Shoulder Activation: The Most Essential Phase of Arm Care

By Justin Dudley, PT, DPT, EMT – Owner and Physical Therapist of Cascade Sports Injury Prevention & Physical Therapy – In-House Physical Therapist for Crossover Symmetry

Crossover Symmetry’s Activation is the first and most important of the four Crossover Symmetry’s Arm Care Phases, (Activation, Recovery, Plyometric and Iron Scap).It is critical to build the right balance when it comes to scapular (shoulder blade) foundation muscles, rotator cuff control (four shoulder muscles) and transfer of energy from the legs, core and shoulder to the arm.

But the most important component just prior to throwing is turning on the system (Activation).

Crossover Symmetry is one of just two Arm Care Programs in existence that promotes the importance of ACTIVATION. Coincidentally, in contrast to the other systems out there, the owners of the systems that promote ACTIVATION, played baseball at a high level.

When preparing for physical activity, it has become common practice for top athletes to utilize what is referred to as a “dynamic warm-up”.

A proper warm-up can increase the blood flow to the working muscles which results in decreased muscle stiffness, less risk of injury and improved performance through enhanced muscle firing.

Anyone who has shown up to the ball park early, or watched the World Series pre-game on TV can attest to the fact that the athletes are doing a lot more than just riding a stationary bike and stretching. Unfortunately when it comes to the shoulder, the most mobile joint in the body with actions in all planes of motion, the types of warm-up and activation activities performed historically are single plane isolated motions as in traditional band exercises, which in the realm of modern sports medicine and research is bush-league.

The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body, acting in all three planes of motion. The mobility of the shoulder is essential to daily activities as well has high level athletics. The shoulder, often considered a ball and socket joint, is more like a golf ball on a tee with the ball being much larger than the socket. This inherently allows for a great deal of mobility at the expense of stability, setting up the potential for injury.

It is the responsibility of the scapular muscles to provide a stable, yet moveable platform for the upper extremity to work off of, and the responsibility of the rotator cuff muscles to control the humeral head within the socket.

When working in harmony, the interaction between scapula and rotator cuff function controls excessive shoulder motion and reduce the risk of injury.

In order to provide the needed control of motion, coordinated firing patterns of muscles turning on and off at appropriate timing, correct force of contraction and ability to perform co-contraction with synergistic muscles are needed. By enhancing the function of the stabilizing structures in the shoulder, the prime movers are able to perform their duty without wasting energy attempting to perform a secondary task like stability.

The Activation Phase developed by Crossover Symmetry will have the most profound impact on injury prevention and performance enhancement. The Activation phase is designed to start proximally with the scapula stabilizers in shoulder safe positions and then move distal to the rotator cuff muscles.

We refer to this sequencing of exercises from proximal to distal as scap/cuff activation. Addressing the key scapular stabilizers prior to the rotator cuff stabilizers will provide a stable platform for the upper extremities to work from, reduce the risk of shoulder impingement, and enhance the function of the rotator cuff muscles and performance.

We can’t stress enough the fact that this program is designed for muscle activation and is to be used as a dynamic warm-up and should not be performed to the point of significant muscular fatigue or failure.

Fatigue can be a result of overdoing it (using too heavy of resistance or reps or sets), as well as underdoing it (poor pre-season conditioning). In fact, research has shown that exercising the Rotator Cuff muscles to failure or doing “burn-out exercises” of these muscles decreases the control of the humeral head. Fatigue to the rotator cuff muscles results in upward migration of the ball in the socket increasing the potential for shoulder impingement.

You wouldn’t perform squats to fatigue prior to running a sprint, don’t work your shoulder stabilizing muscles to fatigue during warm-up. Remember the goal is to Activate not workout the stabilizers. Just as important is the fatigue that can come early in a throwing program as if the pre-season strengthening has been inadequate.

For optimal peak performance move up to the major league. Condition the scapular and rotator cuff in the pre-season with the perfectly balanced Crossover Symmetry four phase system with Activation as your starting point.