’t a huge predictor of climbing performance.
How they did it
Four physiological responses were measured to perform this study. Two of the factors (maximal forearm deoxygenation, and peak VO2) utilized a treadwall, while one factor (VO2 max) was measured on a treadmill. The final factor, forearm recovery capacity was measured using a dynamometer handgrip procedure that fatigued the muscle and measured time of recovery.
One thing I thought was interesting was the accepted way for a climber to report their ability level. The method backed by the research is referred to as the 3:3:3 method, which is basically 3 redpoints on 3 separate routes of the same grade, all within the past 3 months. The researchers used a variation of this method: 3 redpoints of 3 separate routes of the same grade, within the past 6 months. Because the study was conducted in Spain, and since the weather to climb in Spain is pretty much perfect, a larger window of time was used for reporting ability level.
The researchers separated the study into two days. The first day, the climbers came in to perform the treadwall test. This test involved climbing a particular route on the treadwall. The route climbed was selected based on the climber’s reported ability level, with goal of all climbers reaching failure within 6-12 minutes. While the climbing occurred, a breathing mask of sorts was utilized to obtain a VO2 peak measure. During this session, an infrared device measured the maximal decrease in the oxygen content of the blood in the forearm muscles.
While this is on the wrong muscle, this is a good example of the setup used to monitor the forearm muscle
After 3-7 days rest, the climbers came back in and performed a treadmill VO2 max test, using a breathing mask device to collect the necessary data. After that, the subjects performed the handgrip test to measure forearm recovery capacity.
What they found
After collecting and performing statistical analysis of the data, they found that the data taken on the treadwall plus the forearm recovery capacity test were significant predictors of climbing ability. They did not find any significant relation between the VO2 max obtained via the treadmill.
While it’s not surprising that the more climbing specific measures were more predictive of climbing performance, some could be surprised that non specific aerobic fitness isn’t a predictor of sport climbing ability.
Digging deeper into the climbing specific side of things, it was discussed that the total body aerobic fitness measured via VO2 peak and the forearm aerobic capacity measured in both the treadwall and handgrip tests separately come into play in sport climbing performance. It was mentioned that perhaps total body aerobic fitness is key up until a point, and then the limiting factor becomes forearm aerobic fitness, which makes sense as walls get steeper and holds get worse.
How Can I Use This?
This study shines some light on how we can structure our “cardio” to be as effective as possible for climbing performance. While running and cycling are fantastic for cardiorespiratory fitness, it might be more beneficial to perform more specific conditioning protocols such as ARC-ing or other similar climbing drills.
In terms of strength training, energy system work that stresses the back (in the good way), shoulders, and grip are likely the way to go to supplement climbing specific work.
One way to go about it?
Snatch Volume Work.
Set a timer for 12-15 minutes and do sets of 15 snatches on each arm. Set the bell down in between sets and rest as long as you need. As always, good form is paramount, so make sure the appropriate sized bell is used. As you progress this protocol, you could do so by either working for a longer period of time, or try and get more sets of 15 done in the same time.
Here’s the citation and link to the abstract if you want to read the full study.