It may not be hard to believe, but when I get into something I do so 100% and then a little extra. When I played basketball it wasn’t unusual for me to be at the parks during the summers for eight hours at a time. Sure, I had to interrupt my summer practices for some summer jobs and eating, but that was about it. I just wanted to be the very best I could become.
The same thing happened when I got into strength training when I was 14. Weight training, like basketball, didn’t come very naturally as I often tell the story of my older brother laughing as I got pinned by an empty bar the first time I tried to bench press. Yet, I enjoyed the process and it wasn’t too long till I was harassing everyone around me to get me to the gym (yea, I couldn’t drive yet and there was no Uber:).
Most would see that type of tenacity and dedication as a good thing, often times it has proven to be true. However, what we often don’t talk about is what happens when you have this type of attitude but don’t have the right direction or information behind you.
The only times I ever suffered injuries in the gym was when I was young. It wasn’t from the typical teenage male thing of lifting too much either. Not knowing much better, I followed many of the bodybuilding programs of the time and being 14 that makes sense right? Well, that didn’t stop at 16, 17, or even 20 years old.
It would be quite a bit of time that would go by until I would realize how misguided my training was and more importantly how it built some pretty severe imbalances in my body. One of the best examples of this was one day bench pressing (surprising right?) in my high school’s weight room and feeling severe pain just shoot into my shoulders. I racked the weight and knew something was VERY wrong.
I could move my shoulders, but they hurt, A LOT! My Dad likes to joke (although I don’t think he joking all that much) that my youth paid for the orthopedic wing of the hospital. So, I was back at the doctor only to find out I had torn BOTH rotator cuffs, that is talent for you!
Sure, I went through the typical rehab and I came back, but I was very scared about injuring my shoulders again. For years I tried to do what everyone said was the RIGHT way to fix my shoulders, but what was happening is I was developing even more imbalances.
How do I know? For years I avoided anything overhead, this was the time when pressing overhead was suppose to be bad for you and if you did any sort of pressing you were only suppose to take your arms to 90 degrees (anyone remember this?). I thought I was doing the RIGHT thing and then after going to a seminar during the late 90’s heard a famous strength coach talk about how we had it all wrong.
We were suppose to go full range of motion? We were suppose to lift overhead? This was all very confusing because for years I had heard the opposite. However, the lecture made sense so I went to try it out. I expected to be strong, I had been consistently training for years at the time and I went to the barbell and did my first overhead press.
I was shocked! I felt SO weak and even though my shoulders weren’t hurting my whole body was shaking. My fear of hurting my shoulders eventually lead to a different imbalance where my core was weak, my upper body felt weak, even my legs felt weak, and of course my pressing felt weakest of all.
How is this possible though when I had been training all these muscle groups via other means? What I didn’t understand at the time was I wasn’t teaching my body to connect to itself in ways to make movement, not just my muscles strong.
In 2003, I went to my first kettlebell certification and learned so much about how disconnected my training was. This was my first TRUE introduction to understanding what functional training really meant. Even though the term wasn’t new to me, it wasn’t about the exercises, it was about learning to use my body smarter.
In order to get stronger I had to learn that lifting wasn’t all about well, lifting!
As I learned more and more about what functional training really meant I discovered something pretty amazing. My shoulders felt healthier and healthier, guess what that correlated to? Although I had been doing core training for years, my core never was stronger, my pressing strength improved greatly while NEVER hurting my shoulders.
So, how did I do it and how can you benefit from these same strategies? How does DVRT help? Here are some of the most unusual fixes to your shoulder problems.
#1 Use the Ground!
The hardest thing for people to understand in pressing is that you want to drive your feet into the ground. This starts to connect your body’s foundation and core which as well all know we are only as strong as our foundation.
This means grabbing the ground with your feet and one of the best ways of teaching this strategy is by getting in a half kneeling position. You don’t want to just be in the position, but learn to push into the ground with both feet. That means obviously trying to “grab” the ground with the front foot and pushing through the ball of foot with the other foot. Instantly you should feel your glutes, hamstrings, and core activate. This is key in saving your shoulders.
#2 Use Your Hands!
I always coach people that whatever part of your body is touching something, you want to use it. Obviously your feet being contact with the ground helps remind people of this concept. However, time and time again I see people weaken themselves and risk their shoulders by not creating tension in their hands.
For the same reason we grab the ground with our feet you want to grab tightly whatever you are holding. That is why we often start people with our Arc Presses. Handles are great, but when you have to hold something that is awkward your hands work more. You don’t want to support the Ultimate Sandbag, but really grip it hard, this also puts your wrist in a better position.
What about our Clean and Press though? Notice that we generally want to tuck our fingers and create tension in the hand. A lot of people don’t do this and allow their wrists to bend back and create huge weakness for themselves. You should have a neutral wrist with tension in the hand, check out the video below!
#3 Elbows Stay Close!
One of the reasons that I am not the biggest fan of bodybuilding is that it teaches people to focus on muscles not movement. Why is that an issue? When you do so, you don’t watch how your joints and body are impacted by doing things that are unnatural or unsafe and putting the body at risk.
Aiming to “hit the pecs”, shoulder, or whatever more is a great example of this problem. The problem of pressing for most people is they want to try to work these muscles more and have their elbows move away from their body. You might “feel it” more, but it generally puts people’s shoulders at risk.
The way I often explain this to people is to think about if you were going to push someone as hard as possible. Would you have your elbows close or far away from your body? You guessed it, you have them close because you push with your body. The same is true when you lift, don’t think of your shoulder or pecs but rather your body. YES! You will build a great body don’t worry, but just as importantly you will build a healthier body.
This often makes so much sense when you try it so check out today’s DVRT video on how we coach it. If you love to learn such concepts don’t miss our DVRT certifications HERE or upcoming workshops HERE. The key in functional training is to build the best looking body that FUNCTIONS well in and out of the gym. Who doesn’t want that?!