Let’s be honest:
Shoulder pain is very common – and sucks big time. I think everyone in our hunchback desk warrior society knows it all too well.
Back in time, when my days consisted of World of Warcraft and Dota 2, instead of working out and blogging, I had often shoulder pain. And neck pain. And lower back pain. Sitting kills, man. 😀
Nowadays I am still in pain – but it’s different.
It’s because of the sports, not the lack of it.
Now my shoulders hurt because me trying hard to get better in handstands. It hurts because of the unknown way it has to work and the sometimes crappy technique.
Therefore, I can imagine that you have quite a history of nagging aches and pains, too. Everything worthwhile comes with its very own sacrifices.
Prehab is important and saved my *** 100+ times. Despite some aches and pains, I’ve never been injured. And I hope, I can continue this statistic.
In this post, I want to show you my favorite tips, when it comes to avoiding shoulder pain before it is even there.
Shoulder Pain is very complex
What is causing shoulder pain?
The shoulder is a very complicated joint. It is very mobile – but therefore depends on the muscles to stabilize it. And as we all know – muscles can be dicks.
Because the shoulder is such a complicated joint, it is even harder to figure out shoulder pain. Therefore – forget binary approaches. It is likely your pain has a variety of issues causing it.
But the most common ones1, when it comes to shoulder pain are:
- The lack of movement quality
- Lack of movement variety
- And the lack of movement quantity
Us humans are natural movers. And nowadays we move, too little, too restricted, and when we do it, we could do it better.
Not to say that this is every problem’s basic issue. There are a ton of serious other underlying causes, but our movement crisis is well-known.
How can shoulder prehab help me?
On one hand, Shoulder Prehab’s job is to even out imbalances so that you can build strength safely. Because – strong shoulders prevent injuries.
There is a saying – nothing wrong with gettin’ strong.
That’s true from a medical perspective!2
Prehab exercises strengthen the stabilizing muscles surrounding your shoulder girdle in barely used positions. One example would be the overhead position which many folks struggle with.
On the other hand, prehab exercises make up for a great shoulder warmup.
A little Prehab goes a long way!
What can I consider else to avoid shoulder pain?
If you are lifting with crappy technique, no prehab work will save you from pain. Period.
And I don’t talk about a subpar rep here and there. I talk about people loading movements, they’re clearly not capable of.
So – do yourself a favor and be peculiar in your technique. When learning a movement you will suck in the beginning and your technique will inevitably be horrible. But that’s going to improve. I see this ATM while learning how to stand on my hands.3
The thing is that you shouldn’t load these movements while learning them. One great example here would be the squat.4 Learn the movement first. When you can bodyweight squat with proper technique – load it. Not the other way round.
Everybody knows it – but I can’t stress enough how important a warmup really is.
A warmup shouldn’t consist of some random static stretches. Don’t be the guy stretching their hamstrings before chest day. A proper warmup should get blood into your muscles, get the heart rate up and be active.
As previously said – 10 minutes of well thought of prehab work before every session will go a long way. I am very big into warming up and truly think this is a big one, why I’ve never severely injured myself.
Your end goal to prevent shoulder issues in the first place should be to get strong. Strong muscles gonna protect you from injuries.
With strong, I’m referring to well-balanced and functioning muscles. Muscles your brain knows to activate when needed and get the job done. Real strength is a mix of pure power, mobility, neuronal activation, and many others.
Therefore, good programming is essential. You don’t want to do too much or too little. You don’t want to get big without being functional. You don’t want to be a flexy-bexy mess without much control.
My 3 favorite Shoulder prehab exercises
I learned from this one from my fellow FRCs.
The Swimmer is a great exercise that takes your shoulder complex through all possible movement patterns. It improves your mobility and neuronal activation in multiple positions.
The key here is to go-slow and control the whole movement through your shoulder blades. I would suggest doing 3x5r of real slow quality reps.
Use it in your warmup or to work on your shoulder. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can even consider using weight plates*.
This exercise should look like in that video by Ian Malcow.
Prone ER OH Press
This exercise builds strength, mobility, and stability in the overhead position. Many people struggle with this movement pattern. And I personally know this struggle all too well, too.
I won’t lie to you: This exercise is hard. But don’t let this scare you, it is so rewarding!
The stick press should look like in this video. Kinda oldscool produced but I like the music though. Do the movement he does just with a stick gripped with the hands shoulder-width apart.
I would suggest doing 3×10-15r. If you are comfortable with this, you can also add weight plates* to the stick. But take tiny steps – this exercise gets hellish very quick.
We are, some more or others less, little monkeys, aren’t we? And what fits monkeys? No – I don’t mean bananas! I mean trees and climbing. 😀
Hanging down from something on a daily basis has several benefits:
- Hanging gets your arms overhead.
- You can move your scapular in various directions while hanging.
- But it’s not only great for your shoulders. It decompresses and elongates your spine, too.
I would recommend trying to hang down from something for 5 minutes a day. Don’t be fooled – 5 minutes are aggregated quickly.
The goal is quality time. Keep your shoulders stable and explore the movement.
This post by Ido Portal tells you everything you need to know about hanging.
I really love to hang in between sets from a bar or in my warmup and do some scapular circles. An alternative would be pullup bar setup at home*.
To get even more out of hanging itself – do some scapular CARs.
To summarize everything up
Shoulder Pain is complex. If I knew a general fix – I would make millions selling it. But, it is that complex that such a solution will never exist. So – f*ck my millions. I think I will sustain this loss…
What’s more important than money – are healthy shoulders. Better be broke and do handstands, than be rich and can’t get my arms overhead, isn’t it? 😀
I hope you got some insights into what to consider when addressing your shoulder pain.
There are a lot of other great exercises out there, but I think these three cover a broad spectrum for general purposes.
I hope that you are now well-equipped with these 3 great exercises. They will save you some issues in the long run, promised. And that’s what we’re in for, isn’t it?
Feel free to try them out and tell me your thoughts on these movements – or if you have some even better in your arsenal!
Have a great day,
My Sources and further reading:
- I learned much of this podcast by Tom Merrick with the physiotherapist Adam Meakins. They talk a lot about injury prehab, shoulder health and how strength relates to it.
- For everything on hanging read this lovely blog post by Ido Portal.
- This Youtube Videos series consisting of 4 fairly long videos by Dale Kientopf is really informative and delivers many practical tips in terms of shoulder pain. Unfortunately, it is in German.
- Besides somewhat like 1000 severe medical pathologies
- If you wanna know more about this topic. I can recommend this podcast by Tom Merrick with Adam Meakins.
- One big issue for me is my overhead press. As a consequence, I went back all the way to the easiest variation of an Inverted Press and am building my technique up from there. It works great but I have to constantly remind me to leave my ego, before the gym. I could do more reps – but not with perfect form.
- Although squats have nothing to do with shoulder prehab. Buut I don’t give a f*ck!