Rugby – shoulder strengthening
*This article is a follow up to the article posted on the 24th March 2017 regarding the mechanics of tackling in rugby and its effects on the shoulder complex. Please refer to http://www.responsephysio.com/2017/03/rugby-the-mechanics-of-tackling/ *
The shoulder joint is responsible for the highest proportion of days missed through injury in rugby. It is therefore extremely important that rugby players work on specific exercises to strengthen the shoulder to reduce the chance of injury and maximise time on the pitch. These type of exercises are called injury prevention exercises, or simply referred to as “prehab” or “prehabilitation”. Prehab exercises are those that are focused on strengthening specific known weaknesses as a result of the demands of the sport an individual is involved in. This differs hugely from sport to sport. For example, what prehab exercises are done by a rugby player is going to be very much different compared to those of a badminton player.
When it comes to strengthening the shoulder for rugby, the rotator cuff muscles are very important. The rotator cuff consists of 4 muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. Each of these muscles have slightly different actions. Individually they rotate the shoulder joint, lift the arm and extend the shoulder backwards. Most importantly overall is the fact that they are the main contributor to the stability of the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint. This is vital for rugby which has a high incidence of dislocations. Furthermore, rugby players generally have strong chest muscles which can cause the shoulder joint to have a higher risk of injury, as they overpower some of the smaller muscles of the shoulder which may reduce stability. It is therefore important that the rotator cuff, in combination with the shoulder blade muscles, are strong enough to counteract these demands.
Below are some descriptions and images of some of our favourite exercises to help strengthen the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles:
(1) Wall slide with towel
Stand side on to a door or wall (make sure it will let you slide your arm up and down using a rolled up towel). Start with your arm by your side and with your hand pushing lightly against the towel. When we say lightly, this means about 50% of your maximum effort. Then slowly maintain this pressure against the towel as you bring your arm up/down in an “arc”. Complete for 2-3 sets of 6-8 repetitions.
(2) Lateral raises
These are usually done using both arms at the same time; however, can also be really effective single arm which will allow you to focus on any differences in shoulder strength. Stand upright with a resistance band fixed under your foot. Keep your elbow straight (but not locked) and lift your arm to shoulder height. Make sure you lift the band parallel to your torso. Lower the band slowly as this requires extra effort from the rotator cuff muscles. Complete for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
(3) Bent over pull
This is my favourite of all prehab shoulder exercises for rugby. As you can see the position is that of a scrum or ruck which makes the exercise very specific for rugby players.
The resistance band is tied against the door handle (making sure the door is locked!) and grasped with a moderate amount of tension. Bend over so that your torso is almost parallel with the floor. Maintain this position as you pull the band towards you. Think about pulling your elbow “down towards your body” – this will help engage the back muscles. Complete for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
by Tom Hames, Chartered Physiotherapist