Strengthen your shoulders, increase mobility and avoid injury – Rotator cuff exercises using a steel mace.
The shoulder is a dynamic and incredibly complex joint that we need to maintain strong, mobile and stable. We must balance the expansive network of shoulder complex muscles adequately to minimize the risk of injury. We need variability in exercises through multiple planes of motion to allow our shoulders to function like well-oiled machines no matter what position we are in.
Considering the shoulders are involved in almost every pushing, pulling, lifting and throwing movements, in both the gym and daily life, our shoulder joints often take a beating. The shoulder has the largest range of motion of any joint, which is why it is the most commonly dislocated joint, and it can be easily injured without proper strength, mobility, and stabilization.
At SET FOR SET we specialize in the steel mace, and it’s not just a great tool for sports performance, the steel mace is great for rehabilitation and prehabilitation as well. It is an especially effective tool for maintaining a healthy rotator cuff, which is the focus of this article.
Anatomy of the Rotator Cuff
“The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles whose tendons come together to form a covering around the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) and top of the shoulder. Together with the joint capsule, ligaments and labrum, the rotator cuff muscles are important dynamic stabilizers and movers of the shoulder joint.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of each rotator cuff muscle:
Supraspinatus: Performs abduction of the arm, and pulls the head of the humerus medially towards the glenoid cavity - Susceptible to impingement.
Infraspinatus: Externally rotates the humerus and stabilizes the shoulder joint. The most common exercise for beginners is standing external rotation with a resistance band.
Subscapularis: The only rotator cuff muscle that performs internal rotation of the shoulder. It is a powerful defense to the front of the shoulder-joint, preventing displacement of the head of the humerus.
Teres minor: Externally rotates the humerus when your arm is raised to the side
Understanding the rotator cuff
To assist in stabilizing the joint, the rotator cuff pulls the shoulder blade (scapula) and the arm bone (humerus) towards each other and keeps them in position. If the rotator cuff isn’t functioning like it should, the humerus could slide too far forward or upward. This can cause strain on the front of the shoulder or an impingement on the top of the shoulder, both of which can wind up tearing the rotator cuff further.
The internal rotators (pec and lat) are much bigger and more powerful which is oftentimes what leads to an imbalance if the external rotators are left untrained.
Although the rotator cuff is essential to stabilizing the shoulder joint and ensuring proper shoulder function, tons of people still neglect training this critical muscle group. Most people often only train for shoulder strength.
The rotator cuff necessitates flexibility and stability training as well to function optimally. It’s not all about strength.
The steel mace can be used in numerous ways to effectively target all of the rotator cuff muscles, to ensure optimal function, and to help prevent shoulder injuries… as you will see further below.
The infamous rotator cuff tear - One of the most common shoulder injuries.
What Causes Rotator Cuff Tears?
There are numerous kinds of tears. Many factors can cause these tears. However, a weak rotator cuff doesn’t necessarily correlate to a torn rotator cuff.
The major contributing factor of Rotator Cuff Tears:
Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries:
“Rotator cuff injuries do not often happen when the arm is just flailing about. The damage usually happens when the arm and shoulder are in a loaded position. For this reason, we need to strengthen the muscles in a loaded position. Banded exercises are good and necessary, however, it doesn’t train your body to use the rotator cuff they way it was intended to be used [which is under load]. It’s important to train the rotator cuff loaded so it can be strengthened in a loaded position, which is what it almost always is in during physical activities.” – Michael Risher sports performance trainer and chiropractic student at Palmer West Chiropractic College.
Michael believes that a steel mace is a great tool for preventing shoulder injuries. The steel mace can help you go beyond the basics of rotator cuff training, so that you can keep your rotator cuff strong, mobile and injury free.
The Steel Mace – the best shoulder rehab and prehab tool.
The steel mace offers ultimate range of motion and variability of weight distribution due to its long lever, uneven weight distribution, and simply, the unique way the steel mace is used. Steel mace training focuses heavily on different kinds of swings and rotations, and the ability to work in multiple planes of motion means the steel mace, aka macebell, offers a lot of benefits you won’t find elsewhere.
You can strengthen and stretch the stabilizing muscles of the rotator cuff very effectively through various ranges of motion and body & stance positioning using the steel mace.
Rotator cuff exercises with the steel mace cause a beneficial separation of the joint, which helps lubricate the joint and boost its overall health. Think of exercises for your joints like a more frequently needed oil change - Keep your joints functioning optimally with frequent stretching and mobility routines.
Upper back and scapula
Mobilizing the scapula
Developing strength in more ranges of motion
Not to mention, steel maces increase rotational force/strength in multi-planes, two qualities that traditional weightlifting often lacks.
A light mace is perfect for a warm-up for the shoulder girdle and rotator cuff.
In regards to the weight, the great thing about the mace is you can increase the difficulty of the exercise simply by positioning your grip differently. This means you can make it harder as you get stronger using the same mace.
Starting with a light mace and working your way up in weight over time is a great way to improve the stability and range of motion of your shoulders safely and effectively.
Rotator Cuff Exercises Using The Steel Mace:
Michael uses the following rotator cuff exercises for rehabilitating and prehabilitating himself and his clients. Here are five moves in multi-planes that you could include in your upper body warm up routine or as a workout in itself to improve shoulder mobility, reduce injuries and to make sure your shoulders can operate optimally in any position.
Mace Rotator Cuff Notes:
1. Supine Mace Rotations:
When done supine (on your back) you simulate the shoulders for push-ups, bench press, or to help prevent injury if you fall on an outstretched arm.
2. Side Lying Mace Rotations
When done on the side, lying down, it trains us for different ranges of gymnastics movements like muscle ups and handstand walks where your weight shifts laterally or your arms have the potential to abduct. It also can help us in case of a fall. So having the rotator cuff strong in that position protects against injury.
3. Kneeling Overhead Rotations
When done overhead, you train the rotator cuff for all overhead movements (snatch, C&J, HSPU, etc).
4. Kneeling Front Rotations
When done standing with arms out in front, it trains for everyday life (picking up kids, dogs, groceries, etc).
Traditional Mace Exercise For Shoulder Health:
5. Mace 360s
It is necessary to prevent grooving of your movement patterns, where you are only strong in the positions you train. It’s important to train in all different planes so your shoulders can be strong in all positions. By doing so, you will have well-rounded strength and decreased risk for injury when you train in unconventional angles.
Warming up before partaking in an intense activity is a must. If you don’t properly condition your shoulders, they can become inflamed quite quickly.
Stretching and mobilizing your shoulders and arms should be included in your training program.
Bulletproofing your shoulders
Bulletproofing your rotator cuff doesn’t require a lot of weight. It is best to use lower resistance with more repetitions. Low resistance exercises will gradually strengthen the smaller muscles that make up your rotator cuff without the risk of injury.
Remember, the four rotator cuff muscles are relatively small, so keep the movements slow and controlled.
We are big advocates of incorporating ranges of motion outside of your normal training. Variability is a necessary condition for optimal function. If you always train using the same exercises and movement patterns, you’ll overdevelop certain areas and underuse others. With that being said, developing strength and stability in other planes of motion using a steel mace is an excellent way to reduce injuries and to stay #alwaysready.
Sports performance trainer and chiropractic student at Palmer West Chiropractic College.
- Future Chiropractor
- CrossFit Athlete
- Adventure enthusiast
- SET FOR SET mace wielder
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