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Sports Performance Strength & Conditioning

Is Your Upper Back or Neck Pain Really Your Back/Neck?

By Sean Conner

Recently, physical therapists and chiropractors are seeing more neck, back and shoulder pain in younger individuals than ever before. This can mainly be attributed to poor posture. In an attempt to fix these problems, many people resort to chiropractors or physical therapists, stretching, and massaging to release the tight muscles. These strategies can help at first, but they do not solve the underlying issue. The human body is very complex and has many systems reliant on the next. Without improving stability to the shoulder, and strengthening muscles that have become lazy and weak, the tight muscles will tighten up again within a few days after stretching/therapy. To restore function to the shoulder, a new approach is necessary. This approach is strengthening the Serratus Anterior. 


The Serratus Anterior is a very important and underappreciated muscle deep in our torso. It wraps around the body on either side (under scapula/pecs), originating on the ribs and inserting on the upper/medial/lower angle of the scapula (shoulder blade). This muscle is crucial in stabilizing the shoulder joint during movement (whether that be sports, exercise, or activities of daily living). The Serratus Anterior is used when drawing the scapula forward (protraction) or rotating the scapula upwards. This muscle helps the scapula sit more downward and upward facing which helps the shoulder joint move back into the right position, and without pinching. This muscle aids in the deceleration of the shoulder, as well as movements with arms above shoulders/head, crucial in baseball. It also is an important muscle involved in breathing.

The Serratus Anterior is generally prone to weakness or inhibition (inactive). When there is a muscular imbalance or faulty movement at work, the muscles surrounding the Serratus Anterior take over and the Serratus Anterior basically shuts down due to inhibition by the Levator Scapulae, Upper Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Pec Minor. This can be due to tight inhibitor muscles which cause the scapula to sit rotated forward, causing the shoulder to roll over and the neck to be hunched forward. These can all lead to more serious imbalances and posture problems. The Serratus Anterior is often neglected in workouts, and can be a major source of pain/restricted movement if strained or injured. 

There are a number of problems arising from a weak/inhibited Serratus Anterior. The most commonly seen is shoulder, neck or back pain. Rotator Cuff problems can appear when the Serratus Anterior is forgotten (weak) or injured, and is often seen in baseball players. There is an issue when your Serratus Anterior is tight. It causes antagonists like levator scapulae to have to work harder and develop trigger points (sometimes leading to bad headaches). It is common for people to diagnose a tightness in upper back/neck to tight muscles in the area when it really originates at the Serratus Anterior. A major problem that can be the result of a weak Serratus Anterior is S.I.C.K Scapula (Scapular malposition, Inferior medial border prominence, Coracoid pain and malposition, and disKinesis of scapular movement) more often known as Scapular Dyskinesis. Scapular Dyskinesis is when your shoulder blade is moving improperly which can cause major implications (impingement, rotator cuff tendonitis or rotator cuff tear). Weak/inhibited Serratus Anterior can explain why some athletes have thoracic outlet surgeries following elbow or shoulder surgeries.  It can also lead to arm numbness and poor circulation at the shoulder/armpit. Nerve/muscle damage can cause winging of the scapula (one or both shoulder blades stick out instead of lying flat) which when left untreated can cause the problems mentioned above. So take care of your back, neck and shoulder by taking care of your Serratus Anterior!



·      Serratus push-ups (10 reps, 5 second holds)

·      Banded Serratus Punch (standing, 10 reps, 5 second holds)

·      Kettle Bell supine shoulder punches 

·      Oblique punching (kneeling)

·      Planks

·      Stretching the tight muscles (inhibitors mentioned above) will enhance Serratus Anterior function

·      Foam roller wall slides (forearm on wall sliding up at an angle)


Serratus Anterior Activation: Reach, Round, and Rotate. (2018, March 20). Retrieved from https://ericcressey.com/serratus-anterior-activation-reach-round-and-rotate

S., & Duvall, S. E. (2017, October 10). The Serratus Anterior: A Secret Weapon for Great Posture. Retrieved from http://www.coreexercisesolutions.com/the-serratus-anterior-a-secret-weapon-for-great-posture/

Serratus Anterior. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ericcressey.com/tag/serratus-anterior

Ryan, W. (2017, December 29). Getting to Know Your Serratus Anterior: Strengthen Your "Wings". Retrieved from https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/getting-to-know-your-serratus-anterior-strengthen-your-wings

Ryan, W. (2017, December 29). Getting to Know Your Serratus Anterior: Strengthen Your "Wings". Retrieved from https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/getting-to-know-your-serratus-anterior-strengthen-your-wings





The Kettlebell Swing

The Kettlebell is an Ancient Russian Weapon Against Weakness” – Pavel. The father of everything kettlebells has shed a tremendous amount of light on such a great tool that can be used in multiple ways to help positively impact player performance.

The Russian Style Kettlebell Swing is one of the most commonly used exercises with a kettlebell. This exercise can be manipulated in many ways to achieve what we are looking for.  Kettlebells can be used to develop hip power, grip strength, cardiovascular endurance, eccentric posterior chain strength and coordination between the hips and hands. Depending on the number of sets and reps performed and the work to rest ratio, the swing can achieve all of the above.

The swing is a maximal hip hinge with minimal knee bend. The body needs to be tight and rigid enough to hold together but loose enough to move. A few common mistakes when performing the KB swing include:

 Below are some common mistakes and cues and solutions to fix them:

  • Lowering into a squat
    • KB swing is a hip-dominant exercise. Let the knees bend slightly but most of the movement involves bending at the hips, not the knees. Review hip hinge pattern.
  • Using the arms
    • KB swing is a lower body exercise, not a shoulder exercise. Arms control the KB they don’t pull it up. Keep arms relaxed, think about hip drive
  • Ignoring the core
    • A strong core provides a stable base from which the arms and hips can move. At the top of the swing brace your core like your about to be punched in the stomach
  • Bringing the KB too high
    • Don’t allow KB to rise higher than shoulder height. Work your hips, not your shoulders. Actively pull the KB into hips once at shoulder height.
  • Inability to maintain a neutral spine
    • Brace core, chin down and shoulders back and down.
  • Excessive low back extension at the top of the swing
    • Brace core and glutes at the top. Be as tall as possible (full extension).
  • Knees shifting or sliding forward
    • Drive hips and knees back avoiding a squat like pattern. Push the butt to the wall.
  • KB below the knees during bottom of the swing (can cause low back pain)
    • Keep hands close to the groin. Catch the kettlebell with your hips.
  • Failing to breathe along with the swing
    • Inhale as KB lowers and exhale on the upward swing.

Examples of a few ways to utilize the Kettlebell Swing

In each of the aforementioned KB swings, the set-up and swing are almost identical. The player sets-up with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with the KB positioned approximately one-foot in front of the body. He bends over at the waist with his back flat and almost parallel to the floor and grabs the KB with both hands in the traditional, banded and partner assisted swings and with one hand in the single-hand KB swing. The palms are facing the body in each method and the core is tight and the chest and shoulders are square throughout the movement.

With his shoulders down, back and the core braced, the player hikes the KB off the ground and allows it to swing between his legs like a center in football. The knees should bend slightly during this movement and the back should be kept flat and the neck straight. From this position, the player forcefully drives his hips forward to propel the KB into the air up to shoulder-height and then lets it swing down and back between the legs. As the KB moves downward, the player moves immediately and fluidly into the next rep. On the final rep, the player lets the KB swing back through his legs and then places it on the ground approximately one foot in front of his body. The player inhales during the downward phase and exhales during the lifting(swing) phase.

In the one-hand KB swing, the player must constantly fight the tendency for the body to rotate to one side of the body by keeping his chest square throughout the movement. In the banded swing, the partner works against the resistance of a band on the upward phase and the band helps speed up the downward phase to increase eccentric force and increase powerful acceleration. In the partner assisted KB swing, the partner mimics the action of the band.


Jacob Bunce MS, RSCC, CSCS, EP-C, USAW  

Welcome ROC Strength Nation!

The journey of ROC Strength has been very interesting thus far in its young life. ROC Strength is trying to bring a different atmosphere to sports performance training... old school no eyewash training. How we create better athletes is very simple… we MOVE WELL, and we LIFT HEAVY WEIGHT FAST! Simple enough?

This is not rocket science people. We dig much deeper on the roots of your personal dysfunction and weaknesses. But the ground layer of training is moving well and lifting heavy! We are not afraid to drop or throw weight around (in a safe manner of course) but we do thus intelligently by the guidance of professional strength coaches.

ROC Strength was started by myself, Jacob Bunce. I spent the past 3 years as Strength & Conditioning Coach in Professional Baseball.  The last 2 years were with the Philadelphia Phillies and my 1st year was with the Cincinnati Reds. With all the pride and glory the baseball life is about, nothing beats like what Joe Dirt once said “Home is where you make it.” That to me folks, is good ole Rochester New York.

ROC Strength got its start up almost two years ago now in the fridged winter months. Cold as ice outside, but warm like burning metal clanging as weights getting thrown around inside ROC Strength.

We are a Strength & Conditioning facility that is not scared of difficult tasks. We don’t embrace the fads, we are an old school strength and conditioning gym with a new school holistic view and approach.

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Stay Strong,

- Jacob Bunce MS, RSCC, CSCS, EP-C, USAW

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Below is a journey of the remodeling job that took place this October 2017.