7 Ways to Fix Your Shoulders

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

As you may know by now I suffered a torn rotator cuff and labrum that required surgery. The injury was a long time in the making and the destruction of my shoulder began many years ago when I was doing stupid things like isometronic training in the power rack and other high risk, low reward methods.

Before surgery I was sitting at about 227 pounds. After several months of being incapacitated and eating like a normal human I was down to 179! Like I’ve always said, my hardgainer genetics are freakishly bad. Hell, my wrists don’t even measure seven inches around.

Anyway, the comeback has been long and frustrating. Because I have the undying urge to go heavy whenever I get near iron and the fact that rational thought processes go out the window after I start warming up, I have reinjured my shoulder a couple times throughout the rehab process. Needless to set these setbacks have been incredibly stressful and annoying to deal with.

While training together at CJ Murphy’s gym in Boston once, my friend Dave Tate commented, “You think Jay’s a smart guy until you see some of the stupid shit he does when he’s training.”

And he was 100% right. I do stupid shit. Often and with reckless abandon. It’s my greatest downfall in life. Has been for as long as I can remember. Whether it be flipping dirt bikes, jumping off cliffs or trying to do heavy cleans with an injured shoulder, I just lose control of my rational thought processes when the adrenaline kicks in.

Anyway, the purpose of today’s update is to let you know that after 20 plus years of training I seem to have finally smartened up and have been a bit wiser with my decision making in the gym as of late. As a result my shoulder is feeling a lot better and I’m regaining size and strength pretty quickly.

I’m now back up around 220. It’s a little smaller and softer 220 than how I used to look at this weight but I’ll take it for now. At the rate I’m going I’ll be gaining a lot more size back over the next few weeks and months and I can lean down when I decide the time is right.

After I completed the Triple Threat Muscle program and made great gains, I decided that I was back closer to an advanced level and needed to change my training back to what I used to do pre-surgery. The only difference was that there would have to be major modifications due to the shoulder injury.

So what have been the biggest changes that have made all the difference as of late?

1)    I always do a general warm up lasting at least 10 minutes. This consists of various mobility drills and isometric holds for injury prone areas. Years ago I might have walked into the gym in a rush and skipped my warm up entirely. Now I would never dream of it.

2)    I do more specific shoulder warm ups. After my general warm up, on an upper body day, I do specific shoulder warm ups. These consist of YTWL’s or something similar. Instead of that sequence I may just do bent over Y-raises, lateral raises, bent over rear delt raises, standing front raises, standing external rotations, all in a row for ten reps each with a pair of fives. After that I will always do two sets of external rotations lying on my side for 12-20 reps. Another great one is to take a medicine ball and place it against the wall. With your hand pressed against it you do the alphabet. I got this one from my friend,  Keith Scott and it works like a charm.

3)    Shoulder dislocations with a broomstick. These are part of number 2 but are so important that they need an individual mention. Nothing has helped my shoulder more than these. I do 25 reps before every workout and 25-50 reps another couple days per week even when I’m not training. I can’t recommend this drill highly enough. I only wish I had known about it years ago.

4)    I do higher reps on my warm up sets. In the past when I was ready to start my work sets I would minimize the reps on warm up sets only because I couldn’t wait to get to the heavy sets. I just wanted to get my warm ups over as fast as humanly possible and load the bar up with heavy weight.

Big mistake.

Let’s say I was going to pull 455 for 10. My warm up sets would look like this:

135 x 5

225 x 5

315 x 1-3

405 x 1

455 x 10- work set

In retrospect that just seems silly to me now. There’s no way you’re adequately warmed up doing that.

Last night I did barbell military presses. I know I probably shouldn’t even be pressing a bar at this point in my life but I love it and need it. It’s an addiction. My warm ups went like this:

45 x 20

75 x 10

95 x 10

115 x 10

135 x 12- work set

Here’s a video of that last set:

(turn down your speakers, the music’s kinda loud)

The difference this made was immeasurable. I can’t even begin to tell you how much better I felt doing this than I would have had I done my old style warm up where I got zero pump or blood flow and felt the sets more in my joints than I did in the belly of the muscle.

Does this limit the amount of weight I can do on my heaviest work sets? Maybe a bit. But I don’t think the extra few pounds is worth the risk of injury. The body will adapt.

5)    I don’t go below eight reps on upper body exercises. And most of my sets fall in the range of 10-12. I will actually only go down to eight reps only after an adequate warm up and maybe a few work sets at a higher rep range. Now, this isn’t to say I will never go below eight reps because I’m sure eventually I will. But right now I have no intentions of doing so. It’s just not worth it.

Having said that, what I do is not necessarily what you should do. Hardgainers who try to train solely in the range of 10-12 reps will remain skinny and weak forever. This rep range is better suited for advanced, stronger lifters.

6)    I stay far away from failure. I have always recommended this and have practiced what I preached for the most part. But in all honesty, I would let myself get a little out of control in the heat of battle. I rarely ever miss a weight in training but in the past I have come too close too many times. I never, ever allow this anymore. All of reps are piston like, smooth and fast, with control and picture perfect technique, and I never come near failure.

7)    I use a limited range of motion. I know, I know you are always supposed to use a full range of motion on every exercise you do.

Except for the fact that it’s unnatural and dangerous I guess that old rehashed advice makes some kind of sense.

Do me a favor. Hold your hands up in position to do a barbell military press. Now draw an invisible line connecting your two hands. I’ll bet the invisible bar is not sitting on your upper chest. If it is chances are you’re incredibly skinny. Which isn’t a bad thing if you’re a beginner. I’m just making a point here.

For most of us the invisible bar will a couple inches above your chest. If you hold a broomstick in this position, without intentionally trying to bring the bar to your chest, it will probably be around chin level, and that’s where you should be pressing from.


Because it’s natural. Bringing it down to your chest would place a lot of undue stress on your shoulders.

Now if you want to count a strict press and compete against someone or whatnot you would technically have to touch your chest. But since there aren’t too many military press contests around I would opt for the safer range and keep the bar somewhere around chin level in the bottom position.

Dead hang chin ups and full extension barbell curls have the same type of destructive effect on the joints. This discussion in itself requires a full article but for now we’ll leave it at that…

No extreme, unnatural ranges of motion.

One final point I would like to make is that I always start my workouts with long sleeves or a hooded sweatshirt unless it’s a minimum of 80 degrees in the gym (and preferably closer to 90). I don’t peel a layer off until near the end, when all the heavy lifting is done. If it’s in the 60’s or 70’s in the gym I stay bundled up throughout. This is nothing new as I’ve always done that. But I thought I’d mention it because it’s a great way to stay healthy. Sometimes people are scared of sweating and want to open the door or turn on the fan or complain about the heat. Little do they know it’s actually helping them stay injury free.

Please leave your questions and comments below and let me know if you found this post helpful.

PS. If you’re really beat up you might want to get a hold of Keith Scott’s Unbreakable.

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34 Responses to 7 Ways to Fix Your Shoulders

  1. Joey G April 27, 2010 at 9:27 am #


    Great post as always. Any recommendations for my knee as to how I should warm up like the way you get warmed up for your shoulder? Maybe you can show me in a few weeks when I’m in..


  2. jesse April 27, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Good post Jason. I do nearly all of these things but I also do scapular push-ups. I remember reading, I cant remember where, that the major cause of shoulder problems was scapular weakness or instability. Your thoughts?

    Week 2 of the 3xm transformation and week 2 was harder now that I know what I’m capable of.

    I’d like to see a video of you going through your shoulder pre-hab exercises(esp YTWL).

    Thanks Jason.


  3. Dave A April 27, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Hey Cuz that all makes sense have started with some of your suggestions. But the others sound great will give them a try. I agree about the sweating, just sometimes confineing. Thanks again talk to you soon

  4. David Hamid April 27, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks for the info. Jay. Your experience & wisdom is appreciated.

  5. Jason April 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Hey Jay,

    For the warm-up sets, does this mean that you think we should always do sets of 10 as opposed to what it says in your book? Or is that just recommended for post injury?



  6. Rory O'Keeffe April 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Cheers for that J, good to hear of someone coming back from an injury like that. Wondering if the Keith Scott book has any good stuff for ankles? Looks like I could be missing the football season thanks to mine if I can’t sort them out.

  7. AJ April 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm #


    First off, i had labral repair surgery four months ago, so i have an idea of what you are going through.

    But i have a couple questions

    When you say failure, do you mean one rep max ? or doing a set of 5-8 reps with a difficult weight until you can get another rep? or both?

    Also, id like to consider myself an advance lifter and not a hard gainer, but i am curious as to why you suggest the 10-12 rep range?

    thanks a lot, i always enjoy reading your posts.


  8. K. Kim April 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Hey Jason, this is a great post. It is also great getting information like this from a guy who has spent years in the trenches (there’s really no other way to learn stuff like this).

  9. Paul Marchetti April 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Great post Jason!

    This really hit home. I’m an older guy – 56, and I just had rotator cuff surgery that sounds just like yours. I had the surgery on Aprl 6th. I had a full thickness 2.5 cm tear of the Supraspinatus tendon. When the surgeon got inside my shoulder, he noticed that the Labrum was also involved. Apparently, it’s difficult for an MRI to show Labrum defects unless the MRI is performed with a contrasting agent.

    Now I understand how my technique caused my problems. I was doing dead hang pull-ups, and I was touching the bar to my chest while doing bench presses and military presses. My main goal for exercising is to age gracefully and stay healthy. At my age, I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.

    Thanks to you, I now know what’s “stupid” and will avoid these risky techniques.

    I don’t think I’m a hard gainer, but I know what you mean about losing weight. Before the injury, I weighed 178 (I’m 5’7″). Now, almost three months after the injury, I’m down to 168 – not good!

    Good luck and best wishes for a full recovery!


  10. alex c April 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    i was wondering about how you stay healthier by sweating. Why do you do your workouts fully clothed?

    great post btw

  11. John April 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Jason, in the tradition of greatness, you’ve got a gift for writing from your heart. Now, I know you can overcome a physical challenge or two, well, listen to this…last year I had an almost “wipe out” high speed motorcycle accident, many injuries were of course sustained. The one that’s causing the biggest challenge is the (right side) collar which is detached from sternum, meaning the collar bone is free to move and float without any support. I’m doing some exercises to heal injuries, aid in recovery and increase fitness and strength, but I need to rebuild shoulders, upper chest and back, what specific exercises would you do or recommend to ? Thanks, I appreciate you.

  12. jasonferruggia April 28, 2010 at 3:12 am #

    @ Joe- Same type of stuff. And always do terminal knee extensions before each workout. Some sled dragging might be helpful as well.

    @ Jesse- Scap pushups are awesome as well. I will get a video of the other stuff up.

    @ Dave- Thanks for the comments. Hope you’re feeling better.

    @ Jason- Probably not. Do the warm ups as I recommended but feel free to add in a couple extra reps on the first couple if you feel like you need it.

    @ Rory- He does. He helped me with mine before.

    @ AJ- Both. For the reasons I explained. Need to keep the weights lighter.

    @ K. Kim- Thanks a lot.

    @ Paul- Thanks and same to you.

    @ Alex and all non athletes or serious lifters- “Stay healthy” means stay injury free.

    @ John- Thank you. Sorry to hear about your accident. That type of rehab is not my area of expertise. I would refer you to Keith Scott.

  13. On a limb with Claudia April 28, 2010 at 5:47 am #

    I’m delighted to hear that you’re doing better. Shoulder injuries really suck. I think everyone who lifts for a while ends up with some form of injury. Frank Zane had crazy shoulder injuries too.

    I’ve had to go back to the little pink weights more than once to start over on shoulders. It’s hugely embarrassing, but at least my shoulders don’t seem to hold strength in the way other parts of my body do. Use it or lose it seems to really apply for my shoulders.

    Anyway, blessings Jason. I’m glad you’re on the mend.

  14. Markus Miller April 28, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    I found this article to be very help full. I’m the guy who does limited warm up’s as you used to and consequently had shoulder AND bicep problems. I would warm up on military with 135 for 10-12 and then hop right to my first working set. I took some good things away from this article and will begin to incorporate them into my work out’s. Thanx for sharing…

  15. shib neddeff April 28, 2010 at 6:54 am #


    Great info as someone who has had 2 shoulder ops last one was 13 mos ago rotator /labrum/bicep tears. I as well warm shoulders very long and when I rush through I notice later…add this when I had 1st surgery 8 yrs ago I trained with opposite arm and this helped recovery immensly you will get a 75% benefit to surgery side and the extra bllod flow helps the recovery.

    I’m 56 and been training since I was 14 :-)

  16. Michael Boyle April 28, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    Jay- glad you are coming around. I had shoulder surgery in 1984 (acromionectomy) They don’t even do it anymore. Two knee surgeries in the 90’s and have had a bad back from deadlifts and a bad neck from cheat shrugs. As I sit here typing I have a burning sensation in my trap. I laugh at all the young guys who make fun of me.
    Train smart and get better.

  17. Michael Boyle April 28, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    PS- would love to reprint your article on strengthcoach.com. It’s great to watch guys gain wisdom as they age.

  18. Jimmy April 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Great article Jason. I have found that as I get older my training has to more calculated and it must address my weaknesses. I had some trouble with my shoulders a while back and nothing was more helpful than adding in extra shoulder pre hab work. I also like the band shoulder traction work and extra warm-up sets. I have found that I have to create an offseason from heavy lifting in my program.

  19. Michael April 29, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    This is great stuff. You’re going to save a lot of us rookies from some serious pain. I felt it creeping on a little bit with Max Mass and I’m realizing I need to back off a bit, but it does get addictive to go fast and heavy.

  20. jasonferruggia April 29, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    Claudia- You’re right.

    Mike- Thanks for leaving a comment. Glad you liked the article.
    You can definitely reprint this over there.

    Jimmy- band traction is great stuff. And yes, you do need an off season from heavy lifting.

    Michael- yes it does. Just be smart and play it safe.

  21. Jason April 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Some great tips there. I know myself I like to push the heavy weight and can not wait to get there. Luck I have not had any problems with my shoulders as I would often jump under the bench do 135 for a few then 225, then 315. That was my warm up. Even though I know it is stupid I just want to move the heavy weight.

    I am going to change this as I want to stay healthy and as my bench improves it is so important to be good and warm, and ready before I load up the bar. I do start my warm up with a set of push ups, but still need to add more warm ups in there.

    Thanks for the refresher.

  22. maggie April 30, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Just wondering, how do u do the “Shoulder dislocations with a broomstick”??

  23. Bill May 1, 2010 at 4:31 am #

    Hey Jason,

    Try to get a hold of the inside/out warm up by Robertson and Hartman. Youll thank me later.

    • jasonferruggia May 1, 2010 at 4:38 am #

      @Bill: I have it. Bill sent me a copy when it came out. It’s good stuff.

  24. Tom May 1, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Hey Jason. Great article. I have already started to incorporate some of your tips. I used to be an athlete in high school (baseball), and in college got started with powerlifting. After a knee surgery, I have decided I am done with really heavy lifting(was box squatting >400, benching 285, and deadlifting about 500 at a bw of about 175), and am just training to look good, achieve a high level of conditioning, and maintain my sanity as a premed student at an ivy league university. My question involved your point about doing partial range of motion exercises. I have had a few pec pulls in the past year(same spot), and am wondering if you think it would be a good idea to eliminate full ROM benching, and perhaps bench with a half foam roller on my chest (i call it a halfpon, like elitefts manpon). What do you think? Keep they articles coming. I check your blog weekly.


  25. Storm May 3, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    what type of isometric shoulder training did you do that hurt your shoulders ??? I do lots of overhead farmers walks and holding a loaded barbell over head. Will this eventually damage my shoulders ?? love your advice by the way thanks again

  26. JC May 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm #


    The warm up is soooooo true. I’m 40 and used to do just that a few arm circle and bam…can’t get away anymore!!! I discovered some stuff from Mike Boyle and other guys like your self a few years ago and it has helped a TON – it sometimes suckes having to take so long but it’s worth it. Just picked up a few bodyweigh exercises from Jon Hinds’ site that have helped with elbows and knees…hindu push up and hindu squats…great warm up and offer a nice change!! Thanks for the website!!

  27. jasonferruggia May 10, 2010 at 5:18 am #

    Storm- Back in the days I did isometronic bench work in the power rack. It’s when you set two pins and push against the top ones. Not worth going into a lot of detail.

    JC- You’re welcome. Glad you learned a few things that have helped.

    • Mark May 11, 2010 at 8:23 am #

      Does your warmup philosphy from muscle gaining secrets still apply?
      Or would you recommend a different warmup now for someone following that program?

  28. Daniel May 27, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    How to you do the alphabet with a medicine ball, with bent arms or with straight arms?

  29. Mike September 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Thanks for the informative article. I am heading back to the ortho this week to find out if surgery is an option and if I really have some kind og supraspinatus tear. Injured it two years ago doing really heavy front presses. backed off but lately when I try to train with lighter weights that side really aches. Again, thanks for the article. Good advice.

  30. wrestler strength November 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post and video…I’m definitely going to pass this along to a lot of the guys at my gym!

  31. Deb March 24, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    Lordy, thank you for this. I, too, am healing from SLAP lesion repair and find myself doing stupid shit in the gym. The fact that you can do military press is so encouraging. Guess I can’t avoid doing those YTWLs anymore.

    Now to find a broomstick to do some dislocations…

  32. barbara May 31, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    What do you mean for hardgainers reps between 10-12 will keep them small and weak?
    Should I do more or less weights as I am a hard gainer?