Tag Archives: shoulder health

Eric Cressey is a Bad Motherfucker!

Probably the most knowledgeable guy that posts shit on the Internet about shoulder issues is Eric Cressey. Dealing with some shoulder issues myself from time to time, I have gotten a ton of valuable information from the things he’s written and can only recommend it for anyone with a shoulder problem.

He’s also strong! At around 165lbs (give or take, no idea what he weighs exactly right now, but he competed at 165), here he is pulling 600lbs for 3 repetitions on the conventional deadlift.

A couple days prior to the video above, he posted this video of him pulling 550lbs for 5!

Seeing him pull those numbers at such a low body weight probably makes you want some deadlift tips from the man. Here are those.

But most of his value for you will come from the tips he gives on his web site and other places, i.e. his epic shoulder savers series of articles on T-Nation.

Shoulder (P)rehab Routine

I recently dropped all pressing work (i.e. bench press and overhead press) from my routine for a while, because I had a nagging pain in my left shoulder that always flared up with heavy pressing movements. This overuse injury was caused by poor form in the past and poor posture overall from sitting at a desk too much without doing anything to counter what it does to your body.

Without much more of a ‘dear diary’ type rant, I’ll just show you the exercises I’ve been doing to help my shoulder specifically to recover. It feels a lot better already and I’ve only been doing this for a couple weeks.

Note: If you have a shoulder injury that you suspect might be more than just a ‘tweak’ or overuse issue that you can fix with some time away from pressing and rehab work, go see a doctor. I’m only giving you advice based on my experience, which is not a severe shoulder injury and I usually feel no pain at all throughout the day. The feeling in my shoulder under anything but heavy loads is what I would describe as ‘tightness’ when going overhead.

With that being said, here is what I do for my shoulders specifically. You should always attack a problem with any body part by looking at the bigger picture (read: your entire body). I.e. if you have tight hips along with the shoulder issues, foam roll and stretch those as well. Your body works together as a unit and should be treated as such.


Daily Stretching and Mobility Work for Shoulders at Home

I do the following every day, regardless of going to the gym. What you’ll need: Lacrosse Balls (preferably 3 and tape 2 of them together with athletic tape) | Jumpstretch Bands | PVC pipe (about 6′ long and about as thick as a broomstick) | Foam Roller (the Rumble Roller and the Grid are both awesome)

I start off with at least 10 minutes of soft tissue work in the form of self myofascial release with a foam roller and lacrosse balls. Then I move on to some dynamic stretch-type movements followed by static stretching.

Pec Minor SMR with Lacrosse Ball

External Rotator, Subscapularis, Tricep, Lat, Thoracic Spine SMR with Lacrosse Ball

Foam Rolling Upper Back, Thoracic Extension on Foam Roller, and a T-Spine Mobility Drill

SMR with Lacrosse Ball for Traps

Paused Overhead Squat with Jumpstretch Band

This one is great for the entire body. It forces good posture (even moreso than the front squat) and it includes a nice demand on shoulder mobility (which is why I’m including it with this article). I pause each rep at the bottom for a 2 count to get some dynamic stretching. I do this at home, so I don’t use weight. Instead I use a jumpstretch band as shown in the video below, a broomstick or a PVC pipe. Any of those will work.

Band Pull Apart

Shoulder Dislocation

You can also try doing them starting with the stick behind you and holding it with an underhand/supinated grip (the opposite of what’s shown in the video). This is pretty difficult in my experience, so take it easy and hold the stick wide when trying it out.

Another challenging option would be doing them prone on the floor like Elliott Hulse demonstrates below.

Quadruped Thoracic Extension-Rotation

Scapular Wall Slides

Make sure your butt, lower back, upper back and head all touch the wall the entire time. Try to tuck your pelvis under (into a posterior pelvic tilt) and tighten your lower abs to achieve this if you have anterior pelvic tilt to some degree.

Pec Minor Static Stretch

I hold all static stretches for 30-120 seconds (usually closer to 30 seconds, but never less).

This is just one of my favorite pec stretches. You can find a ton of them on YouTube, if you don’t like this one.

External Rotation Stretch

Poor external rotation is the main culprit for my shoulder issue, so this stretch is the worst/best for me.

I use the method with the band to keep my elbows together like in the video below.

But I do the stretch on a bench as follows.


And that’s what I do at home specifically for my shoulders.


At the Gym Shoulder (P)rehab Work

When I’m at the gym, the main difference is that I have access to weights in the form of dumbbells and a barbell, so I utilize those in the following ways.

Pec Mashing with Lacrosse Ball and Barbell

This one is awesome. Tape a lacrosse ball to a barbell and prepare for some discomfort.

You can also use collars on a barbell and do it like this.

Barbell and Lacrosse Ball First Rib Mashing

Shoulder Extension with Barbell and Bands

Barbell Tricep Mashing

Because tight triceps are no good.

You’ll also want to mash the rest of the things you hit with the ‘in home’ portion when you’re at the gym. So lats, subscapularis, etc. just as previously described, because I haven’t found a way to mash those things with a barbell.

Shoulder Prehab Circuits

There are 5 shoulder prehab circuits in the video below. I do one circuit when I’m at the gym. Go to the actual YouTube page for it here to get the full exercise list in the description and also some more shoulder prehab exercises that aren’t shown in that video. (They’re all linked in the description.)


All of the above is what I do for shoulder prehab right now. Once my shoulder mobility is where I want it to be and I can go back to heavy pressing movements, I will use a more abbreviated approach to maintain good shoulder mobility. Maintaining something is usually a lot less time-consuming than changing a pattern that has developed over years of bad habits.

Closing ‘dear diary’ blah blah blah: To really improve your posture, you need to change bad habits. I.e. if you sit on a chair a lot, try to minimize that as much as possible. If you sit at a desk to work, maybe choose to do some mobility work while you watch TV instead of sitting on the couch. Or at least sit on the floor. Focus on good posture and breathing when you walk around. Mobilize and stretch when you get a chance. Use good form on all exercises you do at the gym. Utilize corrective exercises like deadlifts, front squats, etc. and make sure your upper body pulling outweighs your upper body pressing. These are just a few examples of things to improve, if you haven’t already.

Overhead Press Assistance Work

In this article, I’m going to cover assistance work for the barbell overhead press (often just called OHP). I covered the movement extensively in this article, so this is just going to cover some exercises which can help you build a stronger press (aside from doing other pressing movements). This approach has helped me get my OHP one repetition maximum to 100kg/220lbs at a body weight of 85kg/187lbs.


Vertical Pressing vs Vertical Pulling

Vertical pressing in this case would be the OHP. Take the amount of volume you do for this and multiply it by 2 (or even 3). That’s the amount of volume I recommend you do for your vertical pulling. This helps to improve muscular imbalances and overall posture. It also strengthens a lot of the muscles that stabilize the overhead press movement. A couple options for vertical pulling movements are below. These are just my personal favorites.

Chin Ups and Pull Ups

Any variation is fine. I usually match my pressing volume with chin up and pull up volume. If you can’t do 10 body weight chin ups, use bands to assist the movement as shown in the following video.

The chin up variation shown above by Jordan Syatt uses a neutral (or hammer) grip. This is the easiest variation of chin ups. I would recommend starting with band-assisted neutral grip chin ups, then doing regular neutral grip chin ups, and then doing underhand chin ups as shown below.

Once you’re able to do 10 underhand chin ups, you can move on to pull ups. A regular pull up is done with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). A pull up tutorial video is below.

Ring pull ups are also fantastic, but you need access to gymnastic rings to do them.

If you can’t do a single chin up, watch this video and this video.

All you need to perform chin ups and/or pull ups is a pull up bar. If your gym doesn’t have one or you work out at home, the cheapest option is a doorway pull up bar. If you have the room and would also like to be able to do dips at home, a pull up and dip station might be for you (but at that point I’d just buy a power rack). Yet another option would be a mounted pull up bar (or one without rings). You can also add weight to pull ups with a weighted vest, chains or a dip belt.

Lat Pulldown

These are generally easier than pull ups and less taxing overall, so I get the rest of my vertical pulling volume from them. If you don’t have access to a lat pulldown station, another option would be to just do more chin ups or pull ups (possibly assisted with a band).


Band Pull Aparts

These are an excellent option to get more pulling volume in as well. They will hit your rear delts and upper back as a whole. Joe DeFranco explains more about this approach in the video below.

You’d need some jumpstretch bands for this movement.



You obviously need strong arms to be able to press heavy weight. The exercises for this are basic.

Dumbbell Curl (Biceps)

Hammer Curl (Biceps and Brachialis)

Dips (Triceps)

Tricep Pressdown (Triceps)

Skull Crusher (Triceps)


Other Things to Consider

Exercises for shoulder health and thoracic mobility will help a lot with your OHP technique and ability to develop strength in that particular movement. You can either do these things after your primary workout or as a separate workout in the context of active recovery. I do a combination of both.


As always, this is just my personal approach. I’m not a doctor or personal trainer, just a guy who lifts.

Bench Press Basics

Other basics write-ups: Squat | Deadlift | OHP | Barbell Row


Similar to the Deadlift Basics and Squat Basics write ups I did, this one is going to cover the basics of the barbell bench press. It’s just my opinion mixed with some of the best bench press tutorial videos I know of. If you have anything to add, as always leave it in the comments or write me an e-mail. A lot of these videos have helped me reach a 147.5kg/325lbs bench press at 85kg/187lbs body weight (as of 6/13/2013).¬† I’m hoping they will help you as well.


So You Think You Can Bench?

This is one of my favorite video series from Dave Tate on YouTube. Be sure to watch all 7 parts. The first one is embedded and the other six parts are linked below the video.

Part 2 | Part 3| Part 4| Part 5| Part 6| Part 7


Other Bench Tutorial Videos

The first one is from Jonnie Candito. Easily one of my favorite YouTube guys. He goes into detail about elbow tucking (or lack thereof) and how to arch. If you only watch one of these videos I’m posting, it should be the following one.


Omar Isuf also did a great video on bench technique.


From T-Nation: Bench Press Tutorial


Prevent Shoulder Injuries

The bench press is notorious for wrecking shoulders. Most of the time, poor technique is used when shoulder injuries happen… but sometimes it is simply a lack of warming up properly or an injury might also be caused due to muscular imbalances. A good way to prevent this is to be proactive. Make sure your shoulder is healthy and moves properly instead of waiting until you injure yourself and have to rehab. Cliffs: Prehab instead of rehab.

I’ll start with a quick tip from Candito about how to prevent shoulder injuries by doing the Rear Delt Fly exercise between sets of bench press. I do face pulls instead, but it’s the same basic principle. Do these very light.


There is much more to keeping your shoulders healthy overall, but I already wrote about that in my shoulder health article. Another great thing to do for your shoulder health is to make sure you are overhead pressing in your routine. It allows for a more full range of motion in your shoulder girdle, plus it’s a badass movement. Pushing heavy-ass weight above your head is awesome. I’ll definitely cover the OHP (overhead press) in a future article.


Pull More Than You Press

This will help you balance out your body and avoid muscular imbalances in the future. Your back needs more work than your chest and shoulders. Try to hit a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio of pulling:pressing in your workout routine.

To give you a really simple example: If you do 50 reps of pressing movements (bench press, overhead press, etc.) in your workout, you should aim to do 100-150 reps of pulling movements (pullups, chinups, rows, etc.) to balance things out.

Bonus: A strong upper back provides a very sturdy platform to bench press from. If your back is currently weak or smaller than it should be for good stability on the bench press movement, fixing this will likely improve your bench press.

Jim Wendler agrees with me in his 5/3/1 book. (Which just happens to be the lifting program I’m currently using.)


Other Bench Press Tips

From CT Fletcher: Optimal Grip Width When Bench Pressing

From Omar Isuf: Bench Press More

From Elliott Hulse (strengthcamp): Quick Tips on Benching


Alternative or Assistance Exercises for the Barbell Bench Press

This is just a quick list. I’m probably missing some other exercises, but these are the ones I personally think you could benefit from. This is direct assistance work for the barbell bench press. Most of your extra work should be pullups/chinups, rows and overhead pressing as mentioned.

The list: Barbell Floor Press, Dumbbell Floor Press, Board Press, Barbell Incline/Decline Bench Press, Dumbbell Flat/Incline/Decline Bench Press


I hope that helps. As always, it’s just my perspective along with some videos that will help you learn how to bench press properly.

Tests and Exercises for Shoulder Health

Other Mobility Articles: Hip Mobility | Thoracic Mobility | Ankle Mobility


Shoulder health is important, especially if you’re planning to bench press and overhead press heavy weight on a regular basis without destroying your shoulder(s). So what can you do to help prevent shoulder injuries? First off, make sure your technique on all movements (especially the ones where you’re moving heavy weight) is good. I covered the basics of the deadlift in an article yesterday and I’ll get around to the other main lifts as well in a similar fashion, but until then: Read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. It’s easily the best book for in depth descriptions of the main barbell lifts. I’d go as far as saying that it should be required reading before you even touch a barbell, but I guess you could learn proper technique in other ways too (i.e. through a great couch or various YouTube videos). Enough of that though… back to the shoulder health thing.

I’ll pretty much jump straight into some videos that will help you test how healthy your shoulder is right now. A lot of this will come from Omar Isuf’s YouTube channel, because I think he did a really great job of covering this aspect of training with his videos.


I think it might be a little excessive for a warmup routine, but the impingement tests and some of the exercises can definitely benefit you.


I particularly like the shrug variations and face pulls in this one.


I definitely include the following exercises in my shoulder prehab routine: Cable External Rotation, Dumbbell Cuban Press and Poor Man Shoulder Horn


One last, pretty important, thing about shoulder prehab work with weights is that you want to keep it light. You’re basically trying to build up smaller muscles that don’t get activated as much when you’re doing heavy presses and rows (among other heavy exercises), so you have to keep it light in order for the large muscle groups not to take over the movement. Usually you can do 2-5 sets of 10-20 reps with light weight on most of the movements.


Below is a nice twist on the Shoulder Dislocation exercise from Elliott Hulse:


Corrective Stretching, Mobility and Soft Tissue Work

This is the active recovery portion of your shoulder prehab work. I would do most of it after your main workout or at some other time (i.e. the day after an upper body workout). My ‘go to’ for stuff like that is Mobility WOD, so I’ll just link you some shoulder mobility videos from Kelly Starrett: Shoulder Mob, Another Shoulder Mob, Upper Body Maintenance, MobilityWOD Shoulder Playlist on YouTube… There is plenty more on YouTube from MobilityWOD about shoulders.


This video also helps. It’s pretty long though. Cliffs: Do band pull-aparts and shoulder dislocations for your shoulders. Also try to incorporate behind the neck pressing.


And… as always, this is just my opinion on the matter and how to go about keeping your shoulders healthy.