Hughston Exercises for the Shoulder

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Hughston exercises for the shoulder are intended to strengthen the four rotator cuff muscles that rotate the arm and stabilize it into the shoulder capsule. Individuals who participate in activities where they repeatedly move their shoulders throughout a large range of motion and at high speeds, such as baseball, softball or volleyball athletes, should incorporate Hughston exercises in their workout routines to prevent injuries and improve performance.

Why Hughston Exercises?

  • Athletes whose sport requires high speeds at the shoulder joint are very susceptible to problems because of high numbers of repetition and large forces put on the shoulder capsule throughout the movement. It is not uncommon for baseball, softball and volleyball athletes to complain of pain, due to soft tissue or bone damage. For these athletes, it is imperative that they perform Hughston exercises. Not only will it enhance performance in their sport, it will help build and maintain strength of the rotator cuff muscles and decrease the chance of injury.

The Hughston Exercises

  • Each exercise requires the same starting position: Lying face down on the edge of a table, the athlete allows their arm to hang towards the floor. For each exercise, the top position should be held for two to three seconds before slowly lowering to starting position. Do 10 repetitions of each.

    1. Abduction with thumb pointed towards head: With the thumb pointed towards the head, the arm is raised straight out, until it is at a ninety-degree angle.
    2. Arm raises with thumb pointed towards head: Very similar to the exercise listed above, but the arm is lifted slightly towards the head, so the finishing point is at eye level.

    The following exercises require the same movements as above, just with alteration of thumb placement.

    1. Abduction with thumb pointed up: With the thumb pointed towards the ceiling now, the arm is raised straight out, until it is at a ninety-degree angle.
    2. Arm raises with thumb pointed up: Again with the thumb pointed towards the ceiling, the arm is lifted slightly towards the head, so the finishing point is at eye level.

Intensity and Volume of Hughston Exercises

  • The important thing to remember when performing Hughston exercises is that the intensity of the exercises should not mimic that of which an athlete would normally demonstrate in the weight room. Intensity and volume should remain relatively low. The goal is to maintain or slowly improve muscular strength, not to increase the size of the rotator cuff muscles. The four rotator cuff muscles are very small and are not equipped to handle high loads. Therefore, the "push yourself" mentality can be very dangerous when going through a Hughston routine. Most athletes may want to experience the "fatigue" sensation as they normally do during weight training, but the rotator cuff muscles should not be pushed to that same point. Too high volume or intensity can cause the muscles to swell, then rub against bony structures within the tight space of the shoulder capsule.

The Importance of When to Schedule Hughston Workouts

  • The Hughston exercises should not be performed more than once or twice a week, and never on back-to-back days. Adequate rest is essential in allowing the rotator cuff muscles to heal between workouts. Failure to do so will result in abnormally high fatigue, which can lead to injuries or a loss in performance.

    Lastly, attention should be paid to appropriately scheduling Hughston exercises around competition. The routine should progressively progress throughout the week, from more agressive to lower intensity as competition approaches. On the day before a game or competition, no Hughston exercises should be done, which will ensure that the muscles are adequately rested prior to the vigorous stress they will be enduring throughout a game. Scheduling regular workouts appropriately will lessen the chance of injury and improve athletic performance.

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