Why do I work on shoulders so much? Well, if you bust your knee you can still train upper body, BUT if you mess up your shoulder then you’re just about done in the gym.
The more shoulders I see, the more I realize that the bitch of the matter is fixing them when they are busted. Usually this is because the majority of the time it’s a learned movement pattern that has to be broken and re-taught. This blog is for those people that THINK they are starting to notice a slight twinge in that area. If you feel the twinge, then trust me… stop.
Below are some tips that I have accumulated to help keep those shoulders healthy so you don’t have to suffer though the aches and annoyances of feeling hindered while you have to let yourself heal.
If you are already having some shoulder pain I would recommend taking a look at this first: Shoulder Pain
1. If it hurts, stop
Honestly, you would think that common sense would tell you otherwise but you would be surprised how often we ignore the little signs of pain, or in a number of seasoned gym rat cases, not being able to tell the difference between a burn (good pain) and a pinch/twinge (bad pain). I guess it’s because we are all masochists in our own way.
Seriously though, if you feel something that just feels “off” then STOP. Trust me on this, take the time to put the weights down, walk over to the water fountain and think about what you feel is going on in that area. I can promise you that if you skip your shoulder motion for the day all the muscle will still be there next week. It’s pretty damn hard for the body to let go of muscle when you use it on a monthly basis.
Also, sometimes just a week or two off is all you need.
2. SMR before every workout
This alone has saved my shoulders for any further injuries that I think I would have received from some days of stupid ego lifting. I won’t lie – even I still get ahead of myself and attempt some pretty dumb lifts…
Pin a tennis ball or lax ball against the wall and really dig into the shoulder blade (as I always say it’s called a “shoulder blade” for a reason). Really work the rhomboids (mid-back), rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor), THEN the one all guys over look, the pec minor. Dig those knots out of that little bastard. It will hate you for it but you’ll be surprised at how mobile your gleno-humeral joint becomes.
Mike Robertson, AMAZING corrective trainer, talks about a basic SMR series.
One of Cressy Performance’s trainers talks about SMR of the pec minor… a must watch.
3. Stretch the pecs AFTER every workout
The majority of people that have shoulder problems have a lot of pec tightness due to them overtraining all their push muscles and not enough on their pull muscles, so their pecs will have a tendency to out-power their back and thus you start getting these rounded shoulder blades of a Neanderthal.
After each workout walk over to a wall and bring your arm up to a position where it is parallel with the floor, and then bend your elbow to where you look like you’re about to press a weight up overhead. From there lean that arm against the wall and turn your body away to stretch the pec out.
Here is a tip that most don’t even think about. Some of the fibers in the pec (low pec) run at a slight upward angle, so you’ll want to bring your arm up to match that angle; I would make sure that your elbow is slightly higher than your shoulder and you’ll feel a much deeper stretch in your pec.
4. Row more than you push
This is to piggy back off my last tip. So many shoulder injuries can be prevented if more people spent time focusing on their back and NOT their pressing. The rule of thumb that I have is that you want to do one more set of rows for every press, so if you did 3 sets on bench then do 4 sets of bent rows.
As your back gets stronger it will begin to overpower those pressing muscles and begin to pull your shoulder blades back in their proper place. You notice that you’ll walk more upright and you will begin to develop a much more proportionate V-taper look and not that dreaded Neanderthal look.
5. Learn to Bench like a power lifter
Too many shoulder injuries are caused by guys that want to out-bench the competition, and honestly I can’t blame them. The bench press has turned into an unspoken contest of “king of the gym” – whoever can bench the most usually gets the most respect.
If you are going for king of the bench at least learn how to do it right.
You do NOT want to bench like a bodybuilder, back flat and elbows flared out to the side. If you’ve been doing this you may have noticed that your front delts end up doing a lot of the work and you are probably beginning to feel some tightness building deep in the shoulder. Bodybuilders have the MOST shoulder and pec issues I have seen, so instead you want to bench like a power lifter. Trust me when I say this – these guys always have big full chest, not to mention some RIDICULOUS numbers on the bench, and some beefy shoulders. If you’re going to do it, let’s do it right.
I’m not going to go into a long explanation of this because below are some amazing videos and links to proper benching, and trust me its well worth the reading and watching. You can’t go wrong here.
Dave Tate’s Learn to Bench 600lbs
This is a BIG video series, honest it DOES NOT get any better informative than this. This stuff is gold so be sure to check out all the videos.
6. Don’t just overhead press and do lateral raises
There is more to a shoulder workout than dumbbell overhead presses and lateral raises even though it is contrary to what you may see in most commercial gyms.
A number of people can’t overhead press correctly as it is, so then they end up really arching their back pinching their lumbar OR they prop themselves up on a bench and lean against it to help them press. When they do either one of those they just end up doing a big incline press – we’ve all seen it.
The shoulder is an extremely mobile joint that requires more than just two motions for full function and development.
- All bench pressing (incline, decline, flat)
- Dumbbell Cleans
- Rear Delt Flys
- Front Raises
- Overhead Pressing
Incline ALL of these in your routine and over the course of time you will not only notice full development of your delts but strength and mobility in all motions as well.
7. NO such thing as a shoulder day
The shoulder is involved in just about EVERY upper body exercise there is, so having a dedicated shoulder day is just overkill. You can get a LOT of shoulder stimulation from your benching, rows, chins-ups and a number of the exercises that I listed above.
Trust me, you can add in some of these exercises to your current routines and you’ll get plenty of stimulation and development, but be sure to back off the shoulder DAY.
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, CES, RBT is the owner of Fitness Revolution in Rowlett, TX.
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