I’ve had a lifelong relationship with my shoulders and we’ve had some “bumps” along the road…some instability, pain, etc., from years of throwing, punching, and lifting, I’ve come to realize the importance of achieving a finely-tuned balance of strength, functional form, and flexibility. This realization came once I began practicing martial arts, Krav Maga in particular, about 10 years ago.
The shoulders are a complex area. A great thing about the shoulder itself is that being a ball-and-socket joint it allows for quite a bit of movement. On the flipside it can be one of the most troublesome and unstable areas of the body if neglected, especially for the martial artist. If we take a couple steps back…if you think about it, before you’re a martial artist you’re a human animal. The shoulder of a human animal was created under challenging conditions and environments which involved a full range of movement… such as hanging and climbing from trees, in addition to primal grappling and fighting. The main problem with the modern human animal/ martial artist is that they’re lacking the prerequisite mobility ->flexibility and strength.
I want to focus on some of the ways you can ensure that you’ll have powerful shoulders that will withstand the repetitive forces of punching and mixed martial arts movements without breaking down.
So…Let’s break it down. The initial fighting stance, or form, taken on by a fighter is a guarded posture, shoulders rolled forward, hands up as to protect the face, and an angled stance with the preferred foot forward. If you’re a mixed martial artist, you’re going to end up in pretty much every position imaginable at one time or another… standing, kneeling, on your back or stomach, but for starters it’s this common upright posture. For boxers, it’s their predominant posture. Issues arise from months or years of this repetitive internally rotated shoulder posture causing a contracting and shortening of muscles in the front of the body and over stretching on the back side. As a result of this rounding, fighters often experience tightness and tension in their musculature system that results in a contracted resting standing posture. It’s like you’re in a fighting posture even when you’re not fighting.
Unfortunately, postural and structural imbalances leave the body more susceptible to injury. Before we throw punches, we need to have the proper initial pre-requisites for shoulder motion. Questions to ask yourself; do I have access to all of the necessary ranges of motion needed for a punch? Unless you’re someone who has advanced training in assessing human movement deficiencies, you may not know where to start. Good template to follow is slowly move the shoulder joint through a variety of planes and motions. Flexion…Extension…Adduction…Abduction… Internal Rotation… External Rotation… And Circumduction. Then how does it move and feel when you push, pull, or hang? You may feel tension, restriction, fixation, compression.
If you answered yes to any of the above, you should get checked by your local alignment specialist. You’re simply not getting the most out of that important and versatile shoulder joint.
Professionally/ clinically speaking we oftentimes find several joints in the spine and upper extremities that are subluxated, a.k.a bones that have lost their motion and are out of alignment. The clavicle can get jammed at the sternal connection, there could be a rib subluxation preventing the scapula from gliding properly, and there can be cervical subluxations that could be causing neurological tension and tightness into the muscles of the upper extremity/shoulder girdle complex. The number one requirement for the martial artists is to first have shoulders that work…having full range of motion in a variety of directions. Restricted joints are going to prevent that from happening resulting in a weak punch, and leaving the practitioner more prone to injuries due to the repetitive nature of the training.
If you are committed to being an exceptional martial artist and seek maximum performance from your body, do your shoulders a favor and get checked by a chiropractor who knows what you’re doing to your body. The only person who won’t regret this is your opponent.
-Dr. Mike Isseks