Bulletproofing Your Shoulders

Monday, 08/28/2017

Shoulder pain is no fun, and we all know it can greatly diminish one’s quality of life. Unfortunately, many people resign themselves to having shoulder problems not realizing that they fully have the capability to do something about it.  Shoulder pain can drastically reduce your ability to perform daily activities, as well as decrease your strength. Make some changes to your current routine and follow our simple 5 step process to addressing your shoulder problems.


Step 1: Fix your training program

First things first: if you are exercising without a balanced program you are going to have problems. If you are someone who solely focuses on your chest and triceps, you are probably going to have problems down the road. When you design a program, you want to make sure you are incorporating plenty of pulling movements to restore your posture and keep your body balanced. Try a simple shoulder mobility test real quick to check if you have imbalances. While standing with a neutral spine, can you lift both arms so that your biceps are even with your ears?



If you looked similar to the first picture when performing this test then you are cheating. The first picture demonstrates a lumbar arch, which means your pecs and lats are tight, so you compensate by leaning backwards. If you need to lean back like this to hit a standing press you will have some serious lower back issues down the road in addition your shoulder problems.


If you look more like the second picture and your biceps are not in line with your ears, you do not possess adequate shoulder flexion. You need to add more upper body pulling exercises (as well as do some soft tissue work and stretch which is addressed later.) 


If you resemble the third picture and your biceps are next to your ears and your ribs are pulled down, then congratulations! You hit the Goldilocks zone and you are “just right.”


Try one more quick test. Look in a mirror and see how you are sitting or standing. Are your shoulders rounded do you have a forward neck position. Your posture says a lot about your current program.


Rounded Shoulders

Proper Posture


If you realize that you need to make a change to your programming, adding some additional pulling exercises to your routine will make poor posture a thing of the past. An ideal ratio to shoot for is 3 pulling exercises for every 2 pushing exercises. More pulling exercises will improve your posture by pulling your shoulders back, which in turn will increase your strength. Make sure you include some pulling exercises every time you lift. This can be as simple as doing band pull aparts on your pressing days between sets to make sure the shoulders stay in good alignment when you lift.


Be sure you include plenty of vertical and horizontal pulling to address the entire back. Use a narrow grip when you hit your horizontal rows for your inner back, and a wide grip when you are trying to work your outer back. Do both chin-ups and pull-ups so that your shoulder stays mobile. Use both wide and narrow grips on your lat pull downs.


Step 2: Fix your pressing technique


Now that you realize you might need to make some changes to your programming, let’s work on your technique beginning with the standing press. If the front of your shoulder drops down, and your elbow flairs out, you will most likely get shoulder impingement from pressing. When you let your shoulder drop, your rotator cuff can become compressed under your acromion (which is a bony process of the shoulder blade).

When doing any press, you need to keep the elbows up and tight to the body. You should make sure you are squeezing your shoulder blades together to keep your shoulder in a neutral alignment.

The next time you go to hit a standing press, do a quick body positioning check before you begin and make sure you are doing the following: 1) stand with the feet shoulder width apart, 2) lift the chest and elbows, 3) keep your head neutral.

Improper set position

Proper set Position



When you press, make sure you are doing the following: 1) Engage the core as you slightly lean back to press the bar 2) Keep your elbows lifted as you begin your press, 3) Pull the body through once the bar gets past the head, 4) Shrug the shoulders up at the top of the press as you “stretch the bar.” Following these steps will increase your pressing ability all the while making sure you don’t injure your shoulders in the process.


Proper finishing position



Now that you have an idea on how to hit a proper standing press, let’s take a look at your bench press. When you bench, DO NOT let your elbows flare out. When you bench, think like a powerlifter and tuck your elbows in tight. This will help protect your shoulders as well as help develop your triceps. When bench pressing, make the following body positioning checks before you begin your press: 1) Feet are flat on the floor, 2) shoulder blades are squeezed together and your back is flat against the bench 3) lower back maintains its natural arch.


Proper set position



When performing the press, make sure you are doing the following 1) Tuck your elbows in tight to your body as you lower the bar, 2) Touch the bar on your lower chest, 3) Press the bar in a straight line on the way back to the starting position. Think about stretching the bar as you press the bar back up.


Improper Elbow Position

Proper Elbow Position



Step 3: Address Your Lack of Mobility


The shoulder is an incredibly mobile and complex joint that needs to work together with your scapula and thoracic spine (upper back) in order to perform functions you want it to. For the shoulder to function properly you must have an adequate amount of thoracic mobility. In order to address your mobility restrictions you should begin every workout performing some soft tissue work. Performing soft tissue work before training helps break up muscle adhesions and restrictive connective tissue, and increases blood flow to the areas targeted. Using a foam roller is great for general areas such as the pecs, lats, triceps, and thoracic spine.


Rolling out large areas of the body serves as a detector for trigger points and adhesions in the body. Once you map out where these trigger points and adhesions are, it’s time to pinpoint specific areas. A lacrosse ball generally tends to work well in specific areas such as the rotator cuff, and between the shoulder blades.



Releasing the pecs


  1. Place the foam roller at approximately a 45 degree angle across the body
  2. Place your palm flat on the floor with outside of your pec over the foam roller
  3. Roll back and forth concentrating on the areas that are the most sensitive


Releasing the Triceps


  1. Place the foam roller just above your elbow with your arm extended
  2. Place your head on your bicep for extra pressure as you roll up towards your shoulder
  3. Pause over the areas that are most sensitive.


Releasing the Lats

  1. Place your palm flat on the floor with the side of your body over the foam roller
  2. Rock up, down, back and forth working your way from the shoulder to the mid portion of your side
  3. Hold on the areas that are most sensitive


Releasing the Thoracic Spine

  1. Place your shoulder blades across the foam roller with your arms behind your head, or across your body
  2. Roll from the top of your neck down to your mid back while lifting your chest towards the ceiling
  3. Pause over the areas that are most sensitive


Releasing the Traps and Rhomboids

  1. Place one arm across the body and trace the inside of your shoulder blade with the lacrosse ball.
  2. Draw small circles as you work your way from the top of the shoulder blade down to the bottom.
  3. Pause on the areas that are most sensitive


Releasing the rotator cuff

  1. Place one hand behind your head and place the lacrosse ball on the outside of your shoulder blade near your rear deltoid
  2. Draw small circles on the wall as you work the lacrosse ball into the rotator cuff.
  3. Pause on the areas that are most sensitive


Step 4: Perform muscle activation before you train

Doing some muscle activation before you train helps to stabilize your shoulder by activating the muscles in your back. Some exercises you should perform before you press include “gun slingers”,for the rotator cuff, as well as horizontal and vertical band pull-aparts for the back.

 “Gun Slingers”


  1. Place mini band around both wrists and place elbows next to the body
  2. Keeping both elbows in tight to the body, externally rotate your shoulders so that your palms come out to the sides.
  3. You should feel a contraction in the back of your shoulders


Horizontal Band Pull-Aparts


  1. Hold a resistance band with your hands at shoulder width with your arms extended in front of you
  2. Pull the resistance band towards your chest as you squeeze your shoulder blades together
  3. Be sure to not lift the ribcage as you pull the band to your chest


Vertical Band Pull Aparts





















              1. Hold a resistance band with your hands at shoulder width with your arms extended directly above you

               2. Pull the resistance band behind the head keeping your core engaged and ribcage down

               3. Be sure to end your pull when your arms are parallel to the floor


Step 5: Stretch Post Workout


If you want to mix up your stretching routine a bit, try using a resistance band. The resistance band will place some distraction on the shoulder which is good for the joint. Distraction allows fluid to enter into the shoulder which can help to restore your mobility.



  1. Place your wrist in the resistance band and push your weight back into your hips
  2. Pull your hip back as you relax your shoulder
  3. You should feel a gentle distraction on your shoulder


  1. Place your wrist in the resistance band and abduct your arm
  2. Rotate your body away from the band
  3. You should feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder, chest, and bicep


  1. Place your elbow in the resistance band and grab the band with your hand
  2. Take a step forward and allow the band to lift your elbow towards the ceiling
  3. Be sure to pull the ribcage down as you step out and let your elbow lift




Understanding this simple 5-step process to enhancing your shoulder health is vital if you want to gain strength without getting injured. We know the process may seem tedious at first but consistency is key. Dedicating the time and energy into understanding proper programming, and learning correct technique will greatly enhance your strength. Taking the time before your workout to do some myofascial release and muscle activation will allow you to move without restrictions and will train your stabilizing muscles to contract properly. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We wish you the best of luck with all your performance and health goals. 


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