Good Shoulders, Bad Shoulders, and The 23:1 Rule

by Sam Martin

My permanently internally rotated shoulders and I have been through a lot together–neverending soreness, inflamed biceps tendons, an inability to hold a bar overhead or even just keep my shoulder blades on the ground during shavasana.

Keep ’em together!

A long time ago, this seemed to me to just be yet another thing about me that was broken and shitty. I was a pretty competitive CrossFitter at that time, though, and I wanted to do anything to improve my times & scores. My coach, Kenny Kane, referred me to two world-class sports doctors, Manny Manolov and Bradley Frederick. Their treatments and prescriptions have mad a WORLD of difference for me. While I’m still pretty tight, I can actually skin the cat without my humerus exploding out the front of my body.

But like I said, I’m still pretty tight. The thousands of ring rows, band pulls, 5×5 Pendlay rows, lacrosse ball work, and skin-the-cats haven’t cured me. I still get shoulder pain here and there. I’m still missing a good bit of internal rotation. And I’ve bid farewell to my hard-won butterfly kip beyond demonstrating it while teaching.

I was thinking about this while reading a great little piece on taking care of your shoulders & lower back yesterday by a similarly gifted chiro, Dr. Lindsey Mathews. I was all but yelling “preach!” as I read it. Here was the key passage:

The second thing to do is to pay attention to your posture. A lot of shoulder aches and pains can be diminished by proper posture and muscle recruitment patterns. The ideal posture would consist of setting your scapulas in your back pockets (yes, they will never reach but you get the idea) and making a double chin, so your head is directly lined up over your shoulders.

This is where the 23:1 Rule comes into play. No matter how much corrective exercise you do during the hour you train, you can’t outrun your habits during the other 23. My crappy, shoulders-forward posture will always hamstring my shoulder rehab, no matter how many sets of Ts and Ys I do.

So here’s my new rule: shoulders back & down. At all times. If you see me slouch, poke me between the shoulder blades. I deserve it.

For further great info on good posture, watch this MWOD on “How to Stand” with the always-genius K-Star.