Updated: Apr 4, 2021
I don’t know exactly what I’ve done this time. I imagine that it’s just the culmination of work, stress, and maybe even a lack of focus in application. But there’s something going on with my left shoulder.
Over the years I’ve managed to injure both shoulders. These injuries occurred when I was much younger and significantly less wise. There’s a positive to injuries. They teach you a lot. Unfortunately, the lessons are learned after the fact, often with knowledge that would have been quite useful before the lesson was taught.
At 14, I was struck by a car while on my bicycle. We won’t go into whose fault that was, but I broke my right clavicle as I bounced off the pavement. I broke that same clavicle again in a mountain biking accident in 1996. I was 24 years old.
The left shoulder I dislocated - twice, in the span of about five minutes.
When Samantha and I moved to Athens, Georgia, in the spring of 1994. We moved with two of our closest friends. Athens is a college town and real estate is at a bit of a premium. It was impossible to find a place where the four of us could move to in town so we widened our search. We found a house 15 miles away in Crawford, Georgia. There’s not much in Crawford. And Crawford wasn’t much used to newcomers, especially a crew of twenty-somethings. Over the course of the year we lived there we met four people - our landlords who lived next door, and Jack and Kathryn, who lived down the street.
Jack and Kathryn were the prototypical Dave and Samantha. They lived in a two story Victorian house that was heated with wood stoves. Electricity came from solar cells on the roof. Jack was a diesel mechanic and Kathryn a master gardener. They kept goats and a pack of dogs, including an enormous Great Pyrenees, named Mojo.
Jack was something else. A real pirate of a man with a square build and a broad chest. Muscular, strong, and extremely capable, he was just the type of man I aspired to be.
Jack had a home gym in one of the upper rooms of his house and I could think of no one better suited to teach me the ways of building muscle and getting strong. I asked Jack if he would teach me how to train. He told me to be at his house the following afternoon.
I showed up on time and knocked at the door. He opened it, standing there in a leopard print Speed-O. “I usually train naked,” he said, “But for you, I’m gonna wear this.”
Not sure what I was getting myself into I followed him into the house. I don’t really remember most of the workout. I remember Jack trained like a body builder. The workout probably came straight out of Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
To be honest, I may not have made it past the first exercise. I do remember that we were doing Ab Pullovers. Ab Pullovers are done lying on a bench, face up. The weight is held directly over your chest and lowered over and behind your head. Your arms are kept relatively straight. You then pull using your abs and lats to return the weight over your chest.
Jack didn’t really have a bench. We used an old flat topped trunk, the top of which was slightly caved in from years of Jack and his weights. The weight we were using was an EZ Curl bar with 25s on each side. Jack did his sets and moved on to his next exercise. I was to follow him as he made his way through his workout.
I think we were doing sets of ten. Somewhere around rep 4 or 5 of my first set my elbows began to flare out and in rep 7 or 8 my left shoulder rolled out of it’s socket. I dropped the weight behind me and sat up. As I did, my shoulder rolled back into it’s socket with a THUNK! I rubbed my shoulder and rolled it around a bit, and then I thought this thought, “I better get back at it. If I stop it’ll stiffen up.”
Perhaps I can be credited for intuitively knowing that movement leads to healing, but that’s about as far as we can go. I lay down, grabbed the bar and went right back into it. On the third rep my shoulder rolled out of it’s socket again. Thankfully, it again rolled back in as I sat up.
“I think I’m done.”
That was the one and only time I ever worked out with Jack. In fact I don’t think I hit the weights again until my early thirties. Maybe that’s why I’m so critical of bodybuilding...
All in all hat injury really never bothered me much. Sure it was sore for a few weeks and it prompted me to trade a less than promising career as a pallet builder for the slightly more promising one of dough master at Gumby’s Pizza, but it didn’t really affect my daily life. Over time I could tell my left shoulder was a little stiffer than my right, but the reshaping that occurred from multiple breaks to my right clavicle seemed more of an issue. I could do pull-ups and overhead presses so as far as I was concerned everything was fine.
However, time goes on. Over the last four years, I’ve taken more than a passing interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And that has given me ample time to experience getting that left shoulder torqued with Kimuras and Omo Platas (two forms of shoulder attacks aimed at rotating the shoulder joint beyond its mechanical limits.) Funny thing about the body, it responds to injury with the one thing I was attempting to avoid when I re-dislocated my shoulder in such a short time frame - it stiffens up. And it remembers. Anything that seems like the original injury can trigger that stiffening response. Kimuras and Omo Platas are perfect for that.
Now the true lesson begins. At present all my opponent need do is get the figure four grip on my left arm and I’ll tap. I have very little tolerance for anterior rotation with a 90-degree bent elbow. Throughout the day I can feel that shoulder from my trap to my lat talking to me. My strength is diminished and my overhead pressing has suffered.
It’s time to shut up, quit pretending I know what’s going on, and listen. Every ache, every twinge is a clue. It’s my body trying to tell me what’s going on. Where I need to pay attention and even what I need to do.
There is an inherent wisdom in the body. Because our egos are tied up with our brains we don’t often listen. The brain is arrogant and assumes it knows better. More often than not, it doesn’t.
If you’ll remember my body said, ‘Whoa, Dude. Slow down. This might be too heavy for you.” My brain said, “No way, Brah. We just need to do more!” Which one seems more sensible to you?
I think I’m gonna slow down a little. That doesn’t mean stop. It just means being smarter. Pay attention. Listen to the clues and let them guide you to better mobility and strength. Your body knows the way.