Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Dumbbell Row

The Dumbbell Row has got to be one of the few good exercises bodybuilding has given us. At my gym it still carries a certain amount of stigma; however, as a tool for developing balanced strength across the shoulder girdle, it is invaluable. Most people are much stronger at 'pushing' or 'pressing' than they are at 'pulling'. Coupled with poor posture throughout the day, this leads to tight, strong pectorals and other large internal rotators of the shoulder, coupled with long, weak scapular retractors such as the middle and low fibres of trapezius.

Correctly performed Rows involve retraction and some depression of the scapula, followed immediately by humeral extension to bring the dumbbell (or kettlebell, 3 litre bottle of milk, etc) toward the lower chest and abdomen. It's important to emphasise the shoulder blade should be pulled back and down; if you are shrugging the scapula up and hyperextending the humerus, you won't recruit the lower fibres of trapezius. The elbow will not travel far behind the torso if done right. In fact, the degree the arm moves doesn't actually matter. It just allows people to get a bit of momentum going, allowing training of scapular retraction with heavier weights.

Do this exercise right and load it up. Sets of 10-20 with 40kg or more will build excellent strength in the lower traps and correct imbalances across the shoulder girdle. If it's good enough for the ridiculously successful Chinese weightlifting team, it's good enough for you.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Exercises for Scapula Movement

Here's a few more exercises that you can add to your warm-up, after training or even load them up and use them in your workout. They all have in common the aim of developing your ability to control the movement of the scapulae in isolation, in the process strengthening the muscles responsible and hopefully as a by-product preventing shoulder pain and injury. As with the other exercises I described in the last post, it helps to try and 'feel' these as much as possible. What I mean by this is concentrating on which muscles are working, how your scapulae move and how you can alter the movement by moving the scapulae into different places.

Scap Dips

Scap Pullups

Scap Protraction

Scap Retraction 

Band Protractions 

See how with each of these exercises, scapula movement occurs with minimal movement at other joints. The exception is the band protraction. I included this one because it combines protraction of the scapulae, strengthening serratus anterior, with a nice stretch of pectoralis major and other humeral flexors when the arms are behind the body. Efforts should to emphasise scapular protraction over humeral transverse flexion in this exercise to minimise the contribution of pec major; the stretch should assist this.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Cooking with Jamie

In a slight diversion from normal posts, I felt I had to post this recipe online as it is just so damn good. This Low-Carb Lasagna is the creation of my fiancee Fay.

For the Bolognaise:
500g Mince
1 can Tomatoes
Glass Red Wine
2 tbsp Tomato Puree
Pint Beef Stock
Fresh Basil, torn into bits
1 Onion, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, chopped

Fry off the onion and garlic, then brown the mince. Add the tomatoes, stock, wine, puree, basil and seasoning and cook on a low hob or oven at about 150 degrees celsius for about 3 hours.

The Lasagna
1 pot Ricotta Cheese
1 Courgette, peeled and the cut into strips using a peeler
2 Carrots, same as courgettes
3 Eggs, boiled
The Bolognaise sauce

Put half the bolognaise in a deep baking dish. Make a layer of 'pasta' with the courgettes and carrots. Aubergine works well for this also. Layer half the ricotta on top of this, then chop or break up the eggs and spread them over this. Layer the rest of the bolognaise on top, then top with the rest of the ricotta. Cover liberally with parmesan. Bung in the oven at 200 degrees or so and bake for 20 mins, or until golden on top. Devour.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Shoulder injury

I commonly see shoulder complaints in the clinic and more often than not these are non-traumatic injuries.
The shoulder joint is complex as previously described on this website however it is worth noting that it is still a relatively under evolved joint in the human body; on one side it provides excellent mobility key for many sports but on the flip side has poor stability leaving it prone to injury.
So often in our lives we find ourselves deskbound or more broadly using our arm in front of us in an elevated position (washing up, cooking). This over a prolonged period predisposes the shoulder to poor biomechanical stability.
The main sight of most non-traumatic shoulder injuries I believe to be the thoracic spine. In many people extension (arching back) of this region is limited due to our ever increasing kyphotic (stooped) posture. As a consequence the scapulo-thoracic joint comes under increasing tension as the scapula are forced laterally (out) and superiorly (up) over the rib cage. This subsequently puts increasing stress on the associated musculature, commonly the Rhomboids major and minor leading to strain. The scapula is forced away from rib cage posteriorly (backward) on the medial (middle) boarder; this subsequently causes the same to happen to the Serratus anterior muscle; giving characteristic scapula dyskenesis (winging).
If we pause here to give thought to referral of pain; as muscles are chronically stretched they develop trigger points, these put simply are taught bands of muscle and irritation at the neuromuscular junction. Not only do these reduce the efficiency of the muscle but they too cause referral of pain to a distal site, this is to say that an irritation in one part of the body can be perceived by the brain as pain from another region, commonly we see this with myocardial infarction (heart attack) where pain is usually referred to the left shoulder and arm. With the shoulder Teres major and minor and Rhomboids major and minor usually refer there pain to the shoulder tip and therefore may be mistaken for acromioclavicular sprain.
With this mentioned about the shoulder, injured patients are all too often prescribed rotator cuff muscle internal and external strengthening exercises. (holding a theraband with elbow at 90degrees and turning the arm in and out). These exercises although good; if not done correctly and without addressing thoracic extension will have little or no benefit, they may even exacerbate this problem for if performed with a kyphotic posture and without setting the scapula the patient will engage the Pectoralis major and minor and Upper Trapezius muscles. This can increase the kyphotic posture by rounding the shoulders and it may also cause superior migration of the humerus (commonly seen in degeneration). This will reduce the space where the rotator cuff muscles pass through the joint to attachment sights leading to impingement syndrome and thus a direct shoulder problem.
I therefore conclude by stating that shoulder problems in my experience often occur not as a result of direct trauma or over training but as a consequence of poor postural imbalances mainly stemming from the thoracic spine. If this is addressed then not only will non-traumatic injury reduce but strength gains should also be observed.
Dr Tom Waller MChiro BSc. (Hons)
Doctor of Chiropractic

Hello from the Chiropractor

Hello and thank you to Jamie for inviting me to post on this blog site. About me; I am a chiropractor currently working in Lincoln, UK. I have a special interest in sports performance. I have worked closely with National 3 rugby side Bournemouth RFC and now treat Division 2 football team Lincoln City FC. I have treated ex-international rugby players and amateur bodybuilders. Personally I am a keen weight lifter therefore I think of myself as the practitioner who not only preaches but practises. Any feedback is welcome and I would be happy to answer any of your questions.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Lack of updates and new blog poster

Firstly a quick apology for the lack of updates on this site. I have been a bit busy until fairly recently with exams and things so haven't got round to making a new post. I hope very soon to post a new one with some more exercises for scapula control and shoulder health.

However, a good friend of mine, Tom, has kindly agreed to start writing for Jamie's Blog. Tom is a Chiropractor and also a hell of a strong guy, so has a unique perspective on training for optimal performance and health. He brings both breadth and depth of knowledge of musculoskeletal function to the table and I'm very excited to be able to post his insights and recommendations for training and rehabilitation.

Look forward to some great new articles!


Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Overhead Position, Part 2

Exercises to activate and strengthen the lower traps and serratus anterior

So having discussed the role of both the lower fibres of trapezius and the serratus anterior in upwardly rotating the scapula to allow movement of the arms overhead, I now plan to show a few exercises which should help get these muscles working as they should. The name of the game with these is 'feeling' the exercise; what I mean by this is concentrating your mind on which muscles are effecting the movement; ensuring form is perfect; to this end it is not necessary and indeed counter-productive to load on weight. Besides the fact that no-one cares how much weight you use for esoteric rehab exercises, it will also serve to force your body to compensate and revert to stronger muscles, missing the point of the exercise altogether.

The first exercise is the Prone Y, a component of the popular YTWL complex. The Y portion of the complex in particular is designed to teach activation of the lower fibres of trapezius.  To perform this exercise, the torso needs to be approximately parallel to the floor. You can either lean over, keeping your spine extended, or lie on a bench. Let your arms hang down in front of you. To initiate the movement, squeeze the scapulae back and down (retract and depress). Now, lift your arms out to the side, maintaining an angle of about 135 degrees to your body. Your thumbs should be pointing towards the ceiling. Once your arms have been lifted as far as possible, try to make them as long as possible. You should not be shrugging your shoulders to your ears - there should be a feeling on intense contraction between the scapulae. Lower the arms and repeat.

The next exercise is the Scap Pressup. This starts off similarly to a normal pressup. Assume a strong planked position. Now, lower your body by retracting and depressing your scapulae, keeping your elbows locked out. Only your scapulae should move; this is quite hard to do at first but will come with practice. Once you have lowered as far as possible, reverse the movement by protracting your scapulae as hard as possible and driving upwards. The range-of-motion is quite small so don't be tempted to extend it by either bending at the elbows or sagging at the waist. Keep it tight and activate the serratus.

This next exercise is also one for the Serratus Anterior. I have to credit James Jowsey with showing this to me. I'm not sure if it has a name. Stand about 18 inches or so from a wall. Lean forward and place both forearms in contact with the wall, having your elbows flexed to about 90 degrees. To start the movement, slide one arm upwards, keeping the hand and forearm in contact with the wall at all times. Drive the shoulder forward during this movement to further activate the serratus. If done correctly you should feel intense contraction under the armpit on the side of the chest wall. To aid in feeling this, take the non-working hand off the wall and place it just down from the armpit on the side of the chest. You should feel the muscular slips of the serratus bulge out as you perform the motion.

Finally, I've included the Scap Wall-slide. This exercise generally improves scapular retraction and humeral external rotation, as well as actively stretching the pecs and lats and improving mobility of the thoracic spine. We'll get on to why these are such good things later; suffice to say that you get a lot of bang for your buck and should therefore do it. It is a hard exercise; as you can see in the video, I am only capable of a fairly limited range-of-motion. Even this causes intense contraction of the muscles retracting the scapulae and extending the thoracic spine. To perform the movement, sit against a wall. Keep the full length of your spine in contact with the wall at all times. Retract your scapulae and put your arms in contact with the wall, elbows flexed at 90 degrees, so you form an L shape with each arm. Now, keeping all the arm in contact with the wall, slowly slide your arms up the wall. The  forearms should remain at 90 degrees to the floor at all times. Move only as far as flexibility allows, then slide the arms back down. This is tough, but persist and shoulder mobility will improve dramatically.

These four exercises would be an excellent part of a warm-up before a workout that makes extensive use of the shoulders. If you're training right, this will be every workout. They are worth doing on rest days also, particularly if you get shoulder pain.

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Overhead Position, part 1

The overhead position is seen in numerous sports, such as weightlifting, swimming, tennis and gymnastics, to name but a few. In simple terms it involves maximal flexion of the shoulder, varying degrees of scapula elevation and upward rotation, and, depending on the sport, varying degrees of humeral rotation.

Common to these sports, as well as any others that make extensive use of the overhead position, are shoulder injuries. The reason for this will be explored in more detail in a later post. What I want to discuss first is how a proper overhead position is achieved.

Firstly, the humerus must be maximally flexed. The muscles primarily responsible for this are the anterior and lateral fibres of the deltoid. The anatomy of the scapula means that the humerus alone can only flex to just pass parallel with the ground. To raise the hand further requires the scapula itself to move, to allow the humerus to effectively flex further.
The image above shows the left scapula. The head of the humerus sits on the glenoid fossa, with the coracoid process anteriorly and medial to it and the acromion process rising above it, to meet the end of the clavicle (collarbone).
We can see, looking from the front and from the side, that the coracoid process does not obstruct humeral flexion. The acromion, however, will eventually get in the way and unless the whole complex of scapula and humerus moves, no further raising of the arm overhead will be possible. This process is known as Subacromial Impingement, which may lead to impingement syndrome, a common complaint in overhead athletes. The movement of the scapula required is upward rotation and posterior tilting.
This effectively moves the acromion out of the way, so the humerus can achieve proper overhead position. The muscles chiefly responsible for these movements of the scapula are the lower and upper fibres of the Trapezius (lower fibres in red) and the Serratus Anterior.

Together, these muscles rotate the scapula to point the glenoid towards the sky, clearing the acromion process from above the humerus and allowing the overhead position to be reached. The following video demonstrates the movement of the overhead press, which exemplifies to movements of humerus and scapula necessary to achieve the overhead position. Notice the rotation of the scapula and contractions of trapezius (from the back) and serratus (from the side) that occur. Failure of these muscles to contract in an organised fashion will result in faulty elevation of the arm and often contribute to subacromial impingement.

A common finding is that these muscles are shut down as a result of poor posture, poor training habits and inflexibilities and/or overdominance of muscles elsewhere. For example, the lower fibres of the trapezius are typically weak and inhibited. As we know, the upper fibres on their own can achieve scapular elevation, whereas the lower fibres on their own will depress and retract the scapulae. It is only together that they achieve upward rotation.

The upper traps are typically active at a low level almost all of the time; whenever we sit badly with our shoulders shrugged, or when we are carrying heavy shopping. Over time they become more dominant, and the lower traps become inhibited to prevent stretching of the tight, short upper traps. Now the lower traps don't contract as they should and upward rotation of the scapulae is compromised. The upper traps contract as normal, but without the firing of the lower traps, the scapulae just elevate rather than rotate upwards. This fails to clear the acromion process from the path of the humerus, and the head of the humerus thus impinges under the acromion.

Friday, 28 May 2010


A quick post on some websites that are particularly useful or interesting. Just thought I'd give them the shout-out they deserve! - The brilliant online Gray's anatomy. - a handy resource combining anatomy with exercise science. - my good friend Simon of CF Central Manchester's blog - Blair Morrison's blog. How to stay in incredible shape despite seemingly being of no fixed abode! - where I train, run by the brilliant Karl Steadman.
- Crossfit Central Manchester - inspired mobility drills from Jami of Thames Crossfit

More to come as I remember them

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Musculature of the Shoulder

The muscles controlling the Shoulder Girdle are both numerous and complicated. Many serve several purposes, effecting one or more of the articulations of scapula and/or humerus as discussed previously. To make this rather dry subject a bit more applicable, I am going to divide them broadly into muscles that act upon the scapula, muscles that act upon the humerus, and muscles that act on both. Within these categories, I will name the function(s) of each muscle. The images shown are from the timeless Gray's Anatomy, available at
Search for Gray's Anatomy

Muscles acting on the Scapula
  • Trapezius: elevation (upper fibres), depression (lower fibres), retraction (middle fibres), upward rotation (upper and lower fibres synchronously)
  • Rhomboids: retraction, downward rotation
  • Levator scapulae: (elevation)
  • Serratus anterior: protraction, upward rotation
  • Pectoralis minor: depression, tilts scapula anteriorly

Muscles acting on the Humerus:
  • Biceps brachii: flexion (with elbow fixed)
  • Triceps brachii: extension (with elbow fixed, long head only)
  • Deltoid: flexion (anterior fibres), abduction (middle fibres), extension (posterior fibres)
  • Supraspinatus: abduction, stabilising head of humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Infraspinatus: external rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Subscapularis: internal rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Teres minor: external rotation, stabilising humerus as part of rotator cuff
  • Teres major: internal rotation, adduction
  • Coracobrachialis: adduction

Muscles acting on both Scapula and Humerus
  • Pectoralis major: Humeral flexion (especially in abduction), extension (from fully flexed), adduction (lower fibres), internal rotation. Scapular protraction+elevation (upper fibres), protraction+depression (lower fibres)
  • Latissimus Dorsi: Humeral extension, adduction, internal rotation. Scapular depression, retraction

So that is a whistlestop tour through the muscles that act upon the shoulder girdle. I've pretty much skimmed over a huge topic, so don't start picking me up on things I've missed. These are the most important bits. Clicking on the images should hopefully make them larger, so that the names can be read and muscles identified. I've pretty much skimmed over a huge topic, so don't start picking me up on things I've missed! These are the most important bits. Similarly, don't get too bogged down in this, however; it is a bit dry and not too important. In the next few posts, I will be covering more specific muscles in greater detail, as well as an analysis of various in-gym movements and the muscles necessary to bring them about. Thanks for reading!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Compression Gear

Just a short one today on the benefits of compression gear. This seems to have become more popular recently, certainly within Crossfit circles and not just because it's trendy. I've heard a few theories chucked around of why it is useful, such as increasing venous return from the legs, but I have to say I'm not convinced that actually occurs.

However, compression clothing, such as the short- and long-sleeve tops, shorts and tights, has value particularly when training conditions are cold or wet. You can go a long way to keeping your body healthy when training by warming up effectively and staying warm during. Skins, UnderArmour or similar keeps the joints and muscles just that little bit warmer, which really helps me at least.

Search for Under Armour

Next in the shoulder series is soon to follow.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Shoulder

I plan to do a series of posts on the anatomy, physiology and common pathologies of the athlete's shoulder. This first one will cover the articulations, or movements, that the shoulder is capable of. First it is necessary to cover briefly the anatomy of the shoulder complex, as this better aids us in understanding how different movements are accomplised.

The shoulder girdle consists of three bones: the scapula (shoulder blade), the clavicle (collarbone) and the humerus (long bone of the upper arm).

The scapula and the humerus articulate at the glenohumeral joint. The clavicle meets the acromion process of the scapula at the acromioclavicular joint, above the glenohumeral joint. The medial end of the clavicle forms the only bony connection of the shoulder girdle with the body, meeting the sternum at the sternoclavicular joint. Posteriorly, the scapula overlies the thorax, forming the scapulothoracic joint. There is no direct relation of the scapula to the ribcage, the scapula instead gliding over the surface of the body wall suspended by a complex network on muscles.

The anatomy of the shoulder girdle makes the broadest range of movements possible, at the expense of stability (compare with the hip, where the pelvic girdle bones are fused and capable of only very limited movement). The glenohumeral joint has been likened to a golf ball sitting on a golf tee, making the support of various muscles critical to the effective functioning of the joint. Similarly, the scapula can move extensively across the body wall to further the range in which the arm can move. The images above and below illustrate the relationships of the bones which make up the shoulder girdle.

The movements of the shoulder can be subdivided into movements of the humerus and movements of the scapula and clavicle. It must be borne in mind that most movements that we perform in the gym and in daily life involve a combination of both humeral and scapula movement. Indeed, effective functioning requires the two to move together effectively, a phenomenon known as scapulohumeral rhythm. Scapular dyskinesis, faulty scapulohumeral rhythm, may be responsible for common shoulder overuse injuries.

This first video shows the isolated movements of the Scapulae. In order, these are:
  • Elevation
  • Depression
  • Protraction
  • Retraction
  • Upward rotation
  • Downward rotation

The final two, upward and downward rotation, are difficult to demonstrate without moving the humerus as well. They may also at first glance appear identical to Elevation and Depression, but as the image shows, the scapula in fact rotates to point the glenoid upwards.

The next video shows the movements of the humerus at the glenohumeral joint. These are in order:
  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Abduction (aB)
  • Adduction (aD)
  • External rotation in adduction
  • Internal rotation in adduction
  • External rotation in abduction
  • Internal rotation in abduction
The rotation of the humerus was shown in both adduction and abduction, as this can be a difficult concept to grasp. Combinations of these movements can create effectively new ones, such as transverse flexion (moving from an abducted position to a flexed position). Since this is a combination rather than a true articulation, it is not included. This is the movement seen in a dumbbell flye, for example.

Combinations of scapular and humeral movements accomplish the movements that we use in the gym. For example, the overhead press involves scapula upward rotation, some protraction and elevation, and humeral flexion and some external rotation. Looking at the images and videos above can aid in understanding how this happens. Another is example is a horizontal row, which involves scapula retraction, depression and humeral extension.

The best way to understand these movements and understand your body better, is to attempt these movements in isolation yourself. It is a subject for another article, but failure of proper synchronous contraction of various muscles during different scapular and humeral movements can result in some common and frustrating shoulder problems. Just learning how to accomplish the various different movements, focusing on the different muscles contracting in each one, can go a surprisingly long way to improving shoulder issues.

In the next article, I will deal more with the muscles that accomplish the articulations described above. Common dysfunctions and their remedies will follow.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Training today

Snatch: 40x5, 60x5, 70x3, 80x3x3, 85, 90, 95, 100miss x2

Rack Jerk: 40x3, 60x3, 80x3, 100, 100, 110, 115, 115, 120, 110x2

FS: 60x5, 90x5, 110x5, 130x5

Snatches felt solid today. Was very close to the magic 100 but missed it twice like a numpty. Will get that soon and more hopefully. Rack jerks were ok but still need to be more explosive in the drive.

Cycled to and from training as well in a bid to do more conditioning. This time last year I was preparing for the Crossfit Games and was probably at my peak in terms on fitness. This year I have been a bit lazy on that front, getting into Olympic Weightlifting more and neglecting my fitness. This has resulted in good strength gains but as one would expect, my conditioning has taken a knock.

Over the summer I intend to capitalise on this added strength and bring back the metcons more, hopefully building to some PBs by the end of the year. I will still work the olympic lifts a lot as I think these build strength, power and mobility better than anything else. I still intend to shoot for PBs by year's end, hopefully totalling around 250 and do a few BWLA comps along the way.

I've written a post on warming-up the shoulders which I will put up in the next few days. Just need to take a couple of photos for it.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Strong Cooking

I also enjoying cooking, mainly for the result. As we all know, if you want to be big and strong, you have to eat a lot of meat. This badass lamb shoulder cost about a tenner and should be good for about 6-7 meals.

Score and season it well, then chuck some rosemary sprigs and garlic gloves in a dish and put the lamb, fat side down, on top.

Cover with some baking parchment then some foil and stick in the oven at 170 degrees for four hours. Enjoy a some light refreshment while you wait.

Comes out really tender and you have stacks of nice meat to feast on after chucking some iron around.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

First post, training focus today...

I want this blog to document my quest for strength and conditioning and also be a useful resource. S&C has been my interest for a while now and I hope that some of the knowledge I have got can be shared with others. I'll include my current training focus and thinking behind it (when there is some) and various online resources that I have made use of.

Training today:
Rack Jerks: up to 100x3 and 110x3 - shoulders were hurting a bit and was faffing with new technique so left it here

Back Squat: up to 170x1, missed 185 - was chasing a gym record but missed it.

The squat failure gives me my first topic, which is sticking points. Mine is just above parallel; I can drive up out of the whole but get stuck here and can't complete the rep. The cure for this is doing lifts from a dead stop position, starting at your sticking point. Get the bar in a power rack or on blocks, get under it, and stand up. I have never tried this, but the theory seems sound, so I will give it a go and see if it's good for some PBs. Strongmen are fans of deadstop front squats for building strength for atlas stones, so it must have some merit.

Just while I'm posting, I'll chuck up my stats:
BW 87kg
Snatch 95
C+J 125
Clean 135
Power Snatch 87.5
Back squat 180
Front Squat 160
Bench 120
Push press 97.5
Weighted chin +50kg
Max ring muscleups: 8
Max handstand pressups: 13