When working with clients, there is a tendency on planks and push-ups to just hang out on the shoulders. This is fairly incomplete and doesn’t allow us to take full advantage of the exercise. With the management of overhead athletes as well as general population clients, we all need proper coordination through our upper extremities.
At first, the thinking is everyone knows how to plank, right? Eh, not so much as it turns out. The big-ticket items are making sure that we have a neutral spine, or have manipulated the position to target what we are after. Then we want the entire body under tension; things like the six pack, quads, butt, etc. We have made sure that the eyes are lined up with our fist to protect our shoulders in the basic plank. But, we can’t stop there! Are our shoulders under tension? How can we better the time under tension?
A huge muscle that goes unnoticed by most people and doesn’t get the care it necessarily needs is the serratus anterior. Big Latin words. This muscle starts on the ribs just under the armpit and kind of looks like the serrated edge of a knife. Hence the name. The muscle then courses under the shoulder blade to the inside border closest to the middle of your back. It is responsible for holding the shoulder blade down flush to your ribcage as well as giving it the proper mobility it needs to reach your arm overhead. Without this muscle firing properly, we would (and some of us have) experience shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, bursitis, and any other form of itis you can think of in the shoulder region.
Traditionally in physical therapy, we throw a patient down on a treatment table, tell them to reach for the ceiling with one straight arm, and repeat this exercise x10 multiple times throughout the day. This is called a serratus punch and is a fairly non-functional exercise. It is designed to just get the serratus working again. What if it isn’t causing trouble yet? How can we make it functional?
Here is the simple answer! Especially in the warm up when we are performing planks and push ups to get ready for the rest of the lift we can cue everyone to push their arms through the floor. Getting that little extra reach will get that muscle working really well and with repeated bouts of this, we have taken control of most of our shoulder problems.