Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

October 2022

Scapular Depression - A Critical Muscular Function

The human body is far more than just a collection of different parts. While there are 206 bones, over 600 muscles, and an estimated 37.2 trillion cells in each of us, each one plays a specific role in helping us to function optimally. Much like an automobile, if one of those parts is damaged or compromised, we don't perform like we should. However, depending on the nature of the damage, an organ, muscle, or limb can help to pick up the slack until homeostasis is restored. I see the body as a wonderfully adaptive piece of machinery, and often marvel at how smaller muscles can support larger muscles to enable movement (think of how the tiny rotator cuff muscles help the much larger deltoid to perform movement about the shoulder joint). Regular exercise helps us to become more in tune with our bodies and to better understand muscle function and how everything works together.

Scapular depression is the act of driving your shoulder blades downward. This is an important muscular function that has an impact not only on your exercise performance, but also on your general posture, and failure to properly perform this function can result in neck, shoulder, and back pain down the road. To get a better understanding, we can piggy-back on the anatomical discussion from the "Shoulder Pain" book review that I did a few weeks ago. The scapulae are your shoulder blades, and they are wing-shaped structures that you can feel if you press slightly into your upper back. They are the central figure in your shoulder joint, and they connect to your clavicle (collar bone) as well as your humerus (upper arm). The function of scapular depression is performed by several different muscle groups: latissimus dorsi (large back muscle), pectoralis minor and major (chest), serratus anterior (just below your chest), and trapezius (kite-shaped muscle that goes across your upper back and tapers down). The scapular elevation (shrugging of the shoulders) that often occurs due to stress, incorrect seat/computer height, and bad posture can lead to neck tension/pain, shoulder pain, and headaches. It is also the most common form discrepancy that we see in compound upper body exercises.

Most of the exercises that we perform in a Total Results workout are compound movements, meaning that we incorporate multiple joints and muscle groups in each exercise. This enables us to cover more ground and systemically fatigue the body in a shorter period of time, which leads to a more effective exercise stimulus. Three of the compound upper body exercises that we do at Total Results really incorporate scapular depression: Chest Press, Row, and Pulldown. On the Chest Press, scapular depression maximizes involvement of the pectoralis major and minor, which are the primary movers of the exercise. Failure to perform this function results in greater involvement of the triceps muscles, which can cause early fatigue. Every compound movement has a weak link, which is typically the smallest muscle group in the chain. If you place a greater demand on the smaller and weaker muscles (the triceps, in this case) you do so at the expense of the larger muscles (the chest muscles). Proper performance of scapular depression ensures that you effectively inroad the muscles with the greatest overall metabolic impact.

On the Pulldown and Row exercises, the primary movers are the latissimus dorsi muscles, in addition to the medial and lower trapezius as well as the rhomboids. Since both exercises involve elbow flexion, that means that the biceps muscles will play a secondary role. Scapular elevation on these two exercises leads to a similar outcome as it does on the Chest Press, only we're talking about the biceps instead of the triceps. Here, your biceps will fatigue more quickly at the expense of the larger back muscles. The larger muscles are more powerful, and efficiently inroading them leads to a better exercise stimulus.

There is a teaching point that I often use with novice clients to illustrate how to properly depress the scapulae during these exercises. I have the client face me with their elbows bent at 90 degrees. They will then shrug their shoulders toward their ears as if they're saying, "I don't know." At that point, I will place my hands under their elbows with my palms up, and instruct them to press their elbows down into my palms. Driving their shoulders downward in this fashion helps them to engage and really feel the muscles responsible for scapular depression, and they are now able to make the connection and understand the importance that this plays in the preceding exercises. I ask them to go home and practice this exercise in the mirror in order to reinforce what they have learned, and I have found that it works rather well.

Having a basic understanding of anatomy pays dividends, and allows clients to become more in tune with their bodies as they start to work with a greater degree of intensity. Knowing which muscles are primary and secondary movers, and recognizing how to achieve significant activation of these structures makes all the difference in the world as far as your workout is concerned. Learning is a continuous process, and your Total Results instructor is here to guide you every step of the way.

Posted October 27, 2022 by Matthew Romans

Distractions Are the Enemy

Our current culture places an emphasis on multitasking, accessibility, and near-constant stimulation. In spite of rising inflation and an uncertain economy, we live in a period of relative abundance compared to a few generations ago. Pretty much anything you need (or really don't need) is available with just the click of a button on a smartphone or other electronic device. Text messages, video conferencing, email, and the ability to work from home mean that we are available 24 hours a day. If we allow it, the temptations and constant accessibility can get in the way of accomplishing meaningful tasks. The repeated ping of our phone makes finishing that school assignment, business proposal, or blog article much more difficult and time consuming, since our attention and focus are going in several different directions. Simply put, distractions are the enemy of a meaningful experience!

I have talked at length in previous articles about the commercial gym as a pernicious environment with lots of nonsensical behavior being passed off as exercise. It can be great for entertainment value but harmful to anyone looking to participate in a quality metabolic experience. There is a stark contrast between the commercial gym environment and the setting at Total Results. Commercial gyms are a zoo; Total Results is the ideal exercise environment. Our studio is quiet, private, and clinically controlled, while gyms are chaotic. Only one client is in our exercise room at a time, so you don't have to worry about crowds or having to wait for a certain machine. There are no mirrors, music, or bright lights to distract your attention; our clinical surroundings enable you to achieve a Zen-like focus on what is important - your workout. What truly matters is for us to help you to achieve a safe and effective exercise stimulus so that you can achieve the best results in the least amount of time.

That being said, even in spite of our best efforts at eliminating external sources of impediment, distractions can arise from within you. Things happen in life, and we understand that curveballs can be thrown your way from time to time, but there are a few proactive ways that you can work to keep potential sources of distraction at bay.

Silence your phone. Nothing can break your concentration like a ringing phone during a workout. It is distracting for both the client and for the instructor. Once that focus is taken away, it is difficult to regain. Not only does it impede the effectiveness of the workout, it is also a safety consideration. Please put your phone on mute before entering the workout area.

Don't confuse the assumed objective with the real objective. This is a common mistake made by novice clients, who erroneously believe that the goal of exercise is to complete as many repetitions as possible with the heaviest weight one can handle. It is an incorrect mindset and can cause you to take liberties with form, which is never a good idea. The main objective of proper exercise is thorough inroad, not achieving a certain time under load (TUL). Concentrate on form and effort, which will lead to the ideal outcome.

Minimize talking. I realize that this may sound rude or harsh, but exercise is not a social event. You cannot concentrate on your workout if you are talking, and talking increases the risk for injury. In addition, this will decrease the effectiveness of your workout due to a lack of focus on what's important. When I was a kid, I tried to convince my mother that I could do my homework properly while the TV was on. She was right, I couldn't. I am always happy to chat with clients before and/or after a workout, but during a workout the talking should pertain strictly to exercise and be largely one-sided.

Don't worry about the weight stack. Clients often get too wrapped up in how much weight they are lifting, which is common on the Leg Press because it's the heaviest weight most people will use. This can cause a mental block, but on certain exercises like the Lumbar Extension and Leg Curl (where the weight stack is located on the side of the machine) looking at the stack violates neutral head position. Don't focus on what you're lifting, but rather how you're lifting it. I will typically wait until after the workout is finished to tell a client if I have raised their weight on a particular movement.

Use just enough instruction. This is more directed toward the instructor that is supervising the workout, but it has bearing on the client. Giving cues or commands too frequently during an exercise can be a distraction too. I have been guilty of this in the past; in fact, when I was preparing for my practical examination many years ago, my master instructor had to tell me several times to "stop babbling." I regularly remind myself to be economical with my instructions. These teaching points need to be timely and used sparingly; in an ideal scenario I would say very little, or only what is necessary to guide the client through the exercise process. The client's goal should be to get me to shut up, because the less I talk the better the client's performance.

What separates Total Results from other facilities is our respect for your privacy, and also a thorough understanding of the need for total concentration and focus on the task at hand. The instructor and the client must work together to achieve this, and both parties play a critical role in the process. Walk in for your session with the mindset that you are prepared to give 100 percent effort and attention to your workout, and that nothing else matters for the next 20 minutes of your day. Leave all the other distractions outside the studio door. Anything that needs to be addressed can wait until your workout is in the rearview mirror.

Posted October 14, 2022 by Matthew Romans