Let’s start with a synchronized swimming lesson. If you’ve seen synchronized swimming, you’ve seen moments when legs are flying out of the water and maybe you’ve thought “how the heck?” Forbidden from using the bottom of the pool, synchronized swimmers have to create the propulsion required to keep their legs above the water. The technique used for this is called “support scull” and obviously, it requires a lot of strength and tremendous range of motion in the shoulder.
This series will help us understand the mechanics of support scull and identify a key and often overlooked player, the Teres Major. We’ll start in Tune Up Tadasana. The Legs are fired up, the spine is long and a Tubular Core is locked in. Now, externally rotate the shoulders as much as possible (Pin the Arms on the Yogi) and then flex your elbows so that your forearms are raised parallel to the floor with your palms up. Now, imagine you are dusting underneath a glass table. Internally rotate your shoulders, keeping the elbows flexed at 90 degrees and then externally rotate. Your fingertips point in and then out. Now, imagine that the table’s legs collapse and you have to hold the glass top up. This is the pressure needed to create grab on the water. Keep that pressure as you speed up your internal and external rotation. That is how you stay above the water as demonstrated in the images below.
This dynamic movement switches quickly from activation of the internal rotators (Deltoid, Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Subcapularis and Pectoralis Major) to activation of the external rotators (Deltoid, Infraspinatus and Teres Minor).
It is very common for swimmers to have overly developed chests and very tight Pectoralis muscles. Many shoulder injuries and poor alignment patterning result from this imbalance. In addition, many young athletes have poor proprioception of the back of their bodies. In synchronized swimmers, this leads to many shoulder impingement injuries and improper and ineffective support scull technique. Many of my young athletes depend almost solely on their Pectoralis for internal rotation. To counter this, it is important to focus on the role of the Latissimus Dorsi and the Teres Major.
The Teres Major is a small, strappy muscle that originates at the bottom lateral edge of the scapula and inserts on the upper humerus, below the shoulder. The Teres Minor is a medial rotator, meaning it assists in internal rotation. It also adducts the arm and brings the arm into a small degree of extension. Importantly, the Teres Major also helps to stabilize the head of the humerus in the glenoid cavity. The Teres Major acts as the “Lat’s Little Helper.” The Teres Major in synergy with the Lats, allows for maximum range of motion, maximum stabilization and maximum recruitment of larger shoulder muscles. This not only creates healthier alignment, but also helps to minimize fatigue and maximize performance.
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