avoiding chest workouts due to shoulder pain? Try this...

Most of us don't want to admit it, but once we hit 40, our shoulders have gone through some bumps and bangs and don't feel like they did when we were 20.


But if you're like me and you still want to lift heavy, throw a ball or a punch, and be able to still lift a fork to your face without pain afterwards. Here's a simple workout that I do to keep building on my bench press strength even though my shoulders are well past their prime.


Please keep in mind that if you are currently injured or experiencing the kind of shoulder pain that keeps you awake at night, then you should see your doctor and a qualified physiotherapist to get you pain free first. 


What often happens once a physiotherapist gives a person the all clear, is they go back and do the same exercises in the same way that got their shoulders in such terrible shape in the first place. Lets avoid that this time with a well thought out plan.  


Also, to keep it fairly short I have not included a shoulder warm up in this article. Please make sure your body is warm and you have moved those shoulders around sufficiently to get the fluid flowing in those old joints before beginning to lift!


Exercise 1: Slight Incline Bench Press Pin press clusters -  6 sets  3 clusters of 4 reps 10 seconds apart with 2 minute rests- explaination below


Without creating a long winded article full of technical jargon, or as I call it "Trainer geek Speak," let me simply say that setting the bench to a slight incline allows the shoulder joint to glide in the socket better than the traditional flat bench press or in a relatively high press.


Next, Pin presses are a form of bench press done inside the squat rack, so that you can set the spotter pins of the rack to be just above your chest height so that the bar doesn't quite come down all the way.


The other advantage of the pins is that you can set them at a higher, if coming down to a certain point causes pain.


There are a few basic reasons for pain in the lower range but the most common is a mobility issue that causes anterior glide of the humerus in the shoulder joint if you go too low.


Sometimes just being aware of that wrong position, using a lighter weight, and using more control and awareness will help you to correct this bad form. If you can't maintain the healthy position, simply raise the pins to the appropriate height, and again, consider seeing a physio to help you bring some mobility back. But this quick fix will help you continue to work on your strength while that is going on.


What the heck are clusters and what does he mean by 6 sets of 3 clusters of 4 reps 10 seconds apart and two minute rests?.... and a partridge in a pear tree! Well here's what I mean.


The clusters I described are really more like 3 sets with 10 second rests. But you have to do those 3 sets for a total of six times.


Here's how: Bring the bar down and rest it on the pins. From there you will begin rep one. Set the shoulders back and puff up the chest, tighten your abs and push into the legs as you push up for rep one. Return the bar down to the pins.


Pause for one second to re-tighten the body and refocus, and perform rep 2.


Once you have completed all 4 reps you let the bar rest on the pins for 10 whole seconds. Then repeat the process for 4 more reps. 10 second rest. And repeat the process for 4 last reps and return the bar to the rack. That would complete one set.


You will rest 2 minutes before doing set 2. Complete a total of 6 sets before moving on. As for the partridge in a pear tree, cook it and eat if after your workout.


The whole point of this exercise is to allow you to work with weights that challenge your body, but are still lighter and therefor easier on the joints than doing a typical 4 rep max bench press.


The pause at the bottom of each rep takes away the bodys natural stretch reflex and makes each rep harder, yet more cotrolled than it would be without it. Using the pins and with the pause at the bottom allows you to have better focus and control literally one rep at a time.


The bar should move up and down with each rep being in the same spot as the last, so the bar looks like its running in an imaginary track, and both sides of your body look, and feel the same as each other, and the same as the last rep.


Not like a bucking bronco at a rodeo landing in a different position each time! That wreaks havoc on the body.


With the pins and the pauses you can bring much more awareness to each rep in order to accomplish this goal and save those old shoulders. And please do not reach for the moon at the top of the movement.


DO NOT lift your shoulders off the back of the bench at the top. Keep them down at all times.


If your arms are still bent at the top of the movement in order to keep your shoulders down, so what? Believe me, its better to keep tension on the muscles the whole time instead of over extending and transfering that tension onto the joints.


Afterall, what are we working on here, our muscles, or our joints? I hope you know the right answer.


Exercise #2 - slight incline dumbbell, neutral grip bench press - 5 sets of 6-10reps


Set the bench on the same angle as you had it for your barbell clusters. A neutral grip means your palms face each other at all times during the movement.


Don't do any fancy twists or whatever, keep them facing each other. With the slight incline and the neutral grip you have created the safest position for your shoulders, so no twisting the weight and messing with that safe position.


For the first few bench press workouts. Start by doing a weight you can safely handle for 10 repetitions.


Once you have done a few workouts and are feeling confident that your form is good, then you can work towards a heavier weight for 6 reps in order to challenge your strength a little more.


Again, DO NOT lift the back of those shoulders off the bench at the top and DO NOT go so low that your shoulders glide up to create the position.


Exercies #3 - Slight Incline Dumbbell Chest Flys 3 sets of 10-12 reps


The bench stays at the same height yet again. You will find all kinds of internet gurus telling you to vary the angle of the bench for each exercise.


It's not that they're wrong, its just that they are writing programs for 20 somethings with healthy shoulders, not those of us who have been there done that, and got the acupuncture to prove it.


For the chest fly keep the dumbbells in a relatively nuetral grip as well. A tiny turn of the palms away from each other on the way down and a tiny turn inwards on the way up can be helpful to stretch and contract the chest but don't over rotate, and if it causes pain don't do it.


Simple advice I wish I would have listened to when I was younger.


Focus on the squeeze / contraction at the top of the movement and try to find that squeeze earlier and earlier in each rep as the dumbbells make their way to the top. keep the chest puffed up and the shoulder blades pulled back.


Don't bash the weights together at the top. It doesn't look or sound cool, it simply serves to throw you off and lift those darn shoulders off the bench! Which of course you won't be doing anymore because you're smarter than that now.


Exercise #4 - Standing cable side lateral raises 3 sets of 10-12 reps


You can use dumbbells for this if you wish, but I find that because the cable allows for the same resistance throughout the whole movement, I can focus more on truly targetting the lateral deltoid. ( the muscle on the very side of your shoulder that can help you have a wide look from the front or back )


This is often the only direct shoulder exercise I give to my older clients as it is the one I feel has the most reward for the least risk.


Cranky old shoulders can get easily irritated with direct work and it is possible to keep them strong through your chest and back workouts and some smaller maintenance work for mobility and stability. (which I will cover in another article )


I put this in with chest workouts because the shoulders receive so much indirect work while working the chest, that its easy to use this as a finisher for them and then let them rest the rest of the week while you do your other workouts.


How to do it; Stand close to the cable machine with the handle in your opposite hand. Keeping the wrist and fist tight and elbow slightly bent, raise the arm away from the machine to aproximately shoulder height and return down under control the whole time.


Use a mirror if possible and stare at the muscle on the side of your shoulder, tell it to do the work. not your wrist, not your forearm, your shoulder.


At the top of the movement your palm should be facing the floor, not the mirror! Do 10-12 repititions and then repeat on the other side.


Now that you know what to do, get started. I'm always interested in hearing feedback from anyone and everyone so after putting this workout into your routine for a few weeks. Contact me and let me know how its going.


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