Critical Shoulders

Training, Impingements & Injury Prevention

What do you and weight training have in common? Well, other then cold iron and yourself; how about constant irritating achy shoulders. Yes, achy shoulders. The shoulder joint is the main fulcrum in all upper body movements. So, if you want to accomplish your goals in the gym you cannot afford to have shoulder problems.

Achy shoulders mainly happen because of improper lifting technique, changing your exercise routine too often, or overloading and pushing to much weight in an exercise. One of the most common problems, to occur with the weight trainer, when performing weightlifting exercises, is shoulder impingement. These types of shoulder injuries are reoccurring, and take a very long time to heal.

Impingements can hinder your ability to perform most pressing movements. There are many different forms of impingements. The most common is the Subacromial impingement; known more as “Bursitis” and it is a common condition of the shoulder. A shoulder impingement also gives an uncomfortable achy feeling just from sitting and lying down. An impingement occurs when compression over the shoulder joint is against the surrounding anatomic structures. Anatomically correct, the affected area is the gleno-humeral joint and supraspinatus. The anterior acromion and cora-coacromial ligaments are the most common sites inflamed. An impingement could also be due to incorrect exercise technique or weak rotator cuff muscles. A rotator cuff strain, with all it’s swelling, causes what is called mechanical impingement. This type of impingement is the pinching of the tissues described above between the humeral head and the acromion. Shoulder pain could transpire from a pinched nerve, which occurs between the neck and shoulder blade area.

Exercise Review

Since we are discussing shoulder problems that arise from exercising, let’s take a look at some of the most common exercises that can have potential for shoulder adversity. The first is the military press, which is performed behind the neck or to the front. Dumbbell presses, and side lateral raises are basic shoulder exercises that can create a shoulder impingement too. As you know, most of these exercises can be performed standing or seated, with free weights or with machines. The bench press is a very common shoulder impingement maker. A grip too far outside the shoulders places tremendous stress on the anterior deltoid. One other exercise, that causes shoulder injuries, is the back squat. Yes! That’s right I said squats. The bar is placed behind the shoulder girdle and lays on top the trapezoids, or lower in-between the shoulder blades and traps if you’re a powerlifter type. By performing the above exercises with too much weight and/or incorrect technique usually lead to impingements.

Testing: One-Two-Three

Let’s survey a few of these shoulder exercises and describe correct lifting technique for them. Now, the most common shoulder exercise performed in-correctly is the side lateral raise. Side lateral raises, to do them right, need to be done step by step. So, stand with a pair of very light dumbbells at your sides, now turn your thumbs slightly down, maybe a half-an-inch and then bend your elbows 35 degrees tops – this alignment ensures that the resistance is placed directly to the side delts. Now, without changing the position you are in, raise the dumbbells. You should resemble a huge letter “T.” The dumbbells and elbows should not elevate over or under your shoulders. So, if you are one of those individuals that raise the dumbbells over your head, resembling a bird trying to take off, then it’s time to call in the Undercover Gym Police and ticket you for erroneous procedures! Either that, or we will have to give you clearance for take-off.

The next shoulder exercise is military presses and dumbbell presses. These exercises are designed to hit all three deltoid heads. Both movements are best to be performed seated. Why? Well, first of all this prevents you from cheating. You have to focus on pressing the bar or dumbbells upward, working the deltoids. The execution of a rep should be smooth and controlled.

Remember, I mentioned that bench press and squats could also be at fault for shoulder problems. Most of us link a pectoral tear with bench presses not a shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury. But, the latter is more common to occur from bench press and squats.

Curtis benching @ the USPF Venice Beach Open
Curtis benching @ the USPF Venice Beach Open

Dealing with the Pain

First, like we discussed earlier, watch your form on all upper-body exercises. You can become injured very fast if the exercise itself is not performed properly. Being in the correct anatomical position, and the correct lifting angles then injury doesn’t have a chance to occur. I always see individuals jerking weights up and down, relying mostly on momentum, and forcing their shoulders out of alignment all the time.

After an impingement injury has been identified, rehab treatment should be performed. Treatment consists of the following techniques: If any discomfort is noticed while performing an exercise then it should be avoided for a couple weeks. Rest the area, and apply ice twenty minutes a day. If you don’t know it yet, ICE is the miracle cure-all for injuries. But, there are those few who do rehab with heat. I would still apply ice to the shoulder first just to reduce any possible swelling in that area. But, if you insist upon pushing through your training then apply an ice pack after each workout to your shoulder.

Dr. Pete Gratali, from ESPN’s Body Shaping, instructs to perform internal and external rotations on a low cable pulley for 30 to 50 repetitions with 5 to 10 pounds prior to starting ALL your upper body exercise programs. “It is good practice to perform internal and external rotation exercises prior to each and every upper body workout, even if you are not experiencing an impingement problem, the exercises are great for warming up the whole shoulder girdle.” Explains Dr. Pete. You can also perform these simple exercises with 5 or 10 pound dumbbells. Internal and external rotation exercises are simple rehab and warm up exercises to help you get around in the gym better.

You should always see a chiropractor or doctor when a shoulder injury occurs, and make sure you consult a certified physical therapist for the correct technique for all rehab exercises. I had the chance to work along-side athletic trainers and school team physicians when I worked as an assistant collegiate strength coach. This education and knowledge has allowed me to insure proper technique for rehab exercises. We have examined shoulder problems, exercise technique, and rehab recommendations giving you a better nucleus on your shoulder training. So, do not become injured from executing wrong exercise technique. You must train shoulders smart.

Written by Curtis Schultz.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Critical Shoulders discussion thread.