“Upper traps and internal rotation exercises to fix my issues? I thought that I was supposed to avoid those?”

The fitness industry is filled with so many diferent exercises that we need to “do” or exercises we need to “avoid”. A lot of this is being thrown out of proportion and causing people to become worse off than when they started. The actuality is there is no bad exercise, just improper form. Some exercises may be easier for others due to joint angles and limb lengths, but that does not mean that you should avoid them. Neglecting a muscle group can cause a further imbalance. Especially if that muscle group is a prime mover. Posture and mechanics CAN cause imbalances and issues, but avoiding the muscles that are “overactive” may cause weakness pertaining to more harm than good. I look at it this way, too much or too little of anything is going to cause something bad in the long run.

  1. Work out your upper traps if you have a big chest, its easier to slouch with a big chest, so you have to have some strong traps to hold them up.

long traps cause pain

Someone with a big chest may have “tight” traps because they are weak. They might need some strengthening to hold up the chest! So they should do shoulder shrugs or something to strengthen the upper trap muscles. “But Travis, I heard shrugs were bad?” I used to think the same thing. And I will be the first to admit it, I was doing them wrong. Shrugs without your chin tucked can cause you to use a muscle called your levator scapula.

levator scap

The levator scapula is meant to elevate the shoulder blades. When the upper trapezius is weak, the levator has to take over the trapezius’s job at elevating the shoulder blades. This is a term called synergistic dominance. To put it in simple terms, The big muscles push the little muscles to do their job, and since the little muscles aren’t as strong, they get overworked and tired.

To work the Traps alone, tuck the chin and do the shrugs. This will allow the levator scapulae muscles to lengthen while the traps do the elevation.

Strengthening the trap muscles will actually take some tension off of the pec muscles and they will not be as shortened. Doing these with higher reps and less weight and more frequently will help strengthen them without hurting your neck and shoulders. Feel the trap working instead of doing a partial rep with a bunch of weight.

shrugs chin tuckedchin tucked

So if you’re having issues with your shrugs causing you head aches, tuck your chin and lower the weight.

2. Internal rotation exercises for rotator cuff muscles. Sometimes we have issues with pain after the injury should have already healed. One reason may be scar tissue, another reason may be from the body learning to “guard” the area. This can lead to improper movement mechanics and cause over use injuries. Take bicep tendinitis for example. Many people have bicep tendinitis. Sometimes it comes on from a rotator injury and the body protecting the rotator cuff until it heals. I have dealt with this injury for years. I would follow everything therapists told me: to strengthen my external rotators. One therapist told me I would have issues with it unless I stopped benching. That was never going to happen, so my stubborn self would work around it, stretch it, strengthen my external rotators and just deal with it. I just thought well from benching ill have this forever, until I had a very knowledgeable client and therapist (thank you Kathleen) show me I was “guarding” with  my chest and bicep to turn my arm internally. She advised me that my proprioception (movement) had changed from having the injury for so long. So I decided to do the opposite of external rotation and do a bunch of internal rotation rotator work. And it worked! It took the stress off of my bicep and chest. My internal rotators forgot how to work!

internal rotator body

So if you are having a pain across your chest after benching and you’ve tried it all. Try this.

If you are trying to fix a muscle imbalance and it is causing issues, use the “If you can beat them join them” mentality and see if the issues start to clear up.