Hopefully your neck is feeling much better after reading the previous blog. Let’s move on! Sore and uncomfortable shoulders prove to be a nagging overuse problem cyclist often experience. Once again, the rider is dealing with imbalanced positions for prolonged time periods; and in this case the muscles in the mid-back lengthen and weaken. Affected muscles may include but not limited to the rhomboids, lower and mid-trapezius and latissimus dorsi. To strengthen your “posterior chain” one may utilize rowing or pulling activities. My favorites include ring rows, reverse fly and the plate carry.
Exercise 1: Ring Rows
Most rowing activities engage the muscles near the bottom and inside (closest to the spine) of the shoulder blade. A cable pulley or rowing machine can do the trick, however, if one would prefer a complex exercise I would highly recommend ring rows or rear rows. These movements incorporate the core musculature, neck stabilizers, glutes and triceps. The task looks much like a reverse push up. Set the rings or TRX straps 3-4 feet off the ground. Grab the handles with elbows straight and assume a reverse plank positions with core and glutes engaged so there isn’t any sagging at the hips or shoulders. Bend the elbows to 90 degrees and pull yourself towards the ring. Remind yourself not to flex your neck forward or bend at the hips. Perform 2-3 sets of however many reps gets the job done.
Exercise 2: Reverse Fly
The reverse fly can be performed in a number of ways. Most gyms have an actual machine where the user can sit down and “reverse fly away.” Being the eager cyclists that we are, we demand a more challenging solution so we can get a great core and glute workout in the process. Here is the setup: pick a physio-ball (large ball in the gym…hard to miss really), lay on the ball with your chest in contact while facing down, grab a very light weight (2-4lbs) and spread your arms like an airplane. From here, lower the weight slowly about 1ft from the ground. Next, engage the muscles along the inner border of your shoulder blades and lift the arms into the starting position. Remember to keep your neck retracted. Perform 2-3 sets until you get a good burn.
Exercise 3: The Plate Carry
Last but definitely not least the plate-carry. This shoulder buster works wonders for the thoracic spine, shoulder stabilizers and postural musculature along the back. Pick up a large Olympic weight plate. These plates will have the diameter of a large pizza and will range in weight from 10 to 45 pounds. Lift the plate over your head and fully lock your elbows while your neck stays in a neutral position. Please do not flex your head toward the chest or try to look at the plate above your head. If you are shrugging your shoulders the weight is too heavy. Correct the shrugging of the shoulders by decreasing the weight. Next, position the shoulders down and back and do a couple of laps around the gym. Make note of how long the carry lasted and go from there. Perform 2-3 reps of whatever distance or time frame you prefer.
One can cycle (pun intended) through these activities to minimize rest between the exercises and to keep heart rate a bit higher for a more intense workout. Now get after it!
Istvan Takacs, Physical Therapist, (BASc) Kinesiology and Exercise Science
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