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SHOULDER PAIN, DYSFUNCTION, AND A (POTENTIALLY) BLOODY MESS

I’ve been getting a ton of questions in the gym lately in regards to shoulder issues. The powerlifters are gearing back up for another meet and things are getting heavy again, the strongmen are working the press hard again, and so all the nasty issues, aches, and pains start to rear their ugly heads once more.

“My elbows kill me when I squat, and then get worse when I bench”

“How come my shoulder hurts when I deadlift?”

“Do you know anything I can do to keep my shoulder from feeling like crap when I bench?”

And the list goes on.

SO WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?

Thing is, in the large majority of cases at NBS, the answer is simply this: lack of mobility. So far I’ve talked to one lifter who had a torn labrum, which is an entirely different issue. Damaged structures may need surgical management. There are ways around surgery, sure, but those in general are for the mortals who don’t lift stupidly heavy things for fun. For those who train heavy, hard, and often, if it’s torn bad enough, you might as well get the surgery and rehab out of the way and get back to training. Hence your own “bloody mess” to deal with.

But mobility? You can fix that. You just have to be dedicated enough to do it. And no, I’m not talking about a 30 minute warm-up that requires a protein shake to make it through before you begin your actual training session. That’s just silly, and is the source of a major pet peeve of mine (for another article though). 15 minutes should be more than enough to get you ready to train. That said, you should probably be spending another 10-15 minutes throughout the day working on your weakest/tightest structures to ensure progress. I try to make it a point to address hip flexors and my shoulder ER almost every day, and I’d hazard to guess that the vast majority of lifters at NBS and elsewhere could benefit from doing the same.

ANATOMY OF A BEAST

So the shoulder is a particularly difficult structure to wrap your head around if you haven’t been in any healthcare classes before. I could post pictures and talk about individual muscle groups, but in my opinion, that’s a little much. I don’t need to prove to you that I know science-y stuff. To keep it simple, we’ll talk about basic movements: 1) Supination and pronation at wrist/elbow; 2) Internal and external rotation at the shoulder; 3) Flexion overhead at the shoulder without thoracic substitution.

Remember this: in order to have the mobility to reach every which way, you end up sacrificing stability to some degree. Or, conversely in the case of many lifters, to gain stability, your muscles and connective tissues tighten down so much you lose mobility.

I’ll put it another way: can you reach your arm behind your back and scratch just below your shoulder blades? No? Benching will probably end up being pretty nasty for you then. Can’t fully supinate your wrist or externally rotate your shoulder? Deadlifting with an alternate grip is going to be a ticking time bomb for you.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not saying you need to be Gumby to bench or deadlift well. Far from it! However, if you can’t move well through the pattern of a press, how well do you really expect it to go when you load it up heavy and try the same thing? Same with the deadlift: if you can’t get your hand all the way into position for an alternate grip without weight, then what is a max attempt doing to the tissues in your shoulder? So, my solution is this: try this mobility routine I’m going to outline for you. Do this each and every time before you press. You may even want to do the overhead band mobilization before you squat or deadlift too.

THE PROGRAM YOU’LL HATE (LOVE?) ME FOR

1) LAX Ball Pec & Under Clavicle Areas
a. 1-2 minutes to each area listed
b. Find a spot that feels awful, then hold for ~10 seconds or until it becomes painful
c. Remember “hurts so good” does not equal “pain”!
2) Overhead Band Mobilization
a. Toss a grey band over a squat rack
b. Stick your hand in, rotate thumb to ceiling and sit back like a squat.
c. Do your best to keep your rib cage down. You want a straight line between arm shoulder and torso.
d. Don’t force it, but this one will be uncomfortable. 2 minutes each arm to start.
3) Internal Rotation Walk Aways
a. Find a column, rack, or piece of sturdy equipment to grab onto.
b. Facing away from structure, reach hand behind back and grab structure.
c. Squeeze Shoulder Blades together.
i. Most should feel a significant stretch here. If so, 2 mins each arm.
d. If no major stretch, Keep shoulder blades squeeze and gently step away from structure until you feel a stretch.
i. Hold here for 2 mins each arm.

THUS, ERGO, CONCORDANTLY

Boom. Done. Finito. That’s it. 10 minutes of your time to mobilize most major shoulder structures and get things ready to move. Now if you stick to this honestly and are still having problems, let me know and we can work out a more specific mobility program suited to your needs. Or I’ll be able to tell you if the problem is beyond conservative management. Either way, at least you’ll be on your way to better shoulder health, and hopefully bigger numbers as well.

Stay Hungry, My Friends.

Taylor Weglicki, PT

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