Throughout our fitness lifestyles, we sure do adapt for the better, but we also figure out our bodies. This is a part of the process and finding out allergies and imbalances is as natural as seeing progression. I had shoulder impingement issues and here is why I made the cable machines my best friend.
Through years of trying to get a built chest, I made the simply mistake of not working out my upper back with equal proportion. A common mistake by many in the gym and a reason for problems such as shoulder impingement and bad posture through rounded shoulders.
It is imperative equal work is given to the muscles of the upper back, if not more. These are the muscles responsible for healthy shoulders, good posture and they’re just pretty cool to have.
Unfortunately I only realised this once shoulder impingement pinched me, quite literally!
For around two years I fell into the trap of ignoring direct shoulder work. I had read so much telling me they get worked enough through presses and rows. Now shoulders hold more importance to me than chest altogether, no more pec chasing, funny how things work out. Seeing doctors on multiple occasions did nothing but frustrate me, although its worth saying, if you feel any sharp pain of any sort from training, see a GP. I ended up doing my own research on rehab of the shoulder, turns out being told to stop training doesn’t suit me too well.
I started by buying some very light resistance bands online and working on external rotation. Another contributor to rotator cuff problems (impingement) are lagging rear delts, so I made effort to try and pull apart the bands. I would do them every night before bed for a whole month. The pain was decreasing day by day and I felt my shoulder health getting better pretty instantly. Needless to say the problem isn’t fully gone, it is a whole lot better and now I work in new movements to keep challenging the lagging muscles of the rotator cuff and deltoid. Pretty funny how you only realise about shoulder health once a problem arises.
I just want to touch on shoulder work, a lot of time is spent on presses. If you notice, generally compound movements are used for the front delt and typically isolation moves for the side and rear portions. I believe this formula is what causes the imbalances. The side delt should be hit with fierce upright rows and the rear delt can be hit with variations on the dumbbell rows. Another great tip is that rear and side delt work should be done first. Much like lagging calves, give them all your initial energy!
I love reverse cable flies for the rear delt. They can be done on a TRX suspension trainer or a cable machine. I prefer to alternate.
The following things have worked very well for me and I wish to share them:
1) Avoiding movements that hurt – Quite simple really, if bench pressing hurts your shoulders, don’t do it. A new personal best won’t satisfy your ego, neither will a permanent injury.
2) Try to get out of your office chair – being hunched over at a desk obviously isn’t doing your shoulder health any good. Try mimicking a high five for 20 repetitions every hour at a screen. This will engage your rotator cuff muscles through external rotation, a great move.
3) Hammer the rear part of the deltoid – The easiest way to start is to try and do an equal number of upper back moves as chest moves. If you’re doing decline, flat and incline presses you should be doing the same angles and volume for the upper back which includes the rear delts.
4) Become best friends with a cable machine – Rear cable flies and external rotation at the elbow can both be done on this wonderful piece of equipment. It’s great because you don’t need much weight and get constant resistance.
5) Work on it until it’s fixed – In my case, my chest development is two years ahead of my upper back. Which means I need to put in a lot of time and effort to the traps, rear delts in order to achieve a healthy and stable shoulder joint. For me that means giving them some stimulation whenever they feel fresh (without muscle soreness).
Happy shoulder pain free exercising!