3 Ways to Fix Your Shoulder

Shoulders can suck.  A lot of you reading this probably have shoulders that are in constant pain, make weird noises or are actively trying to kill you.

That’s not a good thing, but you can fix it.  You need to incorporate smart strategies and lifts in the gym.  

Here are 3 stupidly easy strategies to incorporate into your workout plan.

Face Pull and Band Pull Apart all the time.

The smaller muscles in your upper back are really important.  They are the muscles that keep your shoulder blades on your rib cage, keep your neck aligned and keep your shoulders in a healthy position.  They’re also ignored in most popular programs.

These small muscles and muscle groups are your key to unlocking healthy, pain free shoulders.  

An easy way you can constantly work them is by incorporating a lot (A LOT) of band work into your program.  

The band pull apart is a simple movement that reinforces proper scapular motion, position and stability.  It works your rear delts, mid back and helps fix postural imbalances.

It’s very simple to do.

You can use a looped band or a cable machine.  Set it so the attachment or band is mounted around eye level.  Grasp it with a neutral grip, your palms facing down.

Pull the bands towards your face, and at the same time pull it apart.  Your elbows will stay even with your shoulders, and your shoulder blades will squeeze together. 

Here's an article I wrote about band pull aparts with some more variations.

Change the Angle of your Pressing

Overhead Pressing is the best way to build strong shoulders.  It’s also very demanding on the shoulder joint and the surrounding anatomy.  

The prerequisites to a pain free overhead press are very high.  You must have strong lats that can move throughout their whole range of motion.  You must have shoulders stable enough to hold a load overhead without leaning too far forward or to either side.  You must have a thoracic spine that is able to slightly extend so your shoulder blades can slide to support your arms. 

Some people just don’t have these capabilities.  That doesn’t mean they can’t overhead press. They just need to change the angle to a more favorable one.

By using a landmine you can change the angle of the press to place less force on your lats and traps.  It will still work your front delt and even incorporate a little upper chest.

You’re less “locked in” during the arc of a landmine press.  Your shoulder blades can move naturally along your rib cage. They don’t need to stabilize much, so it is a pain free alternative to the traditional overhead press.

If you don't have access to a Landmine you just prop a barbell in a corner and achieve a very similar effect. 

You can also change the angle of your bench press to keep your shoulders healthy.  

The Floor Press is a very similar exercise to the bench press.  Minus the, uh, bench.

Many cranky shoulders are due to an artificial range of motion being imposed by the loaded barbell. Basically the bar is forcing your shoulder into a more provactive position than the joint is capable of. 

Shoulder pain happens when the bar is near the chest.  That position places your shoulder joint into both a high degree of extension and internal rotation.  That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but many people don't have the needed stability or mobility to handle position without a lot of compensation.  By purposely limiting your range of motion you can give your shoulder some time to heal, while still training your chest hard. 

By setting up on the floor you are not allowing your shoulder to drop beyond your spine, into a severely extended position like you do while bench pressing.  It will allow your shoulder blade to stay stabilized on the ground with the added benefit of limiting the extension of the upper arm. 

This will keep your shoulder "packed" and supported by the musculature of your upper back and lats.  It is a supremely safe position that will cut down on any chance of injury. 

The Floor Press limits the range of motion your shoulder needs to achieve, but not the amount of force your pecs need to produce.  Being able to overload a partial range of motion or train out of a dead stop position is not an easy task.   Some of you might find this variation more challenging than a traditional bench press.

Row. A lot.  A whole lot.

If you have shoulders and are a human you need to pull more than you push with your upper body training.

What does that mean?

It means performing lots of row variations, with lots of different loads and lots of different rep schemes.  You really should be performing a back exercise or two during each of your trips to the gym.  You should be rowing 3 times as frequently as you are bench pressing.

When I say “back exercise” I mean an exercise during which your shoulder blades squeeze towards each other.  Scapular retraction and control is the name of the game. This really will not include chin ups and pull ups.  You can do them too, but they will not contribute to pulling your shoulder back into place.

One of my favorite ways to manipulate the row is to incorporate slow eccentrics and unilateral sequencing.

Ha.  I was just trying to sound smart.  Let's try that again.  

One of my favorite ways to make the row more challenging is to release the weight slower than its lifted and to return it with only one hand.

The object is to position your shoulder blades properly then reinforce that stable position under load. 

Before you start drive your shoulders away from your ear, that's where they stay. 

Keep your elbow close to your ribcage and contract the shoulder blades while focusing on bringing your elbow in line with your spine.

You should feel the shoulder blades slide together and reach peak contraction as your elbows near your ribs. Do not drive your elbows beyond your spine.

Once you master that you can incorporate more challenging variations like this Tempoed 1 Handed Eccentric Cable Row.

Row your elbows to your ribs at your normal tempo. Pause and release one hand from the handle and release the weight at a "3...2....1" count.

The added time and one handed nature enables you to work each scapula under a lot of resistance while saving your elbows.

You shoulder is important, but it's also complicated.  There are 17 muscular attachments, and a whole host of other factors that effect its performance and level of pain.  You need to intelligently train your shoulder from a variety of angles, with an emphasis on proper technique and form.

Training your shoulders in a an intelligent manner will go a long way to increasing your performance in the gym and lessening the amount of pain you feel throughout your day.


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Patrick Henigan