A Pose to Improve Punches and Protect from Shoulder Injuries
by Kristin Iris
Athletes are often considered to be shining examples of health and fitness. However, what many athletes, including martial artists, don’t realize is how all that training can throw their physiology and musculature out of balance. For Brazilian Jiu Jitstu (BJJ) players, Boxers, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Muay Thai fighters the upper body can become extremely imbalanced. There are many ways in which our chests, upper backs, shoulders, necks, lats and more get thrown out of whack by some areas being too strong, too weak, too tight, too overstretched, or lacking range of motion. This isn’t even necessarily caused by injury or damage. Our everyday, every week training can cause these changes. Correcting these issues can not only improve your striking in MMA, Muay Thai and boxing but help prevent shoulder injuries in those arts as well as in BJJ.
There is a great technique you can do called Turbo Dog that will help improve your shoulder health by firing up some of the weaker rotator cuff muscles. Turbo Dog comes from Forrest Yoga. Performing it teaches your serratus muscles to turn on. The serratus muscles line the sides of the ribs under your armpit. For a lot of people in general, not just martial artists, these muscles are more or less dead. They are atrophied and don’t do anything while other muscles have jumped in to pick up the slack. Serratus muscles are actually very important in the movement of the shoulder blade and keeping your rotator cuff muscles very safe and stable to help prevent injuries. They’re also known as “boxer’s muscles” because of their function in executing a punch.
Turbo Dog is a variation of Downward Facing Dog that will turn on these muscles getting them nice and active. This one can literally be quite heating and intense so take your time and really focus on feeling what’s happening rather than pushing it to the next level. To make sure you get all the benefits of this technique I’m going to break it down into really small steps. I’ve included a link to my video of how to do this technique at the bottom of this article.
Steps to doing Turbo Dog:
- Come to hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Let your head relax down and take a few deep breaths while bringing your awareness to your shoulders, upper back and chest. For some people this can be challenging because we aren’t used to putting so much focus into feeling these areas.
- After several deep breaths walk your hands about 2 inches forward. Inhale and spread the shoulder blades away from each other by pressing your upper back toward the ceiling.
- As you exhale, bend your elbows a few inches toward the floor. Don’t come all the way down on the forearms but don’t keep the arms completely straight. It’s a little bend. It is very important that your elbows don’t point out to the sides. They should point toward your thighs. To help with this…
- Inhale and as you exhale give a strong squeeze between your elbows like you’re trying to hold a balloon between them. You should feel your chest muscles turn on and those little muscles under your armpits (serratus). Make sure your head is still relaxed. This position is called Turbo Dog Prep. The first few times you do this it may be a good idea to stop here especially if you are feeling new sensation. It takes time to really wake up these muscles and get them working properly.
- If this feels easy or you’re ready for more you can continue into full Turbo Dog. Keeping this same positioning with the arms, inhale into your upper back and as you exhale turn your toes under, lift your knees and straighten your legs.
- Reach your sit bones back and up and your heels down toward the floor. It is okay to bend the knees a little if your hamstrings are especially tight.
- Press firmly through your hands and lift out of your shoulders. Keep your neck relaxed. CONTINUE SQUEEZING YOUR ELBOWS TOWARD EACH OTHER. This is the motion that is especially important in turning on the proper muscles as well as protecting your shoulders from injury in this pose.
- As you continue to breath very deeply keep your awareness on what you feel in your shoulders and chest. Turbo Dog gets hot and challenging very fast. Aim for staying in it for 3 to 6 full, deep breaths. It’s okay to come down, reset and come back up for more breaths if 6 is too many in one turn.
- To come down bend your knees and gently lower them down to the floor. Let your arms relax and hang at your sides. Again this is not the time to push too far. You don’t have anything to prove.
Doing Turbo Dog is about developing strong, healthy shoulders, which will improve your game. To help protect the shoulders from injury, which is very common for martial artists who do BJJ, MMA, Muay Thai or boxing, it is important to activate all the muscles in the area to get them working properly. When your body functions properly you subsequently improve the execution of your punches and other martial arts skills.
Now I have a challenge for you: do Turbo Dog before your next two or three workouts. It literally only takes a minute of your time but can help make your training more efficient and effective.
You can watch my video of this technique here: http://youtu.be/DQZPWgGq3zA