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Fitness Questions From Instagram (September 2021)

Fixing a winged scapula/trapped thoracic nerve, my eating & training routine for strength gains and aesthetics & how to balance lower body/upper body training for progress with both….

One side of my scapula is severely winged and I’m now getting headaches and can’t move my arm much above 140-150 degrees of shoulder flexion. Interestingly, the other arm is fine, it’s just my left one. Do you have any idea what I could do or what could have caused this?

(Background info: the guy who asked this is a competitive triathlete and does a shit ton of cycling across the weeks/months. We’re talking SERIOUS miles – he did a 13 hour off road bike race prior to noticing this issue. YEP, THIRTEEN HOURS.)

That’s quite the imbalance! And you and I both know the cycling certainly won’t have helped this issue and may well have been a key player in its development!

I’m sure you’ve read about a sleepy serratus anterior being a big reason for scapula winging? In my experience the pec minor tends to be super dominant while the serratus is lazy and dormant. And there lies the issue with trying traditional serratus exercises; the pec minor ends up taking over and your problem can actually be made worse, not better.

Obviously the serratus isn’t only about protraction of the scapula but also upward rotation.

serratus anterior origin and insertion - Google Search | Human anatomy and  physiology, Anatomy education, Massage therapy

A nice mobilisation for this motion is the supine scapula slide on the floor. Lay on your back and start with the arms by the side and arms around the 90/90 position. Try to get your elbows, forearms and even wrists as flat to the floor as you can. While keeping them flat, slowly drive the arms up and overhead making sure to keep the same contact points. You’ll soon find one or more of the contact points are lost as you run out of mobility.

That’s your cue to stop and return back down with control and repeat for reps. 10 reps works well and you’ll find by the 7th rep or so onwards your range of motion is better than at the start. This is the mobilisation effect in all its glory.

Once you’ve done this, go into a serratus activation exercise like the scapula push up but place the arms a little higher than the hands – so almost an extended plank scapula push up. This will naturally force a little more upward rotation than the hands-under-the-shoulder version, and will suit your needs well.

Another thing I’d look at is thoracic mobility and overhead mobility along with it. If it’s locked up, some thoracic mobilisations done regularly will help.

Lastly, the classic Y-T-W-L drills can be your new best friend, also. Each position trains key functions of the scapula. The problem with these drills is people compensate so much they end up doing themselves out of gains from these moves. Lock the pelvis in and set the scapula, then move into the range you can control and aim to build it over time. Pause in the contracted positions and go slowly.

I like varying between reps and static holds on these. One session you might do reps and the next pauses, and you alternate each time.

(EDIT: He since told me these were impossible for him as he was too immobile there and too weak for many of these positions. I think we’ve found a winning formula!)

I know it’s random/cheeky but I don’t suppose you could give me an outline of your current training routine and diet/eating style, could you? I want to get back on it with a solid routine and approach!

Sure! It’s not as fancy or anywhere as strict as it was, that’s for sure. But I’m still far from a slob. As we speak I’m not calorie tracking, portion controlling or doing anything outside of intermittent fasting a few times a week – usually when I’m working in the mornings and don’t want to eat. I’ve never been a breakfast guy anyway, even since school.

I still follow my simple and long term rule of trying to eat single ingredient foods as much as possible, but I’m not limiting my carbs to X amount, or only eating certain carbs. I guess I’ve lost my seat at the paleo grand table? Not that I think strict paleolithic eating is bad, because I really think it would benefit loads of people if they tried it. Each time I’ve eaten pretty strict paleo for any period of time, I’ve felt way better.

Anyhow, I still eat ‘junk’ socially. Normally once per week, sometimes twice. This will sometimes involve alcohol as well but these days I must say my desire to drink/get drunk has dwindled. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to get down with chicks as much or maybe it’s because I’m old, or maybe it’s because I’m worried my recovery from training will take a hit………or maybe it’s all of those.

A real world example of a daily ‘good’ meal is what I’ve just polished off before finishing this piece: baked sweet potatoes sliced into chips, a 4 organic egg omelette with mushrooms and some cheddar with chopped avocado and a side of brazil nuts & cashew nuts. My diet will always centre around a carb source, fat source and protein source. Simple really. I have a huge appetite so don’t find it hard to pile 1500-2000 calories in a single sitting.

As for training, this will be very specific to me but I can give an outline of my frequency and current focus. At the exact time of writing I have 5-6 sessions per week. 4 upper body strength based sessions (2 pull, 2 push), a lower body session and a skills/play session where me and the guys do a group session as a break from the program once per week. How hard we go on this day varies but recently it’s not been too crazy as the main sessions I’m doing are pretty savage themselves.

In all honesty this is a little excessive for most and better gains would be made with less per week. I hate that truth as much as you, believe me. But we can’t argue with the empirical! If it’s just size and strength you want you’ll be fine with a compound dominant program centred around free weights and basic bodyweight staples. It’s only when you’re looking for skills and specific moves that setting up the right structure becomes harder, and more important.

To summarise? You are what you repeatedly do and the best routine is the one you stick to…….aka be consistent for a notable period of time and changes will happen.

Do you have any ideas as to the best way to structure 2 programs to run simultaneously? One is the earlier tier/lower level Complete Calisthenics routine from Calisthenic Movement and the other is Limitless Legs, by Daniel Vadnal/FitnessFAQs. I want to grow and strengthen my legs as well as get better at calisthenics and am unsure what volume to do and at what frequency? Do you think I should do the legs and the upper at one session or do them separate?

What a mix! How can you go wrong with programs from those 2?!

Well, as you know, the exercises for legs in the lower tier (and higher tier too for that matter) aren’t too challenging. And the rationale is CaliMove want to pump as much of your recovery resources into the upper body gains as that’s the ultimate aim of the program, to turn you into a calisthenics athlete, not give you massive legs and turn you into a Russian squatter.

Limitless Legs by Daniel Vadnal

But of course, with your powerlifting background and being in the age of the bum and legs being sexy on girls (and rightly so), I don’t blame you at all for getting in on the Limitless Legs program from FitnessFAQs. I’ve got to say I’ve always been intrigued about that program myself. I’ve been training the lower body in am very similar style for the last 18 months + now, so I can definitely vouch for its effectiveness.

I think your best option is to do separate leg days and upper body days. The CaliMove program is 3 days, right? And Limitless Legs is 2/3? I just think given your experience you’ll prefer this over a long gruelling full body routine. Most people with some skin in the game are the same; they find full body hard to fully give all areas their all and above all, it drags.

Ultimately though, you’ll have to gauge how you feel on that high frequency and I’ll advise not killing yourself with the leg work. No need to go to the wall or anything, the movement complexity and frequency will take care of your leg size and strength/capacity. Plus women tend to respond better to leg training than guys anyway so there’s no need to go super super hard on the leg days. Instead, save that for the calisthenic based upper body training.

I’d be really intrigued how this works out for you! I think this could be a real winner.

EDIT: Since this exchange the woman asking this question sent me the templates from Limitless Legs. It’s a great program with some neat exercises and programming! One day I will have to give it a test drive.

And that’s a wrap for September’s Questions from Instagram. Thanks to all for their questions and as always, if you want your question tackled next month, all you have to do is drop me a message on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) or if you’re one of those wise souls not on any socials, go old school and send me an email:

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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