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How To Build Strong & Pain Free Upper Body Strength

shoulder exercises

We spend A LOT of time talking about concepts like building better mobility and corrective exercise because that’s often the first issues that Jessica and I have to address with people. Whether it is her working with physical therapy patients, or me working with people with a wide array of fitness goals. I often say, people don’t come to us when things are going really well, they need help and can’t figure out what to do. A common goal we both hear is that people want to build upper body strength, but they also don’t want to do so while causing pain to get worse or to occur.

There could be a whole lot of posts about pain perception, what I mean though is how do we achieve their fitness goals without causing structural damage to the body. Is it possible to get great upper body strength, but not ruin our body in the process? When you are in your 20’s, many are willing to risk the trade off of building muscle, lifting big weights, and feeling crappy along the way. The older you get, the less likely that trade off sounds good to you!

So, what can we do so that we can build upper body strength AND a healthier body?

healthy low backs

Learn The Concepts Of Upper Body Strength Training

Most of the time, the issue that we see the most is that people try to move the weight they have than their body. That of course might make sense to try to lift the weight, but it is almost the opposite thought process people should start off with. When we think about how we move our body first and foremost, then how we lift the weight becomes much easier and safer on our body. Some of the foundations of drills like pressing I address below.

If this is a hard idea to wrap your head around, don’t worry, we have many drills that help teach you these concepts so that you can more easily learn from moving how to build smarter upper body strength as Coach Cory Cripe breaks down below…

Use Your Hands & Feet A LOT!!

Over half the bones in your body are in your hands and feet, makes you think they are pretty important right? However, a lot of people don’t pay attention to their hands and feet even when they are holding a weight. This is a HUGE mistake because how our body creates stability first is through how our body uses its hands and feet.


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A post shared by Robin Paget (@rdpaget)

You can see from what Robin Paget shows above, our WHOLE body (including our scapula and shoulders) change dramatically when we properly engage our hands and feet. It makes sense then that we need to be super aware of how we use our hands and feet as I explain in a great drill to teach these concepts below…

Know How Different Tools Can Help!

It is probably my biggest pet peeve in the fitness industry. That is the idea that just use whatever tool you have available. Imagine trying to cut your steak with a spoon? You MIGHT be able to do it, but it is going to be kinda ugly and way more difficult than if you used a knife. What’s the difference, they are both utensils right? Of course it matters but most people can’t explain how.

For example, we love using suspension trainers to help make exercises more progressive (just gotta walk forward or backwards for example), to provide feedback both for the lifter and coach on how to create movement and where compensations are coming from, plus, we get to teach how to use hands/feet and plank during our upper body strength exercises.

Kettlebells are great because we can really emphasize the gripping concept that helps build shoulder stability and research shows that the way the kettlebell sits on the body makes more of the posterior muscles of the shoulder active which is usually a good thing! The fact we can use one arm at a time helps build bridges for people that want to build upper body strength while we may be addressing mobility issues that are keeping them from optimizing their upper body.

The Ultimate Sandbag allows us to press in a position for the shoulder that is far more friendly upon the joint and teaches how to utilize muscles like the lats to help take pressure off the shoulder joint and increase our upper body strength. There are Ultimate Sandbag pressing drills that really emphasize grip and doing so we also learn how to create core stability that will provide us better mobility and strength in the upper body. The instability of the Ultimate Sandbag also helps us find compensation patterns in movements where we could hide them otherwise.

So, you see the tools you can use can create a profound impact upon the results we get from our upper body strength training. You will realize that it doesn’t have to be a choice to be strong or health, you can have it both but you have to learn how to train smarter!

We hope that you will join Jessica and Josh for our 6-week online Shoulder Masterclass Jan. 18th where you will learn how to go through all the principles, concepts, and exercises to build a strong and resilient upper body. Our early bird is truly special because we want this information to reach as many people as possible, don’t miss it HERE