Being a former guy who cared how much he could bench (and squat, for that matter), along with being a former office worker, I’ve definitely taken my shoulder health for granted. Until it’s backfired on me, that is.
I’ve torn rotator cuff muscles, pecs, biceps, as well as having about 5 years of solid neck pain. BUT, today this all works to your advantage. You see, you don’t go through years of having issues without picking up a few tricks to combat shoulder pain, and those ‘tricks’ are what I’m going to share with you.
Here is a list of 13 tips to keep your shoulders healthy, and injury-free.
1) Pay Attention To Your T-Spine Mobility
Your Thoracic Spine is basically your upper back area. In our mostly sedentary (seated) society, where we spend our days hunched over at a computer, our T-Spine’s have become locked up, and immobile. When that happens, your shoulder mobility is comprised, and injury follows.
How do we fix our lack of thoracic spine mobility? By doing the thoracic mobilisation drill I’ve included in the video below. Add it to every warm up, and don’t skip it, because real men do thoracic mobility drills. Fact.
2) Work Up To Your Main Lifts
A big mistake that I see many commercial gym lifters make is going straight to the heaviest weight they can lift for the prescribed number of reps from the very first set.
This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly it doesn’t allow your muscles to warm into the exercises, and be able to ready themselves for the heavier weight. Secondly, lighter-weight work-up sets allow you to groove good technique, which again will help in not only preventing injury, but also building strength.
Elite Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters are some of the strongest people in the work, and yet they still start each and every exercise by lifting the bar only, and begin working up slowly from there.
If they do it, why not you?
Then again, nothing says manly more than throwing a bunch of weight on a bench, trying to get eye contact with the hot girl trying to get through her training session, and then getting get pinned, and injured, under the bar; does it?
3) Take A Break From Pressing Overhead
Going back to point #1, most people lack the thoracic mobility to raise their arms straight overhead without compensation.
I want you to do an experiment for me quickly right now while you read this. Hunch your shoulders over, and slump your posture forward. Now try to lift you arms above your head as high as you possibly can. What happened? My guess is that you couldn’t lift them quite so high.
Next, I want you to sit up real tall, stick your chest out, and hold good posture. Again, I want you to try and lift your arms above your head as high as possible. What happened this time? Again, it’s just a guess, but I think that you were able to lift your arms significantly higher – am I right?
The problem is that most people are stuck in this hunched posture, yet they still think that they can add weight to a movement that they can’t do safely!
Obviously this is a recipe for disaster, so if you currently have shoulder issues, taking a break from overhead pressing could be the best thing that you’ve ever done.
4) Increase Your Volume Of Horizontal Rowing
This one is pretty simple, yet so effective. If you have any shoulders troubles, or sit at a computer all day, then immediately switch up your training so that you’re doing 3 times as much horizontal rowing (seated rows, chest-supported rows etc.) than horizontal pushing (bench press etc.) movements.
The hunched shoulder posture from point # 1 lends itself to having a strength imbalance around the shoulder girdle. In a nutshell, the muscles involved in pushing movements (chest, front of the shoulders) are significantly stronger than the pulling muscles (muscles of the mid-back, back of the shoulders). This imbalance causes the joint alignment to be compromised, and a host of issues follow.
Getting more rowing work done can counterbalance this, and make your shoulders feel a world of better.
5) Get More ART Done, Especially On Your Pec Minor & Upper Trapezius
As I’m sure a lot of you are aware, I’m a huge fan of soft tissue work in general – whether it’s through using a foam roller, and PVC pipe, lacrosse ball, or, even better than all of the above, getting a qualified ART practitioner to physically perform the soft tissue treatment.
This latter is particularly useful for the shoulder joint. There are so many points of convergence, and little nooks and crannies in and around the joint, that makes getting an ART guy (or girl) that much more useful than trying to release it yourself.
Of particular note are the pectoralis minor (and major, for that matter), and upper trapezius muscles. The infra/supraspinatus can also cause a lot of grief. On a side note, getting ART done on your pec minor will make you hate life…as well as the person causing the pain!
6) Activate The Serratus Anterior & Lower Trapezius Muscle Before You Train
The serratus anterior and lower trapezius muscles are grossly underrated when it comes to shoulder health – especially when we’re talking about overhead movements.
They are involved in a 3-way tug of war, which also includes the upper trapezius. Unfortunately for these two, however, the upper traps tend to win this battle in most of us, and as a result, again, our joint balance is compromised, and this ultimately leads to faulty movements patterns and pain/injury.
So restoring the strength balance is important, and the first step in the process is by learning to ‘activate’ the muscles through pre-workout exercises, such as the two following.