If you spend enough time working hard in the gym injuries are almost bound to happen. For many guys, the most common injuries seem to involve the back and shoulders. These types of injuries are particularly debilitating and can cause men to spend a significant amount of time and money treating them.
Although we will talk more in depth about injury prevention and rehabilitation in future articles, in this article I want to take the time to address shoulder injuries and 5 simple ways in which you can prevent them from happening in the first place.
1. Ensure balanced shoulder training
I know very few guys out there that hate training chest and many more that absolutely love it. In fact, when I used to train at a public facility I remember a lot of guys would train nothing but their chest every time they walked into the gym. Let’s just say that the bench press was one of the most used and abused exercises in that weight room!
Unfortunately, all of the horizontal pressing that guys often do for their chest can wreak havoc on their shoulder girdle if they do not balance it out with appropriate work for the lateral and posterior heads of the shoulder. I believe one of the most common reasons why guys suffer from shoulder injuries is from this unbalanced training.
For those of you who don’t know, the deltoid is a muscle made up of three heads including the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) heads. The problem arises when you spend a disproportionate amount of time on horizontal pressing movements such as the bench press; you end up overdeveloping the anterior head of the deltoid while the lateral and posterior heads are left largely neglected. Given enough time this imbalance could lead to injury. That’s why it’s important that you include enough work for the lateral and posterior heads of the deltoid. If these heads get too weak you are setting yourself up for an injury somewhere down the line. You’ll note that in our program we include exercises such as the Military Press and the Pendlay Row to ensure the balanced development of the shoulder.
2. Bench press with your elbows tucked in
Another way in which you can ensure the health of your shoulders is by tucking in your elbows whenever you are performing a horizontal press such as the bench press. Tucking in your elbows will put a lot less torque on your shoulder girdle. You will also notice that this position provides you with a much more stable platform from which to press from. This is typically how a powerlifter performs a bench press.
You’ll note that some bodybuilders recommend bench pressing with your elbows flared out and a wide grip. They believe this does a better job of activating your chest. I believe for the long term health of your shoulders that you avoid this type of technique. Keep your elbows tucked in and you’ll be able to bench press for a lifetime.
3. Avoid exercises that cause you shoulder pain
In a previous article I mentioned how wide grip pull-ups can cause shoulder problems for some guys. That’s why I recommend doing pull-ups and chin-ups with a grip no wider than your shoulders. Another exercise that can cause problems for some guys are dips. Personally, I’ve been doing weighted dips for years and have never had any problems. If you are one of those guys who cannot perform dips without at least one of your shoulders screaming at you, then my advice is to simply remove them from your routine. You can play around with your form (e.g. change your grip, alter your range of motion etc.) to see if it helps, but from my experience there are just a subset of guys out there that no matter what they do they cannot perform dips pain free. If you are one of them, my suggestion is to ditch them for the long term health of your shoulders.
4. Perform Cuban rotations
Back when I was doing a lot of boxing training I noted that my left shoulder (specifically the rotator cuff) was beginning to act up. I figured this was because of all of the extra work my shoulders were getting from the shadow boxing, sparring, and mitt and bag work. They just weren’t used to all of that extra volume. I thought that over time my shoulders would adjust and the pain would go away. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case so I began researching exercises I could do to strengthen my rotator cuffs. Eventually I stumbled across an excellent movement that guys have been doing for years to rehab their torn rotator cuffs called Cuban Rotations.
The remarkable thing about this exercise is that after performing them several times a day, every day for a week my left shoulder felt fantastic. Since then I’ve included these in my arsenal anytime my shoulder begins to act up. It’s a wonderful little exercise that is proven to keep your shoulders healthy.
5. Lay off the heavy weight
I love to train hard and heavy in the gym. However, over the years I have realized that constantly battering your body with heavy singles, doubles, and triples wreaks havoc on your joints. You simply cannot train in this fashion for an extended period of time without hitting a wall, or even worse, injuring yourself.
In a previous article I discussed the importance of avoiding failure training as much as possible, with the big benefit being that you would make more progress in the gym. Well, another benefit of not constantly training on the nerve is that you reduce your chances of injury. By not constantly gritting your teeth with heavy rep maxes, you save your joints from premature obliteration. If you want to train for a lifetime you need to hard but you also need to train intelligently.
Shoulder injuries are one of the most common types of injuries in the weight room. This likely due to a combination of factors including unbalanced training programs, poor exercise selection, poor form, and even overzealousness in the weight room.
If you plan on being a lifetime lifter (and you should be), it is paramount that you become well versed in injury prevention and rehabilitation. In this article I’ve gone over 5 simple ways in which you can protect yourself from shoulder injuries, which can often be so devastating that they often require surgery. I believe it’s in your best interest to heed my advice, because as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
As always gentlemen, stay fit and look sharp!