During their careers, lifters and throwing athletes can fall victim to shoulder injuries. The most common is shoulder impingement syndrome, which occurs when tendons separate from rotator cuff muscles.
In healthily functioning shoulders, there is a 2:1 ratio of upper arm (humerus) to shoulder blade (scapula) movement, with rotations of 120 degrees flexion/adduction and 60 degrees at the scapula. However, with shoulder impingement, a part of the humerus becomes wedged against the bursa, a sac of lubricating fluid. This creates uncomfortable friction during shoulder movements, especially those involving throwing and overhead lifting. (See also How to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy, Part 2: Shoulder Stability.)
Typically stemming from overuse or lack of strength, shoulder impingement can get so bad that merely looking at a loaded barbell racked over a bench induces pain.
To prevent shoulder impingement, athletes should:
- Avoid behind the neck pressing (Read Avoid Injury With Safe Alternatives to 3 Common Exercises)
- Never take rotator cuff exercises to muscular failure
- Maintain good posture throughout the day
- Match the strength of your upper back and external rotator muscles with muscles of your chest, deltoids, and internal shoulder rotators
Rather than lumping all athletes and lifters together by suggesting they perform standard Overhead Barbell Presses, here are some friendly variations. They will help keep you out of the training room so you can spend more time in the gym and on the field.
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Shoulder Press
This exercise doesn’t force the shoulders into internal rotation at the top of the movement, thereby helping reduce impingement.
- Set an adjustable bench at a high incline (just shy of completely upright)
- Select a pair of dumbbells that are roughly 80% of your typical choice
- Position your palms so they face each other
- Place dumbbells in rack position, hovering over your collarbones, with your wrists and elbows directly beneath the handles
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and press them against the pad of the bench
- Keep your chest big
- Inhale, tighten your core and press the dumbbells straight up, exhaling as you do so
Neutral Handled Seated Barbell Shoulder Press
- Set an adjustable bench at a high incline (just shy of completely upright) within a power rack
- With a barbell that has neutral grip handles, grip the handles just outside of shoulder-width with your palms facing each other
- Remove the barbell from the catches in the power rack
- Bring the barbell to just above your collarbone while keeping your elbows and wrists directly under the bar
- Pinch your shoulder blades together pressing them against the pad of the bench
- Keep your chest big
- Inhale, tighten the core and press the barbell straight up, exhaling as you do so