Rules of (Shoulder) Engagement – Part I
If you’ve been doing aerial work for very long, you’ve probably heard the phrases “shoulders back and down” or “make sure you’re keeping your shoulder engagement!” In fact, you’ve probably heard them a lot. Or maybe you’ve heard horror stories about injured rotator cuffs and pulled muscles. These injuries, unfortunately, are pretty common in pole and aerial work. They can come on because of overtraining, overuse, repetitive motion, lack of conditioning, poor technique . . . the list is long. One of the reasons shoulder injuries are particularly troubling is that they all too often become repeat offenders. So it’s up to us as athletes to make sure we’re using proper technique and engagement in order to mitigate the chances of shoulder injury as much as we can. Here are a couple of tips:
- Don’t train the same trick over and over, day in and day out. Doing so is asking for an overuse/repetitive motion injury of some sort. It is incredibly easy to burn your body out!
- Make sure your body is trained and properly conditioned for the work you’re asking it to do. You probably shouldn’t invert at your first lesson, even if you’re a former competitive gymnast or professional rower. You may be super strong, but you want to make sure your body is ready to do movements that are specific to pole, using muscle groups in ways that are specific to pole. Now, you may progress faster than an ordinary someone — like me — would. But that doesn’t mean you should bypass conditioning entirely!
- Take rest days. I know. I know! Pole is so fun that you want to do it every day. And you can, sort of. Take a day to train tricks, and the next day concentrate on basics or fluidity. Or train arm-intensive tricks one day, and leg-intensive tricks the next.
And last, take the time to understand how to properly engage your core and shoulders, and learn what proper shoulder engagement feels like. It is more than just pinching your shoulder blades together. It is more than jamming them down your back. I can bring my shoulders back and down without engaging much at all. Engagement is about shoulder and scapular stability, assisted by your entire core. You have lats. And traps. And rhomboids. Train them equally so they are balanced. Learn how to FEEL when they’re working! And then . . . use them! Your goal: a balanced, strong back. If you look closely at mine you’ll see that my right side (the tattoo side) is slightly better developed than my left. That’s mostly because I have chronic tendonitis in my left elbow, so there are certain moves I am simply not able to train on both sides. But all things being equal, I feel pretty good about my back and shoulders! Next Wednesday we’ll talk anatomy, and I’ll give some of my favorite exercises for increasing your awareness of shoulder and scapular stability. Stay tuned!