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Why These Shoulder Exercises Stink!

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It always seemed like 99% of my clients’ issues revolved around 3 areas of the body. Low back, knees, and shoulder issues seemed to be what so many people would battle and it is hard to achieve your fitness goals when your body hurts. Not only is it difficult to train consistently, the motivation to go do something challenging and think it will be painful isn’t a great incentive. 

We have discussed a lot about low backs and knees in recent DVRT posts so I thought it would be worthwhile to really focus on shoulder issues as they are something we hear a lot about in our DVRT community as people try to pass our Clean and Press test. Trust me, I get it! In high school while being a typical teenage boy, I tore both my rotator cuffs trying to do really heavy bench press. That pain is no fun and if you don’t know how to address it, it can feel like something that really hampers your life. Can just doing shoulder exercises help though?

That is why you will see endless video posts on how to help your shoulders, but to be honest, most of them are greatly outdated and don’t really work. How can I say that with such confidence? Well, I’ve used a lot of them in the past and I can tell you both with myself and clients that they don’t. As I recently said during a webinar, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is good. 

It is that motivation that I am going to explain why some popular shoulder exercises aren’t really as effective as you would think and give you BETTER shoulder exercises that will help your strength and shoulder health!

Stop Thinking Of Just Your Shoulders

When I went through physical therapy I did a lot of the classic band rotator cuff exercises as well as shoulder exercises that were driven to really isolate my shoulders. It made sense at the time, if my shoulders were hurt then I should perform shoulder exercises right? 

Well, as the renown physical therapist, Diane Lee says, “the criminals never scream as loudly as the victims.” What she is trying to explain is that most shoulder injuries are only a byproduct of poor movement and integration of the rest of the body. 

shoulder exercises

Physical therapist, Jessica Bento, shows that trying to isolate the shoulders or upper back is the very WRONG approach to take to your shoulder exercises. 

You see, your shoulders are very much dependent upon other areas of the body. They are actually a very unique joint in the body that isn’t very large in respect to the rest of our body. Our shoulders respond to what is happening below them such as in our core, pelvis, lower body, and even feet! The shoulders also react to the outside world through our hands/grip. Once you understand these concepts you quickly see why just doing rotator cuff exercises and isolating shoulder exercises aren’t addressing the true issue. Instead, we want to teach the body how to integrate everything below the shoulders and our grip!


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How can your feet, lower body, and core impact your shoulders? You can see from this video how the Spiral Line of the body shows the strong connections of all these segments of your body. So, what should you do instead? 

Teaching the body to be more integrated is key in creating better shoulder exercises as Jessica shows above. 

Going OPPOSITE Of The Body

One of the biggest issues of giving better shoulder exercises is simply not understanding what is happening to our body during a movement. Of all the shoulder exercises that scare people, it isn’t a bench press, but rather, going overhead. People think that putting weight over their head is going to cause bad shoulders. Instead, we should think about the fact that if you can’t put your hands overhead without pain, that is a health, not a fitness issue that we want to address. 

Of course if someone has actual structural changes that prevents them from doing so that is one thing. However, I find that to be typically a very small percentage of people and even physical therapist, Jessica Bento, shows that we can improve one’s shoulder movement even in people in their 70’s with complete shoulder replacements. 

What I am actually getting at is the fact that many coaches don’t know what makes for good shoulder exercises and what we are trying to accomplish. If you think going overhead is dangerous then you miss the literal centuries where putting a weight overhead was a measure of upper body strength far before the bench press was ever created in the 1930’s. The reality is how we teach movement and our detachment from our body is far bigger issue. 

A great example of all this is how people will default to a movement like the landmine press as “safer” than going overhead. I think I could make an argument that the landmine is actually strong representation of dysfunctional shoulder exercises. How could I say such a thing? 

When we press a weight overhead or press a weight away from our body (like a push-up or bench press for example) the leverage of the weight moving away causes our core to become more active. Our body knows it has to “brace” our core to stabilize against the leverage the weight is creating. That stability is also known as “proximal stability” and can actually help us with building stronger and more mobile shoulders. Such a movement would be represent good shoulder exercises. However, that isn’t what happens during a landmine press. 

Due to the arching nature of the landmine, as we push up, the weight actually gets lighter. This opposite strength curve to pressing doesn’t result in our core bracing and we don’t teach our shoulders better movement and doesn’t represent what we think about in building better shoulder exercises. Instead, we can use some progressions like you see below to teach how to if not go overhead, greatly improve the range of motion you have as well as the stability and strength. 

If going overhead isn’t possible at the moment, we have lots of options like you saw in the videos above and we can use PROGRESSIONS (not just variations) of shoulder exercises like these plank drags/flies that teach how to stabilize while also connecting the shoulders with the rest of the body more efficiently. 

Use MORE Not Less Stable Positions 

There is a big difference between trying to balance on an unstable object and using unstable positions to challenge the integration of the entire body on your shoulder exercises.

DVRT Master, Cory Cripe helps show how and why we would use half kneeling to build better shoulder exercises and a strong/healthy upper body. 

While most people are shocked at how much better their shoulders move with what Cory shows, there will be some that will need some progressions to get to better shoulder exercises. Check out some of the progressions we can use to make your training better!