Building Your Physical Foundation: rotator cuff and shoulders

There’s a tendency among actor/combatants to over-extend the shoulder joints. I know several people in this field with rotator cuff injuries, and I suspect that improper shoulder alignment has a lot to do with that. Here’s a video of some of the standard rotator cuff strengthening exercises… at the end of this paragraph. This has to be said first: It’s a matter of doing these motions with lots of weight. You must have your shoulders in proper alignment for these exercises to be effective. For this reason, seeing a Pilates instructor, physiotherapist, or other such qualified professional is strongly encouraged. Do these with very light resistance. Heavy resistance will activate the wrong muscles. In fact, you will benefit even when you do this sequence without any resistance at all, if you are doing it with proper alignment. Okay. Video now: Pay attention to shoulder alignment. Have I stressed that enough yet? Your shoulders are a relatively delicate joint. Check out this video to see how complex the rotator cuff is: I suspect that the habit of over-extension comes from many factors: discomfort with discerning proper distances, difficulty controlling distance with footwork, reaching for your partner rather than moving to the correct distance and seeking contact, discomfort with weapons handling, and too often working while fatigued. SOLUTIONS: – rather than over-reaching to get to your partner and then use footwork to obtain correct distance, and check your stance. – take many short breaks to rest your shoulders, as little as 5 to 10 sec, rather than pushing through the whole rehearsal/class and working while exhausted – when you’re working your technique, be sure to check in with your shoulder alignment from time to time. In the absence of an outside eye, use mirrors or periodically videotape yourself (do we say “videotape” anymore? Is there a more up-to-date word for that?) so that you can see yourself to evaluate your alignment. An internal evaluation can be done by extending and retracting your shoulders to their extremes and then see if you can sense where the most efficient alignment is. As a general rule, you must be comfortable working within your most efficient alignment, and then you will have the strength and freedom to alter it so as to tell the story. Now, go back to the sword drills, and pay attention to your shoulder alignment.

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