account My cart 0
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Worst Shoulder Exercises

sandbag fitness equipment

I was so fortunate in high school to have a coach in my life that was a great mentor. Tim Lang was not only a teacher at our high school, but worked as assistant strength coach for the Chicago White Sox at the time (he would go on to be head strength coach of the Texas Rangers which was very cool!). It was Tim that introduced me to the idea of a strength coach and I didn’t realize it, even introduced me to the beginning stages of functional training. Seeing my passion for training, Tim actually encouraged me to start going to some continuing education courses that were designed for fitness professionals. He knew it would be above me at the time, but wanted me to get exposure to ideas and also the idea that education was important.

Sharing this story with you isn’t just about a fun story about how I got into the industry, but the fact that I’ve always held a passion for learning over any specific training method, exercise, even training tool. To me, all those things were just a means to achieving better results with myself and others. That is why it is hard for me to understand why people get so emotional about such things, especially specific exercises.

I can’t BEGIN to tell you how many exercises I did at one time that I thought were the “right” ones, only to learn over time how they didn’t really achieve what I had thought. Once it was explained to me a better way that became the exercise I wanted to do. That is my motivation with posts like those today, hoping to share why exercises you may think or see or are even touted as great shoulder exercises aren’t really what you think!

In NO WAY does you doing these exercises make you a bad person, instead giving you information is what we are all about at DVRT. A bad exercise, as I have written in the past, can be something that is inefficient, less effective, predisposes someone for injury, or doesn’t actually accomplish what we say it does. There is so much “stuff” on the internet that I thought explaining how this applies to something as important as shoulder exercises (hurting your shoulders is no fun) you can make better choices in your training or that of others. So, I hope you go into this with an open mind and let the information (not my personal opinion) help guide you.

Landmine Presses

I don’t know if it is the fact that using a barbell makes people instantly think they are building great strength, but landmine presses actually don’t solve the issue that many think. Yes, the idea of not forcing people into positions overhead is important and finding better options is absolutely important. However, landmine presses don’t do that and aren’t part of the shoulder exercises you should go for that solution.

“Josh, they don’t hurt my shoulders though!” That is great, but that doesn’t mean they actually work! When I press above my head or out away from my body (like a push-up for example), the tension in my core increases to off balance the longer lever arm created by the movement. For example, if my core didn’t brace correctly as I went overhead, I would probably just fall backwards.

This core activation is not just important in letting me not fall over, but actually protect my shoulders as well as helping with my shoulder mobility. How so? World renown spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill explains…

“How does core stiffness enhance limb speed and strength? Consider the pectoralis major muscle – it attaches the rib cage at its proximal end, crosses the shoulder joint, and attaches at its distal end to the humerus of the upper arm. When muscles contract they try to shorten. Consider the specific action here – the arm flexes around the shoulder joint moving the arm from muscle shortening at the distal end. But the same shortening also bends the rib cage towards the arm at the proximal end of the muscle. Thus simply using the pec muscle would not result in a fast nor forceful punch. Now stiffen the proximal end of pec muscle attachment – meaning stiffen the core and ribcage so it can’t move. Now, 100% of pec muscle shortening is directed to action at its distal end producing fast and forceful motion in the arm. In the same way a stiffened core locks down the proximal ends of the hip muscles producing fast leg motion. A loss of core stiffness causes the torso to bend when sprinting, and a loss of speed ‐ some force was robbed that should have been expressed in leg velocity. Thus, a universal law of human movement is illustrated – proximal stiffness enhances distal mobility and athleticism.”

Basically, your core creates stability for the extremities to move from with greater force. Imagine if you tried to construct a tall building on a faulty foundation? It would fall over very easily right? The body is somewhat similar. The body tries to protect itself though when it does perceive instability so if your core is sensed to be unstable, the body creates tightness often in the shoulders and hips (areas that should have great mobility) because it doesn’t want that tall building on a weak foundation.

Okay, cool, but how does this relate to landmine exercises or shoulder exercises overall? A landmine because of the leverage of the barbell and where it is anchored does the REVERSE of this! As you press the weight of the landmine up, the weight gets LIGHTER mechanically requiring LESS core activation. This means we aren’t building better strength, stability, or mobility in the shoulders. What’s better?


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by JoshHenkin (@joshhenkindvrt)

There are several options for better shoulder exercises. For one, very simply if we used bands or cables to do the same thing (bands actually increase the need for core activation a lot because they actually increase tension as they are pressed out) we get shoulder exercises that actually match the functionality of the upper body.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by JoshHenkin (@joshhenkindvrt)

 DVRT Master & Strength Coach, Joel Gunterman shows how we create better shoulder exercises by integrating the muscles that work WITH the shoulders. 

Another great option is many of our plank drag movements in DVRT. Teaching to create proper stability in how our hand engages with the ground creates a chain reaction up the body helping to engage the shoulder correctly and the training of the core and hips (we will explain why this is so important) at the same time all have a direct correlation to better shoulders.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by JoshHenkin (@joshhenkindvrt)

Robin Paget does a great job showing how we do our drags with the right intent and technique!

Isolated Shoulder Exercises

At first glance it makes sense. Shoulders hurt or you want to make them strong, let’s isolate the shoulders. However, the body is NOT a machine and just trying to work on individual parts typically does NOT make the body better. Why? We have an active nervous system, something machines do not have and plays a BIG part in how we move and perform. As fitness expert, Pete McCall explains…

“When it comes to anatomy and physiology, one important concept that we often overlook is the fact that the human body rarely performs the exact same movement the exact same way. In fact, the only place where human movement is consistently repetitive is in the gym. In most other settings, we frequently change positions to dissipate the physical stresses applied to our muscles. If individuals performed the exact same movements all of the time, basketball players would never miss free throws and baseball pitchers would always throw strikes.

That is a great way to put it and we can expand on that idea. One of the great things about using the Ultimate Sandbag is that no rep is done the same way twice because the weight actually moves! However, just using the Ultimate Sandbag without the right purpose isn’t enough. Whenever you see us perform our “shoulder exercises” (I put in quotations because we think of the movement of pressing more than shoulders because it isn’t isolated) we purposefully integrate the core and lower body. Why?

There is a chain of the body that anatomy expert, Thomas Myers calls the “spiral line”. What is that? As he explains, “loops around the body in two opposing helices, right and left, joining each side of the skull across the upper back to the opposite shoulder, and then around the ribs to the front to cross again at the level of the navel to the hip. From the hip, the Spiral Line passes like a ‘jump rope’ along the anterolateral thigh and across the shin to the medial longitudinal arch, passing under the foot and running up the posterolateral side of the leg to the ischium and into the erector spinae myofascia (of either side, depending on posture or position) to end very close to where it started on the skull.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Muscle and Motion (@muscleandmotion)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Muscle and Motion (@muscleandmotion)

When you understand functional anatomy of the body too, you see how muscles like the lats NEED to play an integral role in our shoulder exercises. The lats connect to the shoulder, our core, and lower body, so why in the world would you want to isolate the shoulders?

Isolated shoulder exercises tend to try to do the opposite, including laying on one’s back, on a bench, etc. That is actually the OPPOSITE way you make shoulder exercises better! Instead, coach Troy Anderson and I break down how to press correctly and use these concepts for better shoulders. Adding the Ultimate Sandbag to those concepts gives us the opportunity to really create powerful solutions for better shoulders. This is based on building better function, but you better believe you get build really awesome shoulders too!

There are only a few days left to save 25% ALL throughout our DVRT site (excludes live events) and when you invest in any of our Ultimate Sandbags/water bags you will receive our DVRT Complexes Workout program for FREE! Just use code “summer” HERE