Turn Your "Muscle Volume" Up!
Strengthening of the rotator cuff muscles are commonly sought after in the rehab and fitness industry. Most people are familiar with the terminology, yet fail to comprehend what the rotator cuff actually is and its main function. In short, lets ensure we understand that the rotator cuff are four muscles that work in conjunction to maintain stability of the gleno-humeral joint (shoulder). With that said, there are countless methods of training, rehabbing, and coaching these desired muscles. Some include: manual resistance, cables, bands, free weights, etc. While they each have their own advantages and disadvantages, I have found manual resistance to be most effective when it comes to strengthening and understanding optimal rotator cuff mechanics. In this article we will look at this unique approach to better coach and strengthen the rotator cuff.
1. Muscle Volume Method
The term "muscle volume" may not be one that you are familiar with. It is not referring to volume as what may be thought as number of repetitions in the strength and conditioning industry. Rather, it is a coaching tool that will help that athlete understand how to control the "volume" or amount of muscle force/contraction. For a novice weight lifter, this will work best with an isometric contraction against manual resistance. It is a simple process with the main goal of teaching the athlete authentic neuromuscular control along with demonstrating common compensation tactics. In other words, at the onset of training, take time to develop the brain's proper muscle recruitment pattern with minimal movements and correct inhibition.
It's all in the coaching cues. One word can mean the difference of teaching a pattern of strength versus a pattern of learned joint dysfunction. The joint dysfunction comes from the athlete recruiting improper muscles (anterior shoulder, neck, lats) to become the primary shoulder stabilizers, external rotators, and internal rotators. As a result, the improper muscles create unwanted learned patterns of movement. This is a beneficial scenario to deploy the "muscle volume method." It's simple — gradually "turn up" the force of the muscle. Typically, most people recognize the saying that going "0-60" is not moving (static) to rapidly gaining speed (dynamic) in a short period of time. In the strength world lets call it 0-10, with 0 representing no motion/effort and 10 meaning fast contraction/max effort. Lets be clear, this explosive training is definitely beneficial and desired for athletes — however they must learn how to properly manage their 0-10.
Begin with the athlete supine with their shoulder and elbow in a 90/90 position. The coach will put their entire lower arm on the athletes forearm and wrist. As a side note, ensure the athlete is not extending their wrist when they are externally rotating the shoulder. Next, the coach will ask the athlete to begin pushing from their shoulder, not wrist, into their arm. As the athlete increases their force against the coach, it is the coaches job to not allow movement, but also not push back too forcefully. If done correctly, this is where the learning begins. The coach will count the 0-10 scale out loud. Each number represents an increase in rotator cuff contraction produced from the athlete. However, it should not be counted as zero, one, two, three, four.... Instead, count "zero-to-one pause, one-to-two pause, two-to-three pause, three-to-four pause, etc." This difference in counting will allow their brain to think of the contraction in smaller increments and not a panicked forced motion. Why is this important? This will allow the athlete to learn where the proper muscle contraction should be, how to create and sustain force, and what muscles to keep inhibited. The slower nature of this technique makes any compensation noticeable to the athlete and coach. If this occurs, the coach or athlete can fix the compensation and continue going up the 0-10 scale. Once the athlete successfully learns the appropriate patterns, explosive movements should be introduced or reintroduced in to the training/rehab program. The successful conscious muscle volume method transfers to subconscious power and efficient movement.
-Using isometric manual resistance particularly on novice or dysfunctional athletes
-Neuromuscular coaching & learning tool
-Specific counting method
-Easy to spot compensations
-Can be used on multiple exercises