How To Safeguard Your Shoulders

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Guest Post by Renegade Inner Circle Coach, Keith Scott

Most of the shoulder injuries that I have seen and treated in my career from weight training come from pressing or pushing exercises.

While shoulder problems can occur from pulling types of movements, in general, the shoulder is much safer and we see fewer injuries from most pulling types of motions.

Many pressing movements can place the shoulder joint in a much more dangerous position. It is essential that people learn to do things to properly safeguard their shoulders as much as possible during pushing or pressing days.

Whether you have an entire push/press split or you are doing a combo of push/pull, when you press it is essential that you take the proper precautions and do the right “stuff” before you press

The Warm Up , Activation

This should go without saying, but it is more important that you properly warm up the shoulder complex before a pressing day than probably any other upper body split. Although I always advocate warming up before any kind of training, I always make sure I, or anyone that I work with takes a little more time and focus to warming up the right way before any pressing begins. This means doing a little more than just a few arm swings before your set.

The warm up should start with low level movements, in a single plane, with just a moderate amount of reps and a couple of sets. I like to start with a simple set of pushups, slow and with very strict form. From here, you can advance to different hand placements, faster movements, added resistance, etc… The important thing to remember is to start at a low level of resistance, and complexity….at least until the actual joint starts to warm up.

Activation is simply getting certain muscle groups “turned on” or “firing” and working properly. Throughout days, over weeks, months and years, certain muscles groups will sometimes turn off, and not work as they should. Many muscle groups in the shoulder complex need to be firing properly to help move and more importantly, protect the shoulder. The most important area to focus on is the upper back or scapula area.

Before starting any pushing or pressing exercises, do a few sets of face pulls, band pull-aparts, scap pushups, etc… Some basic “pulling” exercises to get the scap muscles firing. These muscle groups help to protect the shoulder joint by stabilizing, resetting and keeping the joint moving as it should. It only takes a couple of sets of 10-12 reps of a few of these types of exercises to get the shoulder complex activated. Make this part of the warm up and you won’t be sorry.

Stay away from “Ugly” Reps

Although this should go without saying, many people force the ugly rep or 3 while training through pushing exercises like benching, overhead pressing, etc… It is much safer to do an ugly rep or so when pulling, than when pressing. The shoulder joint is in a much more compromised position when pressing than when pulling. Forcing the ugly rep is a sure way to put the shoulder joint in harm’s way. It is essential to keep all reps strict and do them properly when doing any kind of pressing movement.

Activate Between Sets

Activation exercises are not just important during the warm up, but activating during the session, and between sets, is a great way to keep the shoulder joint safe, reinforce proper patterns, and improve performance. It is easy to do one or even two sets of any of the same activation exercises that were done during the warm up between your sets. My favorite choice is a set or 2 of band pull-aparts.

Targeted Soft-Tissue Work Before and After

Using a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or some kind of massage cane on the upper back, pec and shoulder areas before your training session is a very good way to get rid of knots, and help “re-set” the shoulder complex. This kind of work can go a long way with helping the shoulder feel better, perform better and stay out of trouble. It only takes 5-10 minutes before you start training. After your training session, it is also a great idea to pound the soft-tissue work to the upper scap area, pec and shoulders again.

2:1 Ratio Between Pulling and Pushing

If you do a push/pull split in the same training session, I always advise a 2:1 ratio between your pulling movement and pushing movements. This will help keep the proper “balance” and keep things set the way it should be during your training. Doing more “pull” than “push” is actually a proper balance for most people.

If you have shoulder issues already, I advise a 3:1 ratio between pull and push. The key is to never do more push than pull on these days.

The shoulder joint is a very complex joint. The fact that we have so much range of motion is a great thing, but the tradeoff is it makes for an unstable very vulnerable joint. Pressing movements can be more dangerous than other kinds of upper body movements such as pulling. Because of this we need to do extra work to protect the joint.

P.S. Have questions for Keith? Leave them below or join The Renegade Inner Circle, where he answers all of your questions regularly.