Shouldering On

Best Of Firehouse Fitness

Targeting total fitness, one body area at a time By R.J. Ignelzi (Contact) Union-Tribune Staff Writer 2:00 a.m. March 31, 2009

With your trim waist and toned thighs, you look fabulously fit. But are you fit for life?

Firefighters have to be, and they think you should be, too. That’s why for more than 3½ years, the San Diego Fire and Rescue Department has demonstrated a variety of functional fitness exercises in the Currents Health section’s weekly Firehouse Fitness column. The featured exercises and stretches mimic normal movement patterns to help you live life more efficiently and with less risk of pain.

We’ve compiled some previously published favorite exercises for a full-body top-to-bottom functional fitness workout focusing on one body part at a time. Today, as the first part of an occasional series, we target the shoulders.

Increasing shoulder strength and flexibility helps create better posture and protects you from injury doing everyday things like lifting a child or hoisting a suitcase in the overhead bin. On a more vain note, strong, well-toned shoulders make the waist and hips look smaller.

Stay tuned and get strong. In coming months, we’ll concentrate on the back, core, hips, legs and arms.

Rotator Cuff Stretch With Strap

The move: San Diego firefighter Jeff Akens from Station 35 performs a shoulder rotation using a strap or towel.

Works on: Stretching the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

Precautions: This stretch can be uncomfortable, so don’t push it. Keep the torso upright and don’t bend forward at the waist.

Setup: Can be performed sitting or standing. You will need a towel or strap.

Steps: Hold the strap in the right hand and drop it over the right shoulder so it falls down your back. Bend the right elbow to 90 degrees and point it upward. Grasp the strap with the left hand at the height of the low back. The palm of the left hand should face away from the spine. Push upward with the right hand to pull the left hand up the back until a shoulder stretch is felt. Pause, release and repeat.

Repetitions: Three to five times, holding for 30 to 60 seconds.

Plank Shoulder Abduction

The move: San Diego fire Capt. Milo Vaughs of Station 35A performs a plank shoulder abduction to strengthen the shoulders and back.

Works on: Sculpting the posterior shoulder and upper back. Builds core strength.

Level of difficulty: Beginner to intermediate.

Precautions: Do not use a dumbbell in excess of 8 pounds. The supporting elbow should be directly below the shoulder. Look toward the ground to keep the head in line with the spine. Do not let your hips sag.

Setup: Assume a plank position with a small dumbbell within reach. Maintaining the plank position, shift your weight to the left forearm and grasp the dumbbell with the right hand. Straighten the right elbow and raise the dumbbell to hip level.

The steps: Keeping the right elbow straight and the palm down, raise the arm overhead in a slow, controlled arc. Allow the shoulder blade to move freely throughout the exercise.

Repetitions: Start with one set of 10 per arm. Add weight, reps or sets as your strength improves.

Horizontal Shoulder Raise

The moves: San Diego firefighter engineer Phil Valoff demonstrates a horizontal shoulder raise in a prone position.

Works on: Shoulder blade stabilization and rotator cuff strength.

Setup: Lie face down on a stability ball with the legs spread wide for a base of support. Roll forward on the ball until the chest is unsupported, holding a light weight in each hand.

Steps: Bend the elbows 90 degrees and bring the forearms together in front of the face. Initiate the movement by squeezing the shoulder blades together. Spread the arms away from each other until the elbows are at 90 degrees and the shoulders are at 90 degrees to the torso.

Repetitions: Perform three sets of 15 to 30 repetitions.

Precautions: Avoid using more than 5 pounds for rotator cuff strengthening. Shoulder blade stabilization is key to all rotator cuff exercises. Make sure the head and neck stay aligned with the spine.

Codman’s Shoulder Pendulum

The move: Firefighter Matthew Salmon of Station 5 performs a weighted pendulum movement with bent torso.

Works on: Stimulation and coordination of the rotator cuff muscles.

Level of difficulty: Beginner.

Precautions: Consult your physician before trying this exercise if you have a history of shoulder injury. Use a light weight, never more than 3 pounds.

Setup: Hold a small dumbbell in one hand. Bend forward at the waist with a flat back and keep the head in line with the torso. Place the opposite hand on a table or chair for trunk support. Keep a slight bend in the knees.

The steps: Allow the weighted arm and shoulder to be completely relaxed, as if hanging off the body like a pendulum. Move the entire torso back and forth or in a small circle. Allow the entire arm to gently sway in response to this torso movement.

Repetitions: 30-second increments.

Lateral And Forward Lifts

The move: San Diego firefighter/paramedic Kelly Robinson of Station 43C demonstrates these lifts.

Works on: Anterior and middle deltoid strength, along with shoulder blade stabilization and muscle coordination.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Precautions: Don’t perform if you have a history of shoulder impingement or if you feel pain with these motions. Don’t lift arms above shoulder height. Use light dumbbells.

Setup: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms resting at your sides. The left palm should be facing behind you, and the right palm should be facing the right thigh. Stand erect with knees slightly bent and abdominals contracted.

Steps: Squeeze the shoulder blades together throughout the exercise. Simultaneously, perform a lateral raise with the right arm and a forward raise with the left arm, taking care not to raise either arm above shoulder height. Pause at the top of the motion for two counts. Slowly return and repeat.

Repetitions: Three sets of 10 per side.

Exercise Tubing, Empty Can Raise

The move: Karen Carnahan, firefighter-paramedic at Station 13, demonstrates an arm raise that isolates the rotator cuff.

Works on: The supraspinatus muscle.

Level of difficulty: Beginner.

Precautions: Consult with a physician before performing this exercise if you have a history of shoulder impingement. Limit the arm range of motion to what is comfortable and don’t force it.

Setup: Stand with one leg in back of the other. Hold an end of stretch tubing in each hand and step on the middle of the tubing with the forward foot. Start with the arms relaxed and the palms facing the body. Firmly squeeze the shoulder blades together. With straight elbows, raise the arms forward to 45 degrees, then spread the arms to the sides. Rotate the entire arm as if you were emptying a soda can so the thumb points down.

The steps: Slowly raise and lower the arms in this position while holding the stretched tubing.

Repetitions: Three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions

This article was taken from the Union Tribune and was written by R.J. Ignelzi: (760) 476-8206.