Eric Cressey is the owner and President of Cressey Performance, one of the nation's top sports training institutes. An author, presenter, consultant, and powerlifter, Eric has worked with clients from youth sports to the professional and Olympic ranks. For more information on Eric, follow him on Twitter and check out his new High Performance Handbook, a complete resource for research-driven strength and conditioning.
Photo: Eric Cressey
At some point in the past decade, I acquired the nickname, “The Shoulder Guy.” It might be because I had shoulder problems at a young age, and did my best to learn and write about this commonly misunderstood joint. Or, it might be a result of me working with a lot of professional baseball players whose careers rely heavily on their shoulder health. (Or, it could just be that there was nothing else particularly remarkable about me that would justify a cooler nickname.).
Regardless, if you want to exercise regularly and keep your shoulders healthy for the long haul, I’m in a good position to give you some advice on how to get the job done. With that in mind, here are five tips to bulletproof your shoulders.
Five Tips to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy
1. Challenge your shoulder blade positioning with different pressing movements.
Everybody loves to bench press — and that’s perfectly fine; it’s one of the best compound exercises you can possibly do. Unfortunately, when your upper back is always pinned to a bench, your shoulder blades can’t move freely — so they may lose the ability to get overhead pain-free. With that in mind, it’s important to complement your bench press variations with other movements where the shoulder blade can move freely.
All push-up variations are great choices, but you might also like to try landmine presses. You can do these standing or kneeling. Perform once a week on an upper body day:
2. Train the rotator cuff.
Doing rotator cuff exercises is like cleaning your gutters; it’s not sexy or fun, but you need to do it or else bad things will happen. Believe it or not, one study showed that 34 percent of people with absolutely no shoulder pain actually have rotator cuff tears — and this number is actually 54 percent in those over the age of 60 Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of asymptomatic shoulders. Sher, J.S., Uribe, J.W., Posada, A., et al. University of Miami. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 1995 Jan;77(1);10-5 ! In other words, just because you don’t have pain doesn’t mean that there isn’t have something wrong. It may just be waiting to reach a painful symptomatic threshold!
With that in mind, I’d encourage you to train the rotator cuff with some external rotations, even if it’s just once a week for three sets. Here’s one of my favorite exercises (you can use a band instead of a cable, too). Perform twice per week on upper body days:
3. Make sure you can do the back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise.
This might be the most important exercise I teach to our new clients at Cressey Performance. You see, it’s not just a training exercise; it’s also an assessment. If you can’t get your arms overhead without compensating at your lower back — or winding up in pain — then it’s a sign that you’ve really lost an important movement pattern. Check out the video, and practice this daily in warm-ups!
4. Perform your rows correctly.
We all know that it’s important to do just as much (if not more!) pulling as you do pushing. However, what a lot of people fail to realize is that you only get the benefits of all these rowing exercises if you actually perform them correctly! Check out this detailed video on all the common mistakes we see with my favorite variations, the standing 1-arm cable row. Perform twice a week on upper body days:
5. Get your upper back moving correctly.
Are you hunched over a computer as you read this? Of course you are!
Well, you’ll be happy to know that misery deserves company, so you’re not alone. There are loads of people out there — avid exercises included — who are acquiring a “Quasimodo” posture because of always being in a rounded upper back position. The good news is that I have two exercises for you to help address the issue: Supine Alternated Shoulder Flexion on a Tennis Ball, and the Side-Lying Windmill. Perform these daily during warm-ups:
I see a lot of ugly, painful shoulders on a weekly basis, and I can guarantee you that if more people took these recommendations to heart, I’d see a lot fewer! These are quick and easy adjustments to make, so don’t delay in putting them into action.