Sometimes a shoulder injury isn’t just a shoulder injury. What if your grip was playing a role? And why wouldn’t it? In CrossFit, we grip everything!
The barbell, the rig, the rower, the jump rope, the kettlebell, the dumbbell… We cannot ignore how we grip and the influence this has on shoulder health. Proper and strong grip has it been shown to improve rotator cuff activity and may actually play an important role in injury prevention and recovery.
THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS IN WHICH GRIP INFLUENCES THE SHOULDER:
1️⃣. THERE IS A NEUROLOGICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN GRIP AND THE ROTATOR CUFF.
It is thought that there is what we call “anticipatory stability” in the upper extremity when we grip. Simply, your brain knows that when you grip something, it now needs to turn on the muscles of the shoulder in order for the arm to function properly and avoid injury. Essentially, your shoulder will be better prepared to handle the stress you are about to place on it. Therefore, if you are gripping the bar for a pull-up, or about to snatch a bar off the ground, it is important that you are gripping correctly.
2️⃣. A FIRM AND PROPER GRIP INCREASES NEURAL DRIVE THROUGHOUT THE SYSTEM.
Increased neural drive means increased readiness for movement execution. Some have called this “irradiation”, or a spreading and increasing strength of response. We are referring to an adaptation in which the nervous system is more effectively and efficiently communicating with the muscles and is able to produce greater force despite the muscle being the same size. When we grip, we increase neural drive. This is vital to shoulder health. If one did not prepare the system for the load they were about to place on the shoulders and just willy-nilly grabbed the barbell, the could be setting themselves up for injury as the neuromuscular system may not have been prepared for that load. Not just in training and underlying strength, but in that moment!
3️⃣. GRIP STRENGTH HELPS TO BALANCE WHICH MUSCLES IN THE SHOULDER WE ARE USING. As mentioned, gripping correctly helps to activate the rotator cuff muscles, but it also decreases the activity of the middle and anterior deltoid. This is really important for patients who have shoulder impingement. In a healthy shoulder joint, the deltoid and the rotator cuff work together to form a force couple.
So how do we train grip?
* mindful/intentional gripping of a barbell or pull-up bar * farmers carries * grip strengthening tools such as the thera-bar or flex-bar * endurance training for grip (long holds on the bar, rowing, long holds on pull-up bar, etc.
For general arm strength and endurance:
1️⃣. PRACTICE GRIPPING IN BOTH A PRONATED (PALMS DOWN) AND A SUPINATED (PALMS UP) POSITION In CrossFit, we do virtually everything with our palms down and this places an asymmetrical stress on the upper extremity tissues. Think about it: rowing, pull-ups, deadlifts, pulling any bar off the floor for that matter, KB swings, push ups, etc. As CrossFit athletes we are very imbalanced in our forearm musculature.
2️⃣. BOTTOMS-UP KETTLEBELL TRAINING
Bottoms-up training has great benefits, from improving strength, size, athletic performance, mental focus, anaerobic conditioning, posture, and breathing strategies. Hold a kettlebell with the bell up, handle down. The instability requires you to recruit additional muscle fibers and motor units to control the load.