10 Tips For Healthier & Pain-Free Shoulders

You can build muscle while training around and avoiding shoulder injuries.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 09 Nov 2017

Training Intermediate
8 Mins

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I’ve made all the training mistakes possible over the last ten years. While it may have hampered my own progress, it’s great for you guys as it means I’ve got a strong instinct as to what works and what doesn’t in the real world.

Today’s topic covers ways in which you can keep your shoulders healthy. After suffering tears in my AC joint, biceps tendon and rotator cuff, as well as having some nerve issues in my upper back, I’ve developed a keen interest in how to build muscle while training around and avoiding shoulder injuries.

I know this is something many of you are going through, or have experienced in the past. So on that note, here are ten tips for healthier shoulders…

1. NEUTRAL GRIP OVER PRONATED GRIP


A neutral grip (palms facing each other) will always be a safer option compared to a pronated (palms facing forward) grip.

It’s more natural for your shoulders and will allow you to keep your elbows tucked in the right position.

Because of the ability to press in a more natural groove, this is why dumbbells are generally safer than barbells. You’re not fixed into one position, so if you’ve got niggling shoulders it’ll help relieve a lot of stress from the joint.

2. DON’T EXCESSIVELY FLARE YOUR ELBOWS 


Whether it’s a shoulder press, bench press or push-up, you never want to excessively flare your elbows.

If you’ve got joints of steel, you may be able to get away with it. But for the average person, it’s best to keep your elbows slightly tucked.

You don’t need to tuck them right by your sides, but a natural tuck of around 45-60 degrees works well.

On a similar note, stay away from excessively wide grip bench pressing. Often called the ‘illegal bench press’ in powerlifting circles, the reduced range of motion is supposed to help lift greater loads. While this may be true (for some), the shoulder goes through hell, which is why the widest I typically recommend is pinkie on the rings.


3. KEEP SHOULDERS BACK AND DOWN WHEN PRESSING


During any type of horizontal or incline pressing, always make sure your shoulders are kept back and down throughout the rep.

This will keep the tension on the correct muscles while avoiding stress on the shoulder joint.

By thinking about pulling your sternum up to the ceiling when pressing, you’ll also find it easier to maintain the correct position.



4. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR RANGE


If you’ve followed my blog a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of floor pressing. One of the reasons is that it allows me to trash my chest and triceps with no shoulder pain.

By pressing off the floor, the reduced range of motion means your shoulders stay out of the ‘danger zone’ at the bottom.

You can take this and apply it to your bench pressing variations too. When pressing off a flat or incline, many of you will find that if you stop 2-3 inches off your chest, you’ll be able to press pain-free and feel your chest a lot more.


5. WATCH YOUR CURL FORM


It’s rare to walk into a commercial gym and see proper curl form. Most people are doing some form of bastardised deadlift/shrug/row blended into a ‘curl’.

This form is only going to add a ton of stress to your biceps tendon, which can quite easily get beat up if you’re not careful.

If you’ve done your heavy work with your vertical & horizontal pulling variations, save curls for the 6-15 rep range. The more advanced you are, the higher on that spectrum I’d keep the reps.

Always practice perfect form with consistent tension in the biceps and your shoulders will feel much better.


6. GO LIGHTER ON CHIN UPS 


I’m a huge fan of chin ups for overall back development. The problem is most people turn what’s a great lat exercise into a terrible biceps exercise.

You see it all the time. As soon as the weight starts getting heavy, you start ‘yanking’ yourself up to the top while rounding your shoulders more and more to complete the rep.

This is why for chin-ups, I always prefer progressing with volume (like total reps) rather than intensity.

I see people plateauing too quickly when pushing for poundage, and instead of making progress, they end up with cranky shoulders and no lat development.

7. MORE ROWS THAN CHINS 


You may have heard that it’s important to have a balanced ratio between pushing and pulling exercises for healthy shoulders.

But what many people forget is that vertical pulling will train the lats predominantly as internal rotators (just like the pecs), which can further contribute to the issue of imbalance.

Which is why you need to make sure you’re always doing more rows than chins if optimal structural balance and pain-free upper body training is your goal.

I like to aim for 2:1 in favour of rows when programming your back work.

8. DO YTWS AS A WARM UP BEFORE EVERY WORKOUT


Many of you will struggle to maintain technique when pressing and pulling because of a lack of stability in your shoulders, especially in your lower traps, whose primary role is to bring the shoulder blades down.

If you can’t keep your shoulder blades locked down when you press, you won’t be able to keep your chest up, which will quickly lead to shoulder issues.

As a result of the deskbound culture we now live in, a lot of people have overactive upper traps which means we’re creating a lot of instability in the shoulders IF we don’t match the strength in our lower traps.

By performing YTWs prior to training, you’ll fire up all the correct muscles in your upper back and rotator cuff to help protect against injury.


9. DO 50 REPS PER DAY OF SHOULDER DISLOCATIONS


These can be a game changer for shoulder health.

I really like these because they stretch out the biceps, anterior delts and pecs while also building stability and strength in the rotator cuff through the outward tension provided on the band when going over your head.

I recommend doing 50 of these everyday. I’ve seen big improvements in shoulder mobility and chest size in just 30 days in those who really struggle on these initially. And by struggle, I mean unable to lower it past their head initially!

10. DO BAND PULL APARTS EVERY DAY


These are great in teaching you proper shoulder position when pressing and pulling. They’re also highly effective in training all the small muscles in your upper back.

To make sure all your bases are covered, try mixing up the way you do them. You can try overhand or underhand, or you can vary where you pull to: forehead, neck, pec line.

10 in each position, done 5-6 times a week and/or prior to your training sessions works well.

When you perform these, think quality not quantity.

Hope these help in keeping your shoulders healthy. If you’ve got any questions, give me a shout!


Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-sellilng book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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