A lot of you guys know me by now, some more than others. I’ve been a member of LIFT for about 2 years now. If you don’t know by now, I have a secret obsession, which is to find the perfect meatball parmigiana hero. The closest to perfect I’ve found in Florida is located at Palace pizza by the way. Another secret obsession I have is dissecting, observing, and aiding anything that involves human movement. The purpose of this article is to make everyone aware of my current concern, and that is that we are not
utilizing an important postural muscle called the trapezius.
As CrossFit members, we all have a desire to improve our CrossFit game. A large part of our week involves stopping into the best gym in the world to get our muscles stronger. When we think of stronger muscles, we think of the muscles in our extremities that help move our bodies and barbells through space. My question is, do we think enough about the muscles that are not necessarily responsible for movement of our bodies and ALL the weights?
A little boring lesson on muscles of the body, please bear with me through this crash course. There are smooth, cardiac, and skeletal muscles in all of our bodies. Smooth muscles move involuntarily and are
part of the gastric system (stomach, intestines, esophagus). Cardiac muscles also move involuntary and are exclusively in the heart. Skeletal muscles move voluntarily and originate and insert to skeletal bones.
Skeletal muscle are pretty much broken up into appendicular and axial muscles. Appendicular muscles are part of the extremities and are responsible for movement of our beautiful bodies. These muscles are
parallel muscles because the muscle fibers are arranged in a parallel manner which mechanically make them less efficient. Examples of parallel muscles are biceps, quadriceps, and triceps. Parietal muscles are
characteristic of being fan like, which have an origination point that fans out into a single insertion point. This makes them more mechanically efficient. Examples are the lattisimus dorsi, pectorals, and (the reason for this article) the trapezius.
All skeletal muscles are innervated through the spinal cord. Movement begins as a thought in our brain, the message is refined through the cerebellum, and continues down the right passageways through the
ventral/dorsal root ganglion ending at muscle fibers. What makes the trapezius interesting is that it is not innervated through the spinal cord. It is innervated by cranial nerve 11, the accessory nerve. In the case that the spinal cord is cut, anything below the cut loses messages from the brain. The trapezius however will continue to move no matter how high the level of the spinal cord is cut.
Let’s talk more about this interesting skeletal/axial/parietal muscle that is not innervated through the spinal cord. What most people don’t know about the trapezius is that it has upper, middle, and lower fibers. We love to see strong upper traps cause they are partly responsible for pushing over head. Our thrusters, jerks, and hand stand push ups are examples. This is done with the help of scapular elevation. The ignored middle and lower traps are responsible for scapular retraction and depression respectively.
So who cares!? Well, we've got to talk about the scapula, or the shoulder blades. Our arms are connected to our trunk through the shoulder girdle. The shoulder girdle is really only connected through a bone called the clavicle. All other connections are made through soft tissue muscle connected to the scapula. This lack in solid bone connection makes the upper extremities extremely free to move along a wide array of motion. Think about how much arms move compared to any other non primate animal on Earth.
What happens when a large muscle called the trapezius with three distinct regions connected to the scapula have an imbalance in strength? Typically forward and elevated shoulders that causes all other muscles to work overtime in order to complete a task. How many athletes in the CrossFit games regionals this year have torn their pectoral muscles? I’d like to see how far elevated and forward their shoulders were, and I’d bet anything that their trapezius muscle imbalance may play a big part of their injuries.
An imbalance occurs when there is one group of muscles that are stronger than others. Some familiar imbalances are quadriceps stronger than hamstrings. Biceps stronger than triceps. Same story with the trapezius, except the trapezius is one muscle. The imbalance occurs when the upper trapezius is normally stronger than the middle and lower fibers, and you walk around like you’re in a constant shoulder shrug.
Having the scapula elevated in this shoulder shrug result in poor posture.
How does poor posture apply to you? Elevated and forward shoulders make your center of gravity push forward. Having a center of gravity pulling you forward causes you to have to use extra energy to pull
back to neutral and then complete an action. With Coach Rae Rae in mind, a proper clean/snatch lift requires a chest up posture at set up with center of gravity directly over your feet. A proper chest to bar pull up requires you to pull with your arms, and pull your shoulder blades back and down for the
last pop to get the chest to bar. Furthermore, a ring muscle up cannot be executed without a strong pull back and down of the scapula. All of these motions can be facilitated by a strong mid and lower trapezius.
The best way to really get mid and lower trapezius fibers stronger is
by being more aware of your posture throughout the day. For those of you sitting at a desk all day, focus on bringing you shoulders not only back but also down. All sections of the trapezius should be equally used whenever sitting or standing.
In the gym, working on strength of the lower traps can be done simply by hanging on to a bar and think about pinching your scapula together and bring them down. Bent over rows with a barbell can be beneficial by lifting the barbell and at the end, squeezing scapula together. Same can apply to a ring row.
The greatest piece of equipment for scapular strengthening in
the gym complete with a chart for all it’s exercises is the crossover
symmetry bands system. Use it EVERY DAY.
Before we squat, especially for a front squat, our shoulders should be squeezed together and down. This helps hold the bar in it’s place prior to squatting low. With the bar being as close as possible to your center of gravity and over your base of support, lifting will be a ton easier. Holding the scapula in place will also help avoid the worst feeling at the bottom of the squat, which is dropping the bar.
Setting up for a olympic lift is always important before performing the lift. We go through a mental checklist of putting hands on the right part of the bar, feet in comfortable spots, and dropping our booties. Add squeezing your shoulder blades back and down. Make it a mental image that the weight is being pulled through your arms over your shoulders and down the middle of your back. Think about it, the last part of our pull from the ground involves a shoulder shrug using our upper traps. But the pull
should not end there, and it should really continue to the lower trapezius. Pulling from the lower trapezius can enhance our over all olympic lift. Having the trapezius activated when you catch the bar in the front rack or over head can help avoid dropping the bar as well.
(Think "traps" along with the lats engaged.)
Hopefully I haven’t bored you guys too much and you’ve found something to think about while reading this article. Anytime, please ask one of the coaches or myself for any tips an getting your mid and lower
traps to fire. Since they are muscles we don’t use too often, it sometimes helps to have somebody point them out for you so you can feel where they are and where you should feel the squeeze. Lastly, if anyone knows of a better meatball parmigiana than the one at Palace pizza, please give me a heads up about it.