Programming Pitfalls: Shoulders

Written by Matt Beecroft

The fourth predictor of injury (apart from your body mass index or BMI) is actually stupidity, and when it comes to shoulder injuries and the injuries I see in general, a lot of them could be easily avoided. Here are three key points to achieving that end:

Shoulders
 Photo via iStock

Exercise selection: Are you ready to do the exercises you are currently doing? Do you have the adequate mobility and motor control to do the exercise? Are you strong enough in a regressed exercise to be where you are? As an example, while I’m not a huge fan of kipping pull-ups generally, good coaches will ensure that their clients can do 10 strict chest-to-bar pull-ups before letting them progress to a kipping pull-up. This way they can ensure that their client has the required T-spine mobility and motor control of the scapula, as a successful chest-to-bar pull-up requires both. Don’t forget this: regress to progress. Most people lack the patience and consistency to progress properly and the result is that they hit a barrier with mobility, stability or strength and then get injured simply because they aren’t ready for the next level but try to go there anyway. Regressing to progress is not failure or going backwards — it is the smarter way forward. (And while it might seem to slow you down, ultimately it’s faster as you skip the alternative: rehab and time spent sidelined with injury and pain management.)

Balancing the scapula: Does your programming have as much vertical and horizontal pulling to balance the scapula as it does pushing? If you are a martial artist and do a lot of punching and blocking, and then you hit the gym with lots of bench pressing, dips and push-ups, but not a lot of row variations, face-pulls and other scapula retraction and external rotation work, chances are your shoulders are going to pay the price. I know a lot of guys who can bench heavy but I don’t know many who can row as heavy a weight as they bench press — and while they are often strong, they are often in pain too.

Overloading the shoulder: Does your program have a lot of anterior shoulder and overhead exercises? Related to the above, this is a similar concept. Pull-ups, biceps curls, bench presses, push-ups, triceps extensions, flyes, dips, overhead pressing, lateral and front raises and so on all have a huge emphasis on the use of the anterior shoulder. Is it any surprise the shoulder is overloaded and overworked? Is the load and volume going through the shoulders just too much? As an example, if you are doing a lot of overhead pressing, then a better solution would be to do some push-press and jerk variations that are kinder to your shoulders. Doing a crazy amount of overhead work is also a recipe for poor shoulder health. If you are snatching, clean and jerking, and pressing, as well as doing HSPUs (handstand push-ups) and hand balancing, overhead swings, kipping pull-ups and the like, this is not healthy for the shoulders. Think balance.

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