November 1, 2023
Training Upper Body With Bad Shoulders
Training upper body with bad shoulders , can be done with a few tweaks.
Today, I’m going to go over some tweaks to your training to help you make gains in the upper body, without banging up your shoulders.
Shoulder Function: Training Upper Body With Bad Shoulders
Our joints work a certain way, and when they can no longer do so, they become dysfunctional, and this is when we have problems.
If you look at the shoulder joint, it is a ball and socket joint. That is created by 3 bone structures. Your:
- Collar bone
- humerus (Arm)
- Scapula (shoulder blades)
- T-spine/ ribs (upper back)
The first three create a ball and socket joint. The T-spine or upper back is where your shoulder blade has to move around in order for your shoulder to function. Technically, the T-spine is not part of the shoulder joint, but it does affect its function.
Your shoulder blades move across your back in many ways to keep the joint intact and allows your shoulder to function properly. Some of these are:
- Elevation (moving closer to your neck)
- Depression ( moving away from your neck )
- Abduction (shoulder blades moving away from each other)
- Adduction (shoulder blades moving towards each other)
- Upward rotation
- Dpownard Rotation
If we don’t train the shoulder properly and allow for all these movements, then we may lose the ability to do so, and this can lead to problems done the road.
We tend to run into issues when our tissue is very tight around the shoulder blades, limiting our movement when we move the arm. The big muscles to affect this are our pecs and lats.
This is also why it is vital to do upper body exercise properly, for example, many people row without adducting their scapula together. They just drive their elbows backward.
We need mobile shoulder blades, which is why we can’t just do bench presses all day because we get little shoulder blade movements with those.
We need a good balance of pressing with weight, as well as push-up variations.
One more point, I want to talk about is, how we need the shoulder blades to move for ideal function, and the mobility of our T-spine or upper back plays a crucial part.
A very rounded and tight upper back will make the scapula movements difficult. This is why working on T-spine mobility and posture can really improve shoulder health.
Are you still with me?
I know that was a bit much, Let’s go into some practical tips on what we can do, to improve shoulder health and still have great upper body sessions
Warmin up and mobility
Warm-up keeps you from getting banged up.
Doing a proper warm-up can work as a mini mobility and re-hab routine, that you do every time you workout.
This can help you drive better function out of your shoulder, not just for your workout today but for the rest of your life.
My 3 part warm-up
- Mobility work is often, done using soft tissue work with a foam roller, various stretches, and mobility drills.
2. Activation work is when we are firing the upper back and weaker shoulder muscles, through body weight drills and band work.
3. Movement work we practice the movements we will be doing in the workout with great form and slow tempo.
This is going to get you ready to train hard but also add years to your shoulders.
Here is what it may look like
- Soft tissue with a foam roller roller on the upper back 60s
- Stretch your pecs and lats with bands or straps for 30s
- T-spine rotation, my favorite is the windmill 2 sets of 5 reps
- For upper back activation, I usually like to pair banded pull-apart and face pulls for rep 10-20 reps for 2-3 sets
- Practice push up with a very slow tempo and perfect form, for 3x 3 10s rest
The warm will set the stage for getting an awesome upper body session without killing your shoulders, do not skip it.
If you have achy shoulders, don’t get fancy with different grip angles.
A neutral grip is your pal, this is a better position for your shoulder, neck, and elbow health.
This is not to say pronated grip is bad, but they are not the best option if you have shoulder issues.
When it comes to pressing, that is why Dumbells are great, because you can use a neutral grip.
Training the back is no different, neutral grip handles for rows and pull-downs are going to do wonders.
It’s not that you can never do things like, a wide grip pull down, you might just feel better:
If 80-90% of your work is from neutral grip handles
We can use a slight angle with pressing movements like a decline or incline.
By putting a bumper plate below either side of the bench.
This angle is thought, to cause less stress on the shoulder, especially reducing stress on your rotator cuffs.
Give, this small tweak a try and see if you notice a difference in your shoulder joint comfort.
A strong upper back can support your shoulder health.
Since we know that the scapula, is a part of shoulder joints, it makes sense that a strong upper back.
Will allow better overall shoulder movements.
Do more total reps with your upper back, to build up and counter the massive tightness most of us have in the pecs and front shoulders.
We want the majority of this work to come from horizontal rowing. Vertical exercises do not have the same external rotation effect as horizontal rowing.
Some of my favorites are
- Ring rows
- Seated Rows
- T-bar row with supports
- 1 arm DB or KB row’
Build the upper back up, it’s the foundation of healthy shoulders.
It’s typically thought of, as the first exercise of a workout. Should be the hardest and most intense exercise.
You want to be fresh, so you can have masterful form and be able to push it hard.
But, as we get older our joints start getting achy.
It can be very helpful, to do some pump work for the upper back and rear shoulders before we go into this heavy pressing work.
Getting the upper back pumped and warm, will allow for smoother pressing movements and reduce some joint pain.
An example of this might be
Seated rows 4 sets 15, then
DB Incline Bench Press 5x 5
The downside of this, it might affect the weight you can use on the press, but it keeps your shoulder overall healthier.
That may be what is most important to you.
Also when it comes to muscle building, don’t always think of the weight you use, but the intensity you use.
Even if the weight is a little lighter, as long as you still go hard on the sets, you’ll still make gains.
Upward rotation/Overhead Work
As we get older we lose the ability to move our arms overhead.
This can cause problems such as shoulder or neck pain.
We want to have better overhead movement as long as we can.
We want some overhead movements in our workout routine or hybrids(like a landmine press or high-angle row)
For many guys overhead pressing, is just going to wreck the shoulders, so staying away from it might be for the best.
But, one exercise I find for training overhead, so we get the upward rotation of the scapula and good overhead position.
Is neutral grip pulldown
This usually can be done pain-free and we will get many of the benefits of overhead movements.
I also wanted to touch on how important is to have a mobile T-spine/upper back.
Without this, the shoulder blades, do not move well on the upper back. And if your shoulder blades don’t move well. Your shoulder issues will continue….
If and how much overhead exercises you can tolerate will depend on a few things. But, a tight T-spine will definitely limit that capacity.
Be sure to have good posture when you train and work on T-spine mobility as much as possible.
Sets and reps.
Think of this as volume.
How you do the exercises is important.
But, so is the amount of work you do. If you’re doing too many sets or reps you’re going to get beat up.
Also keep in mind the higher the reps, the more likely those reps will be low quality as you accumulate fatigue.
High reps aren’t always the safest like people think.
For the average person doing 6-10 hard sets, per muscle group, per week is going to drive both strength and muscle gains.
You’ll feel much better if you split those in between a couple of sessions. So, instead of doing 10 sets for the chest in one day.
You are better off splitting it in between two of your sessions. Do 5 sets on Monday and 5 sets on Thursday.
It is always best to start at the low end(6 total sets) and work your way up.
One last thing, I’m a believer that the total reps of back work should be higher than the total reps of chest or shoulder work.
Almost everyone’s shoulders are going to feel better this way.
Those are my best tips for Training Upper Body With Bad Shoulders. Any questions?