Stabilization Muscles and Why You Need to Work On Yours

August 01, 2017


Your shoulders deserve a good amount of love and attention - probably way more than you are currently giving them. Don’t worry, you can admit it and most of us are guilty of this.

Sure, you lacrosse ball and you stretch out with bands and some of your crazy effers even bought yourselves a set of cups from Amazon so you can cup yourselves; but is that really enough to keep those guns of yours healthy and strong? Not if you want to throw up some big weight during your next gym sess.

It has become trendy to be all #SwoleAndFlexy, but flexibility and mobility are only two pieces of the puzzle. While mobility is critical to your shoulder health, working your stabilizers is just as important. Stability is the ability to hold the muscles and joints in correct positions without extra movements, shaking or high muscular efforts to prevent an overhead barbell from losing its position [3].  What are stabilizers, you ask?

An example of a stabilizer muscle is the rotator cuff, a muscle I’m fairly confident you’ve heard of if you are a lifter or CrossFitter. The rotator cuff is actually a group of muscles known as the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles are mainly known as muscle of rotation for their contribution to external and internal rotation of the shoulder but they are actually much better suited for the primary role of stabilization [1].

Now, let’s look at the role of stabilizers in overhead lifts. When an athlete has difficulty supporting a loaded barbell overhead, such as in the snatch, overhead squat or jerk, it’s natural to immediately assume that what the athlete is lacking is strength and that they need to get stronger through strength work to stabilize those lifts in a more secure way overhead. However, when supporting weight overhead, proper structure is the most important element [2]. An athlete needs to ensure that they not only have the strength to get the weight up overhead, but that all of the proper muscles in their shoulders and upper back are firing and ready to keep the way overhead in a stabilized manner.

Here are a few examples of drills from our friends over at Catalyst Athletics [3] that will target particular muscles in a way that forces stabilizing muscles to get fired up.

  • Overhead bar holds in full squat against bar movement. You get into a full squat position with the bar overhead and have a spotter carefully applying force to different parts of the bar in different directions while you are trying to not let the bar move. The key word here is carefully.
  • Jerk with the bumper plates hanging on rubber bands tied to the ends of the bar. If you try it, you will not need any further explanation why this exercise stresses stabilization muscles a lot.
  • Overhead squats with a bumper plate.

Give these a try and see if you begin to feel more confident and secure in your overhead position during your next lifting session.


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