Just Do It: How to Protect Your Shoulders

Face PullIf you could see into the future and knew your strength training workouts would be shut down by a shoulder injury, would you start doing things differently today? Not many people spend time maintaining shoulder health, but a lot of people spend time being injured.

Shoulder injuries are ridiculously common, and those of us who lift weights should be focused not only building strength and size but on keeping our shoulders healthy. It’s a relatively delicate joint that we punish repetitively by doing pressing exercises, participating in sports, and sitting hunched over a keyboard. Even you’re currently pain-free, your shoulders have most likely been stressed at some points in your life, resulting in dysfunctional movement patterns you’re not even aware of.

The point of shoulder prehab is to prevent shoulder problems; thus, we do them even if our shoulders are pain-free. If you’re already in pain I suggest a doctor’s visit to rule out any serious issues.

Shoulder Prehab Plan

Your scapula, its surrounding muscles, and your serratus anterior are central to supporting your shoulders. Your game plan should include the following.

Watch your Posture

Maintain stability and range of motion in your scapulae (shoulder blades) with proper posture: keep your scapulae pulled down (depressed) and back (retracted) while strength training or sitting at the computer.

Stretch your Pectoral Muscles

Hunching over a keyboard and doing a lot of pressing exercises can cause tight pectoral muscles, which can restrict the upward motion of the scapula. Keep things loose by regularly stretching and using a softball, tennis ball, or lacrosse ball to work out tightness in your pectorals, as shown here.

Do Strengthening and Mobility Exercises

Commit to doing exercises like the ones below even if you’re not having pain. Stop including them in your routine and your shoulders will most likely return to moving in restricted, dysfunctional patterns.

You can do shoulder prehab during your full-body dynamic warm up, as part of your workout, or on your off days. These exercises should be done with light resistance; the point is to increase blood flow and mobility while strengthening your rhomboids, which don’t need heavy resistance. Be sure to integrate these exercises:

You should also foam roll your entire body regularly to increase flexibility and straighten balled up muscle adhesions that can cause you to dysfunctional movements.

I credit JC Deen for introducing me to the religion of shoulder prehab and now use it with my clients and myself. JC wrote a good article about fixing shoulder woes here. Also check out Eric Cressey’s Shoulder Savers series and the DieselCrew.com.

Practice Proper Strength-training Form

If you frequently train your chest and shoulders without also strengthening your rhomboids, you’re in for muscle imbalances. You need to balance these pushing movements with a strong upper back.
Cressey’s shoulder saver series is one of the best resources so check it out. At a high level:

  1. Learn proper bench press form (a good explanation can be found here).
  2. Minimize or avoid straight-bar pressing.
  3. Use a neutral grip when possible (chest press, dumbbell press, rows, pull ups, etc.)
  4. Balance pushing with pulling. Don’t train for the mirror – train your back muscles more often than front to avoid overusing your anterior delts.

Shoulder health isn’t a topic we want to think about if we have healthy, pain-free shoulders. But I challenge you to start thinking of shoulder prehab as required part of your workouts – starting now.

This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

20 thoughts on “Just Do It: How to Protect Your Shoulders

  1. I am ALL FOR the shoulder prehab. I messed up my rotator cuff really bad a few years back. I rehabbed it own (knowledge that came from dealing with physical therapists for other injuries), but it took a long time. I need to strentch more in general. I’ve gotten away from my long stretches recently, and that just won’t do.


  2. I have had recurring shoulder injuries and really appreciate this great, preventative information. My trainer created a pre-strength training warm-up using bands that I complete at least three times a week, and always before adding on additional strength moves and that has helped tremendously too. Great new look for your site!


  3. Love the new site! Rita re-designed mine last year and she was amazing to work with.
    Re: shoulders. Love your suggested exercises. I regularly do rope face pulls and YTWL (on the bench, on the mat, on the ball, on the BOSU!). Having had a shoulder injury (overuse and too much forward and overhead work…), I know how important it is to be proactive!

    Thanks for a great post, Suzanne!


    • I thought Rita had done yours, it looks awesome :). Smart to be incorporating those exercises into your workouts, seems like we’ve all had shoulder issues at one time or another!


  4. Suzanne, very timely. I just started training my dad three weeks ago and he has some shoulder pain. I also have shoulder pain, so I’m going to jump on this bandwagon and go! You ALWAYS write valuable content!
    Also, wanted to say congrats on the 3 year blogging anniversary and I’m totally loving the new look!


  5. LOVE the new look!! If I ever have $$, I am going to your lady since I already told Tamara that I lover her site too – this lady does great work!

    The post – SO IMPORTANT!!! People mess up their shoulders & back the most or from my listening experience,, 😉 I have been a lucky lady but I am getting old so this is perfect timing.. I am super careful though… Thx Suzanne!


  6. Real insightful and very useful article. One important rule I always teach my clients for most exercises that require shoulder activity is that they should be in a neutral low position. If they move forward during a bench press or chest press, it can cause impingement syndrome. When the handles or bar is lowered too much, the shoulders will lift toward the ears and muscles and connective tissue at the front of the shoulder is stretched, resulting in reduced shoulder stability and increased risk of pain or injury. Ref: Example bench press http://fitness-science.org/index.php/videos/barbell-workouts/how-to-bench-press


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