In our last post (PART 1), we started to talk about the increased chance of upper body injury from bodyweight training.  The structure of the upper body joints are not the same as our lower body joints, and the total volume and intensity of training need to be closely monitored and gradually increased to prevent overuse injuries.

This week we are going to talk more about the importance of shoulder building and maintaining shoulder and wrist mobility, as well as the importance of practising skills and drills to improve technique.

3. The Importance of Shoulder mobility

Limited shoulder mobility leads to increased loads being placed on the elbows and wrists.   This interesting research study talks about the correlation between limited overhead shoulder flexibility and increased wrist pain.

There are other factors that can cause upper body injury, but shoulder mobility is one of the major issues we see with a lot of athletes, especially callisthenics athletes due to a lack of soft tissue maintenance and strength programmes that lack balance in both vertical and horizontal pushing/pulling movements.  Shoulder mobility is often limited by muscle tightness and/or muscle weakness.  Muscles around the scapular need to be strong and have the neural capability to hold the shoulders in the correct position for each specific exercise, TSTM has touched on this before in the post Building Strong and Stable Shoulders.  It’s also important to note that increasing range of motion (mobility) can lead to increase levels force production (strength).

Increasing mobility comes down to learning more about anatomy, and muscular vs ligament/joint based stretching, and mobility techniques that actually work (like FRC).  The following video shows some excellent shoulder mobility exercises: 


4. Achieving and Maintaining Wrist Mobility

Limited wrist mobility can directly influence the amount of stress placed on the elbows, not to mention the ability to perform handstands, push-ups, and false grip.  How many of us take the time to warm-up and mobilise the wrist before we train?  We often see athletes turning the fingers outwards when wrist extension is limited, but this leads to inefficient force transfer through the arms and into the torso.  Add a “shit load” of volume, and most athletes will soon start to feel pain in the elbows and/or the shoulders (the joints further up the chain).

Swinging/kipping and grip training often creates a lot of stiffness in the forearm flexors and pronators (located on the palm side of the arms).  If these muscles get overly worked and not managed with regal soft tissue work, it's no surprise that wrist extension and supination (the opposite direction) becomes limited.  For this reason, bodyweight athletes need to spend significant time taking care of the forearms through regular soft tissue work.

Strength training alone is not the answer to restoring the missing mobility we often see in athletes. “If the best in the world are stretching their ass off in order to get strong, why aren’t you?” – Christopher Sommer

5. Skills, Drills, and Technique

Limited mobility directly impacts the athletes' ability to perform certain skills with high-quality technique.  Limited wrist extension can force athletes to turn the fingers outwards when performing movement like push-ups.  The poor technique limits force production in the press and places uncomfortable forces through the elbows and shoulders

Perfect body shape, skill basics, strength development, and technical preparation is critical prior to high volume training.  Gymnastics is the perfect example of this as body shape and technique is how the sport is scored.  Gymnastics requires high levels of technical mastery to perfect, performing repetitions with poor technique is never to be encouraged. Instead of performing hundreds and hundreds of shitty repetitions, it's best to lower the volume and focus on quality skill development and the correct technical requirements.  The best bodyweight athletes master the basics and revisit them often to maintain them. It's often not the sexy stuff we see on Instagram and hence far too many athletes skip the fundamentals and jump straight to the honeypot.

Mobility, skill and technique need to be the foundation of everything we are trying to achieve.  These training elements will offer the biggest “bang for your buck” when it comes to performance.  It's not hard to see how athletes of any discipline can achieve higher levels of performance by improving mobility and technique before adding strength and power.  It's unfortunate that many training programmes and coaches fail to build the foundations correctly and often skip the required steps.

Next week we will talk more about external loads in bodyweight training and spotting the red flags early to prevent injury.