How I Fixed My Shoulder Woes

Back in August 2008, I was being stupid and hurt my right shoulder during a full body workout. I was in a rush, jumped under too much weight and paid for it the following 4-5 months. It wasn’t too much weight as I had been pressing it for some time, I just failed to properly warm up and it did me in.

It Hurts

I woke up Sunday morning, anxious to begin my carb load and all I can think about is my shoulder. It was throbbing! I am scared, worried and pissed off because I never get injured as I have always been very healthy and robust. I maintain good form and (usually)leave my ego at the door. I kept telling myself I am just extra sore from all the pressing I did the day before. Little did I know I was in for a few months of actively fixing my shoulder.

I Suck At Warming Up

I was in a hurry on this lovely Saturday afternoon. I headed into the gym, was pressed for time and needed to knock out a full body routine that included strength + depletion work. I was dieting and had to make sure I primed my body for the carb coma I was inflicting upon myself the following day.

I faked the warm up and got started with the workout. Instead of properly warming up to my work sets, all I did was a few push ups and jumped right under the bar. The funny thing is that I noticed no pain whatsoever during or after my workout but whatever happened wasn’t pretty as the next day my shoulder was screaming at me.

Seeking Answers

Needless to say, I knew something was wrong. I contemplated going to the Dr. but that would hurt my pride a bit, so I turned to the internet seeking answers and a diagnosis. FYI, the internet is not a good source for medical advice and there are a ton of crazies giving specialized advice that you should NEVER follow. How can someone diagnose you through an article or message board? Okay, I am done with my disclaimer.

I am a fan of Eric Cressey and I knew that he struggled with shoulder problems when he was a younger athlete. Whilst dealing with so many shoulder issues he was actually scheduled for surgery but after lots of research he decided to fix himself. Brave man. I do not blame him as surgery on one of the most complicated joints is a scary thought.

Long story short, he rehabbed himself after after applying tons of research on how to correct his problems. I might add that he is a very respectable power lifter and can move some serious weight for a bodyweight of 165lbs. Here is a video of his 350lb bench press. You would never expect someone this strong to have any kind of shoulder problems.

So his research and discovery gave me the wonderful idea that I could do what he did. My plan was to skip the thought of a Dr. Visit altogether and start rehabilitation on my own, much like Eric did. So I turned to Google and searched for everything I could find on what Eric recommends for correcting a wounded shoulder.

Eric is a very generous person to say the least. After doing all my research and reading his articles I sent him an email telling him about my problem. He asked me a few questions about where the pain was specifically and if any more pain was present during certain movements. Once I responded he gave me a few resources and ideas to fix my problem. He basically pointed me to the articles I had already read and said APPLY them. That is what I did.

I highly recommend these articles – Shoulder Savers: Part 1 and Part 2.

Rehabilitation – Do It Right

Looking back, I believe my shoulder pain was a moderate sprain. Thankfully it wasn’t something serious such as a labral tear or shredded rotator cuff. I decided to take the plunge and trust in what Eric was spewing forth.

I did lots of band dislocates, YTWL‘s, scapula push ups, scarecrows, external rotations(really goofy video), face pulls and various rotator cuff work using bands. The Diesel Crew has a ton of good rehab/prehab stuff.

I stretched my shoulder and pecs frequently. I also used a tennis ball to get some myofascial release going in my shoulder. Here is a decent example of what I did regularly.

For a period of about 4 months I overfed and used an upper/lower split. On my upper days it was strictly back work and shoulder rehabilitation. No pressing whatsoever. I did attempt to come back a bit too soon though and while attempting bench press for a week, the pain returned. I immediately ditched the pressing(and my ego) again.

On lower days, instead of back squats I did front squats as per Eric’s recommendations. By the end of December my shoulder felt better and I eased back into pressing very slowly. First, I started with barbell overhead presses. While bench and incline still hurt, pressing overhead did not. I was finally getting somewhere.

Soon thereafter, I changed my programming to the MadCow 5X5. I was then able to use the decline press with no pain and finally worked my way back into doing weighted dips and bench presses. My pressing strength is almost back to where it was before all of this mess. Thankfully my shoulders and chest are not as deflated as they were immediately post rehab.

Prehabilitation – Preventative Medicine

I hope you never have to go through what I did. Hopefully you will remain healthy and strong and never experience such a set back. However, chances are good that at some point you will get injured. There is no way around this. Actually there is; forget about training and forever remain skinny and weak. I would rather take my chances and risk a few injuries in the name of looking great naked.

Prehabilitation is all about taking the necessary measures to decrease your risk of injury as much as possible. Now that I am back at it full force, here is a list of what I do regularly to prevent any more shoulder injuries or other mishaps.

Warm up Thoroughly – Before every training session I do lots of foam rolling, stretching and mobility work to ensure I am loose and pliable. I usually try to break a decent sweat as well.

Lots of Band Work – After each upper workout I always finish up with internal and external rotations followed by band dislocates. Sometimes I do scapula push ups and YTWL’s.

Objectivity – I always pay attention to how I feel. If I’m a bit burnt out and feel like extra shoulder work on top of heavy presses/dips would be too much, I omit it for the day. If I feel a bit randy, I will add a more volume. Of course I record my weights to make sure I am progressing but I do not force anything.

I Keep It Real, Yo – I know my limits. I don’t go for PR’s every single workout. I do my best to keep the ego at bay and focus on form. I have no one to impress as I am only competing with myself.

If any of you are battling shoulder issues like I did, I want to first encourage you to see a Dr. If you do not feel it’s necessary, all I ask is that you take enough time to make yourself well again. It’s not going to happen in 2-3 weeks but more like 2-3 months if you do it properly.

41 thoughts on “How I Fixed My Shoulder Woes”

  1. Hi im adriana,im hurting for about month in my left shoulder cause i wanted to get back to running,i need help to fix my shoulder cause i don’t always have the money for the doctor what should o do help adriana

  2. I recently have started feeling pain in my left shoulder as soon as i go down when doing dumbbell shoulder press and dumbbell bench press. I dont know what it is but i know i cant afford to mess my shoulders up, im to young for that. Any recommendations on how i can prevent this from getting worse. Maybe even just going through what you mentioned in your article.

  3. Hi,
    I injured my shoulder being stupid (arm wrestling) and ended up paying the price with a shoulder impingement injury which has been going on for 5 months now. Its much better now, but after every workout my shoulder feels weak and tired and very little soreness. What am i doing wrong here? Can you help me with coming up with a proper rehab routine. I just feel that i might be doing something too less or too much. Your input will be appreciated.

  4. M 19 n I had been working out in the gym for almost a year and my coach used to overtrain me as I had to work twice in a month on each body part as ordered by the coach :/..slowly I started feeling pain in my left shoulder and I even asked my coach that should I quit training or something but he said that I was fine and I started it again.with time my problem grew more and more ending up in a tendon tear diagnosis n then into a surgery and guess the worst part?
    After tearing my skin the fucking retards couldn’t find a tear in the shoulder but just inflammation and they cleanse it and gave some injections and shit..
    M still waiting for my shoulder to heal p completely but the problem now is that I even have the same pain in my right shoulder and I don’t have any idea how to deal with it?
    Can u please please and please help

    • dude, me too! I’m in the exact same boat as you, minus the coach training part (I brought it completely on myself). 19 years old, ripped up my left shoulder last august, now i ruined my right. i’m sorry i can’t help you but i just thought i’d let you know you’re not alone on this.

  5. Tried doing DB presses instead of BP the other day and pain came back. Time to leave pressing for a week or two I think. Thanks for the advice man, going to implement this ASAP

  6. Man JC I could have used this info a few months ago as I am now dealing with 2 nagging shoulders and have stopped all flat bench presses and overhead presses. :-(

    I am only doing decline benching on the Hammer Strength machine as it only slightly bothers me. Did see Doc and he said it was most likely inflammation and to ice it for a week and go easy on it.

    Not sure how it happened just that it happened. Sometimes even heavy BB curls will cause a little discomfort.

    I am sure it was my ego that did me in as shoulders have never been a strong point for me.

    Great article and will be taking your advice. Now off to get a tennis ball.

  7. Thanks for the wise advice. What would you think of perfoming some leg work on machines, abs and cardio ?A fellow in my gym had worse pain than I and ended up taking 4 months off and just ran. Thanks so much for your response.

    • doing leg and ab work is fine. Even doing some work for the back is perfectly okay. The main thing you want to do is limit the stress on the shoulder girdle to allow it to heal. You might also do the prehab/rehab protocols I listed.

  8. Hi-
    Glad to read your shoulder rehab story. I was doing sets of 2 on the front press and dips, when after 4 weeks I woke up with inflammation one day. Off and on better. I lately tried to go back to squatting a montha ago only to have that same side I injured become inflamed the next day after lifting. Orth says supraspinatus tendonitis. I will try the protocol you used and see how it goes, Thanks,

    • My advice is to take the time necessary. it might be a good idea to lay off for longer than you “think” you should.

  9. hey there, you say that you overfed while trying to heal your shoulder. im currently rehabing my scapulas doing my workouts much like you said, with the upper lower split and the upper being only shoulder and back work. one of my main goals is to lean out, but im also trying to regain functionality and strength of my lower lats/rhomboid area , i feel as though im making progress , but should i not be eating in a deficit?

    • it’s not impossible to be make progress while leaning out but being at maintenance or a slight surplus will definitely help with the recovery aspect.

  10. Great post JC! Came across your article on John Chow. I also like your blog theme. Clean and easy to read. My shoulders ache all the time, and I’m not a bencher. Not getting any younger at 46, but work out 6 days a week with split body parts. Need to take more time to warm up also, and to do some of these rehab shoulder exercises.

  11. Cressey’s stuff is great and what I’ve used after doing basic hyperextensions with clients. I see why Dante likes them: they seem to help people get aware of their shoulders/improve them instantly.

    Great article.

    • I only do the routine on my upper body training days. I do some tennis ball work on my shoulders about every other day or so.

  12. Nice article JC,

    As an long ago retired QB I appreciate the complexity of the shoulder, I was unfortunate enough to have a labral tear where the bicepts tendon (long head) meets the capsule (hence the labrum) and another tear in the superspinatus (the Doc thought it was completely torn but they saved half of it and shaved off the rest). Not a fun procedure and about 6 months of work after to make up for a lack of understanding about the shoulder. Eric’s work (articles, books and DVD’s) on the shoulder are awesome, I only wish that I had that kind of information back then, I never would have hurt my shoulder to begin with.

    Your ending to the article is PERFECT, take the time now to make sure you have scapular and shoulder health before you have a problem! It’s just smart training!

    Excellent JC!

    • Pete, sorry to hear about your story. I had friends in school who went through the same old crap.

      glad you enjoyed this one.

  13. Good post. Seems like my shoulder never hurts when lifting but does a few days after. Could that be from tension? I think it is. Just need to stretch it more!

    You’ll be glad to hear I’m down from 28% body fat to about 11 or 12!

  14. I felt a tiny twinge in my shoulder for months during weights, but ignored it. Then I just had to show off last month cutting down tree limbs with a lobber. Now my shoulder hurts like HELL! Even when I don’t move it. And although I’ve laid off all shoulder exercises, it’s gotten worse!

    I plan get an MRI for an official diagnosis, then try my own rehab. Thanks so much for this info!

    • Ouch. Good deal on getting the MRI. Better to be safe than sorry. However in the mean time you may try relieving some acute pain. Get a tennis ball, get up against a wall and lean your shoulder into the tennis ball. Find a tender spot and just rest there for about 30 seconds or so or until the pain dissipates. When I was having my issues, this always gave me immediate pain relief + loosened me up somewhat.

  15. I also read all those articles, but never really applied them. Think it’s time now as I stopped all pressing movements one week ago. And you should never google a diagnosis because you will always end up thinking you got cancer or some very rare disease.

    • yea, I just knew I had shoulder cancer and it was only treatable by removing my entire right leg from the knee up.

  16. Really good (and timely!) article. I managed to b*gger up my shoulder in an almost carbon-copy way in March this year. Like you, I very rarely get injured.

    I had been getting very frustrated with the slow progress of recovery and a lack of actionable ideas to help with the rehabilitation.

    Thanks for you work putting together this resource. Although it will still be some time before I can train at full capacity again, at least now I feel like I have a little control and influence over my recovery.

    • Steve, man it was frustrating for me too. I hated every second of being impaired, however I knew that my long term focus must be in check. Being young and spry and all that other jazz makes it really hard to be objective sometimes but I just took Eric’s word and trusted him. It worked! It definitely pays to listen to others older than I and with more experience for guidance

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