Overactive upper traps

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carlito
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Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Sat Apr 30, 2011 11:39 am

Hello, I'm having more issues around my upper back, specifically upper traps/levator scapulae. they seem to just get so tight and takeover movements, for instance I just did some lateral and front raises, made sure to pinch my scapula aswell as depress it, but the upper traps seem to get the most out of the exercise. I could feel the lower traps firing which was good.

I've recently been following previous advice and doing alot of face pulls external rotations, wall slides etc, I also saw a physio a while back, one thing that was mentioned was slight forward head posture, would that heavily effect the upper traps? Just wondering whether anyone would recommend just stopping any of those exercises and/or anything to help improve the situation, thanks.

On a side note I've read previous threads, notably the shoulder impingement one, where lack of upward rotation is mentioned just might of thought that I lack this also, because on the scap wall slide, I do find it difficult to raise my arms overhead, I'm not certain I can get them directly overhead and straight. Am I along the right train of thought here?

Oh and also according to my physio, I'm actually restricted in upper spine flexion, rather than extension, which I thought would be the opposite, just thought that might be somehow relevant to the thread..

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by KPj » Thu May 05, 2011 8:09 am

carlito wrote:one thing that was mentioned was slight forward head posture, would that heavily effect the upper traps? Just wondering whether anyone would recommend just stopping any of those exercises and/or anything to help improve the situation, thanks.
Typically, forward head posture will come with elevated shoulder blades, which can be from shortening of the upper traps. You could say that it's the upper traps that are heavily affecting the forward head posture. It's a chicken and egg scenario, really. I wouldn't over think it - you know you have "overactive" upper traps, anyway, so it doesn't really change anything.

It's very difficult to give specific recommendations over the net but, you could post your training program and if there's anything I generally wouldn't have in there or generally would include, i'll let you know.
carlito wrote: On a side note I've read previous threads, notably the shoulder impingement one, where lack of upward rotation is mentioned just might of thought that I lack this also, because on the scap wall slide, I do find it difficult to raise my arms overhead, I'm not certain I can get them directly overhead and straight. Am I along the right train of thought here?
If i had to pick one movement to take care of the typical forward head postures you see, then it would be wall slides. Mobilise the shoulders and chest, activate middle and lower traps, teach proper scap control (moving your arms with stable shoulder blades, basically). Not to mention, you should be contracting the glutes, abs, and tucking the chin slightly, teaching a very stable, athletic position that carries over to most other lifts. You don't get much better than that.

The issues you mention are very common, especially in males. You just need to persevere. Do them every day and you'll get better quicker. You don't need to force it. Frequency is more important. I'll often add in more specific movements or stretches to help with it but, you can get good at them just by practising them. I used to be unable to put my hands on the wall without my a$$ lifting off the wall. I would put my a$$ back on the wall and my hands would pop off. Now, I can do it without any compensation from the lower back, and get the elbows way down below the shoulders, with the wrists still in contact with the wall.

BTW i'm becoming more and more of a fan of doing wall slides on the floor i.e. floor slides? I started doing this because I can't always find a wall. U get a little help from gravity and it just seems to be more difficult to do it wrong. Worth a try.
carlito wrote: Oh and also according to my physio, I'm actually restricted in upper spine flexion, rather than extension, which I thought would be the opposite, just thought that might be somehow relevant to the thread..
Well done on seeing a physio! Unfortunately it can be tough to find a good one. I don't want to be critical but, struggling to get your hands over head is a sure sign of being restricted in upper spine extension, not flexion. Most in this case are "stuck" in flexion. I'm just a part time trainer but, I've never seen a a male who couldn't use better upper spine extension....

KPj

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Thu May 05, 2011 10:10 am

KPj wrote: Typically, forward head posture will come with elevated shoulder blades, which can be from shortening of the upper traps. You could say that it's the upper traps that are heavily affecting the forward head posture. It's a chicken and egg scenario, really. I wouldn't over think it - you know you have "overactive" upper traps, anyway, so it doesn't really change anything.

It's very difficult to give specific recommendations over the net but, you could post your training program and if there's anything I generally wouldn't have in there or generally would include, i'll let you know.
Ok, thanks for your input. The training I'm doing right now:
Day 1 Triceps/upper back, 3xskullcrushers, 3xfacepulls with bands, rear delt flys, DB bent over rows, tricep dips, tricep cable pulldowns.
Day 2 Lats and sometimes chest/front delts, Cable lat pulldowns, Overhand pull ups, hip dumbell press, hip press ups, flys.
On most other days I'll do crunches, wall slides, forearm scap slides, stretching neck, using resistance band for neck extensors with chin tucked.
I rarely throw in the chest exercises, the sole reason being the physio mentioned to pull my shoulders back and stuff, so I preferrred to concentrate on improving that. Lemme know what you think of my program.

KPj wrote: If i had to pick one movement to take care of the typical forward head postures you see, then it would be wall slides. Mobilise the shoulders and chest, activate middle and lower traps, teach proper scap control (moving your arms with stable shoulder blades, basically). Not to mention, you should be contracting the glutes, abs, and tucking the chin slightly, teaching a very stable, athletic position that carries over to most other lifts. You don't get much better than that.

The issues you mention are very common, especially in males. You just need to persevere. Do them every day and you'll get better quicker. You don't need to force it. Frequency is more important. I'll often add in more specific movements or stretches to help with it but, you can get good at them just by practising them. I used to be unable to put my hands on the wall without my a$$ lifting off the wall. I would put my a$$ back on the wall and my hands would pop off. Now, I can do it without any compensation from the lower back, and get the elbows way down below the shoulders, with the wrists still in contact with the wall.

BTW i'm becoming more and more of a fan of doing wall slides on the floor i.e. floor slides? I started doing this because I can't always find a wall. U get a little help from gravity and it just seems to be more difficult to do it wrong. Worth a try.
I will try them out, thanks. I've noticed a slight improvement on the wall slides, at first I couldn't tuck my chin much, but since strengthening the back of my neck it's a little easier. Actually from the way your describing it, I'm doing it differently/wrong. The way I'm doing it now is, to bring lower back against the wall, chin tucked, forearms and elbows on the wall, and slowly try to lift arms overhead without letting either of those get away from the wall. Is this right?
KPj wrote: Well done on seeing a physio! Unfortunately it can be tough to find a good one. I don't want to be critical but, struggling to get your hands over head is a sure sign of being restricted in upper spine extension, not flexion. Most in this case are "stuck" in flexion. I'm just a part time trainer but, I've never seen a a male who couldn't use better upper spine extension....
KPj
Thanks, he was actually very surprised as It had been so long without seeing anyone. I thought it was quite helpful, he mentioned my very tight hamstrings and inability to bend over, which I definatley overlooked, I imagine this was mostly from 100m sprinting I used to do, this is also probably why I can't deadlift, as my knees have to bend to much. He agreed with me on the fact that I had increased tone on right side, neck and lower back, but just prescribed stretches not exercises for it.

Yeah I was surprised about the upper spine thing, as I was sure it was restricted in extension, I'm still not sure whether I agree with it yet, but he's the physio not me, also I'm not sure how well I can get my arms overhead as I can't really tell nor do I do any overhead exercises, for fear of flaring up the upper traps again. I would like to be able to train my shoulders though, is there any upper trap friendly shoulder exercises?

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by caangelxox » Fri May 06, 2011 5:41 pm

I used to have this problem, do you have golf balls at home and a foam roller?

My favorite thing is popping my back with the foam roller under my thoracic spine (middle back area where the shoulder blades are) when my back feels tight and stiff, especially after being on the computer for a while.

speaking of golf balls, you can put them between your shoulder blades lying supine on the floor with 90 degree knees (starting on the bottom of your shoulder blades right next to them, you will find it to be real tender at first and then it will go away after you hold for a few seconds). then bring your arms back and forth with good posture trying not to arch your back. then slowly move so that the balls can be up your blades a tiny bit more, then do it again. repeat until you get to your neck (where you cant feel pressure anymore). You can also put the balls right on your levator scapulae as well.

you can also do crunches like mike boyle does with the balls between his shoulder blades as well.

hope this helps, it helps me. =) the thoracic extensions on roller are my favorite.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Mon May 09, 2011 5:45 am

caangelxox wrote:I used to have this problem, do you have golf balls at home and a foam roller?

My favorite thing is popping my back with the foam roller under my thoracic spine (middle back area where the shoulder blades are) when my back feels tight and stiff, especially after being on the computer for a while.

speaking of golf balls, you can put them between your shoulder blades lying supine on the floor with 90 degree knees (starting on the bottom of your shoulder blades right next to them, you will find it to be real tender at first and then it will go away after you hold for a few seconds). then bring your arms back and forth with good posture trying not to arch your back. then slowly move so that the balls can be up your blades a tiny bit more, then do it again. repeat until you get to your neck (where you cant feel pressure anymore). You can also put the balls right on your levator scapulae as well.

you can also do crunches like mike boyle does with the balls between his shoulder blades as well.

hope this helps, it helps me. =) the thoracic extensions on roller are my favorite.
Actually from looking at myself from the side imo it looks obvious that I lack upper spine extension, just used 'foam roller', which is actually a mat rolled up, It felt good and when I got up I could feel my upper spine working hard to keep me upright, I also felt more comfortable/in better posture. What's strange is my physio said I lack flexion though, despite advising me to do thoracic extensions on a chair. :con:
Last edited by carlito on Mon May 09, 2011 11:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by KPj » Mon May 09, 2011 8:52 am

carlito wrote: The training I'm doing right now:
Day 1 Triceps/upper back, 3xskullcrushers, 3xfacepulls with bands, rear delt flys, DB bent over rows, tricep dips, tricep cable pulldowns.
Day 2 Lats and sometimes chest/front delts, Cable lat pulldowns, Overhand pull ups, hip dumbell press, hip press ups, flys.
On most other days I'll do crunches, wall slides, forearm scap slides, stretching neck, using resistance band for neck extensors with chin tucked.
I rarely throw in the chest exercises, the sole reason being the physio mentioned to pull my shoulders back and stuff, so I preferrred to concentrate on improving that. Lemme know what you think of my program.
What's the goal of the program? There's no lower body work in there.

One thing I would mention is your form. It's very common to see people shift the head forward and/or up when doing near enough every exercise. In your case you would just be enforcing it. Try and "pack" the neck when lifting. I tell people to give themself a double chin. There's been the odd occasion, for example, that i've made someone hold a tennis ball between their chin and neck/chest to stop them jerking the head around when doing seated rows.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by tyciol » Mon May 09, 2011 9:00 am

One idea I got about lateral raises is I think from one of Pavel Tsatsouline's books. Apparently you should try to 'press' the dumbbell outwards. Clearly this is a variation that would only work with the kind where your elbows are straight and not the heavier variations you can do with elbows flexed, but it seems like a good teaching tool.

I imagine one of the reasons this may work is because by pushing out, it would engage scapular abduction (protraction). Since the traps are retractors, maybe it helps to turn them off?

Something else that might help is doing the reps slowly. The traps being involved is unavoidable as they stabilize the scapulae (and in turn, clavicles) from resting too much weight on the upper ribs/sternum and stuff like that. I think when the traps are over-involved is maybe when we do explosive concentrics, because maybe we sort of shrug it up to get through sticking points?

Keeping the reps slow and smooth (perhaps pausing at the top when arms are parallel with the ground) may help to quiet the traps and focus on deltoid tension?

It's all I can think of at the moment.

Where is the brotox to inject into the traps to turn them off when you need it? I also want some to inject into lats so that the upper back can take over pull downs as well =)

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Mon May 09, 2011 9:33 am

KPj wrote: What's the goal of the program? There's no lower body work in there.

One thing I would mention is your form. It's very common to see people shift the head forward and/or up when doing near enough every exercise. In your case you would just be enforcing it. Try and "pack" the neck when lifting. I tell people to give themself a double chin. There's been the odd occasion, for example, that i've made someone hold a tennis ball between their chin and neck/chest to stop them jerking the head around when doing seated rows.

KPj
One of the specfic goals is to sort of restore some balance in the scapulae and improve posture through the shoulders, also thought all the upper back work would help the situation with my upper traps, alot of It is to help improve common imbalances aswell. Also the goal is just to keep fit, healthy, and stronger you know. Yes, there's no real lower body work, apart from glute work occassianal running/other cardio and ofcourse ab work. I was doing squats and single leg dls, as per your advice but I showed the physio what I was doing and he basically advised against it. Not that It was going well anyway, I found my balance to be awful, couldn't get anywhere near the ground and had to bend my knees alot, also my lower back got very painful and tight after. It just gave more problems that it solved. I think that maybe it was because of my hamstring tightness so I'm focusing on stretching that out.

About the form, I will try to keep an eye on keeping the chin tucked as you mentioned, thanks.
tyciol wrote:One idea I got about lateral raises is I think from one of Pavel Tsatsouline's books. Apparently you should try to 'press' the dumbbell outwards. Clearly this is a variation that would only work with the kind where your elbows are straight and not the heavier variations you can do with elbows flexed, but it seems like a good teaching tool.

I imagine one of the reasons this may work is because by pushing out, it would engage scapular abduction (protraction). Since the traps are retractors, maybe it helps to turn them off?

Something else that might help is doing the reps slowly. The traps being involved is unavoidable as they stabilize the scapulae (and in turn, clavicles) from resting too much weight on the upper ribs/sternum and stuff like that. I think when the traps are over-involved is maybe when we do explosive concentrics, because maybe we sort of shrug it up to get through sticking points?

Keeping the reps slow and smooth (perhaps pausing at the top when arms are parallel with the ground) may help to quiet the traps and focus on deltoid tension?

It's all I can think of at the moment.

Where is the brotox to inject into the traps to turn them off when you need it? I also want some to inject into lats so that the upper back can take over pull downs as well =)
Thanks for your input, I'll try it out next time I attempt lateral raises again, probably won't be for a while though. I'd love an injection to be able to turn the upper trap off lol.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by Jungledoc » Mon May 09, 2011 11:41 pm

carlito wrote:I was doing squats and single leg dls, as per your advice but I showed the physio what I was doing and he basically advised against it. Not that It was going well anyway, I found my balance to be awful, couldn't get anywhere near the ground and had to bend my knees alot, also my lower back got very painful and tight after. It just gave more problems that it solved. I think that maybe it was because of my hamstring tightness so I'm focusing on stretching that out.
Did your PT say why he advised against squats and DLs?

The muscles of the lower body are the largest in the body. If you don't do lower body, you are neglecting most of the muscle mass of the body. You don't necessarily have to do just back squats and conventional DLs, but you need to be doing something for your lower body.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Tue May 10, 2011 6:20 am

Don't think he gave a specific reason, he just watched me attempt it and I was completely off balance, he just said no no no.. lol. I want to do lower body work but as mentioned I get too many issues with it, squats I just fall over if I try to do them, maybe lack of dorsi flexion, dunno just speculating, I'm pretty sure my very tight hamstrings are affecting my deadlifts, as my knees have to bend too much, on single leg dls in particular. He mentioned glutes need work which I'm doing, I imagine that has an effect.

I'm willing to attempt some or just work on the form of these exercises for a while until I get better, is there any progressions or things to improve form? I think this thread you posted a while back; http://bretcontreras.com/2010/06/puppies-in-vices/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; which was a good read, I'm certain the lower back compensating is what's happening in these lifts, as it tends to be very painful on hamstrings and lower back.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by mark74 » Tue May 10, 2011 6:30 am

There's been some interesting discussion in another thread about this very recently.

Go on books.google.com and search "athletic body in balance", read the part about the toe touch progression. There's also a deep squat progression if you need it.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Tue May 10, 2011 7:05 am

Preview only contains 17 pages -_-, said the touch toe thing was on 42, thanks anyway I'll see if I can find similar elsewhere.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by mark74 » Tue May 10, 2011 8:16 am

That's weird, the pages are showing for me. I'm attaching them.
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toetouch42.JPG
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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by stuward » Tue May 10, 2011 8:22 am

You need stability around the knees and lower back. The only way to get them is to work on those areas. Step ups are a great way to work the knees and add stability. You can vary the height of the step and add extra weight by holding dumbbells. A great way to build lower back (core) stability is to do one handed carries. Pick up a moderate dumbbell and walk with it. You can carry it by your side, at your shoulder or locked out overhead. Pick relatively light weights and progressively make them heavier. Keep working your glutes. Put it all together with body weight squats. These are a great warmup for all these areas so do them at the beginning of your workout. Eventually you'll be stable enough to squat with weight effectively.

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Re: Overactive upper traps

Post by carlito » Tue May 10, 2011 8:48 am

Thanks for the link, mark. No idea why it only lets me preview, tried several times. I'm gonna work on that alot more, I can only get just touch my upper shin right now, which isn't great, used to be alot worse though.
stuward wrote:You need stability around the knees and lower back. The only way to get them is to work on those areas. Step ups are a great way to work the knees and add stability. You can vary the height of the step and add extra weight by holding dumbbells. A great way to build lower back (core) stability is to do one handed carries. Pick up a moderate dumbbell and walk with it. You can carry it by your side, at your shoulder or locked out overhead. Pick relatively light weights and progressively make them heavier. Keep working your glutes. Put it all together with body weight squats. These are a great warmup for all these areas so do them at the beginning of your workout. Eventually you'll be stable enough to squat with weight effectively.
Ok, I'm gonna incoprate that into my workout, hopefully It'll go well. About the body weight squats, I'm unsure how to do them properly, there seems to be so many variation etc. Are the heels meant to stay on the floor? As that's where I have the trouble, I end up falling backwards and have to compensate by leaning forwards, rounding the lower back it looks like.

I appreciate the help fellas.

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