A couple of months ago I was writing a program for myself.
I was trying to think of what to do for shoulders.
I normally do Seated Military Press with either a free bar or on a Smith Machine.
I hate DB Shoulder Press. I get more injuries from throwing heavy dbs up than any benefit from the actual movement.
I hate Push Press (standing shoulder press) because every time it gets to 90-100kg my elbows fall apart which ruins every other upper body movement.
Lateral raises in all forms are useless for anything other than getting blood into the muscle.
I needed pressing movements.
A sudden light bulb moment had me thinking of Military Press but instead of stopping just below a 90 degree, I would take the bar all the way to my chest. You know, a full range of motion.
Now I’ve never done military all the way to the chest. I was taught you take it as deep as you can before your shoulders start to roll causing the elbow to drift behind you and your rotator cuff being destroyed. You also don’t do them with a vertical back. The seat back should be on an angle.
Seemed like a logical thing to follow so thats what I’ve always done.
Some people say take it to eye level, lip level or chin level. The length of your arms will determine where the bar stops. A guy with T-Rex arms will get the bar a lot lower than someone who can touch their toes with out bending over.
One size doesn’t fit all.
But here I am running out of useful exercises so I decided to try taking them all the way down. I figured the extra range would force me to lower the weight so my joints would be fine.
Now I deal with people daily who have ruined shoulders from benching and shoulder pressing all the way down.
Why are their shoulders ruined? Because at a certain point for most people the shoulder needs to rotate in an unnatural way in order for you to bring the bar any lower. If the back is arched and shoulders pinned back and together, there is only so much range you can get before something has to give. The moment that rotation occurs all that lovely weight goes straight into the rotator cuff and causes pain or injuries.
How many people out there have destroyed shoulders from benching with their elbows flared and taking the bar all the way down to the chest?
I fix peoples bench and military press constantly. Bringing the elbows in, pulling the shoulders down, arching the back and shortening the range. People who were unable to do the movement without serious pain sit there in amazement after pushing more weight pain free.
Remember training is about making progress. If doing an exercise a certain way constantly ends in pain or injury, don’t do it that way. Being in pain or injured all the time stops progress.
By shortening the range slightly, most people will avoid the rotation of the shoulder that causes pain. If working that shorter range allows more weight to be added and more reps to be done then all muscles used are going to get stronger. That’s the whole point of training!
Now before anyone feels the need to point out the shortening the range means the rep isnt comp legal, not everyone competes in powerlifting. Not everyone cares about powerlifting. And plenty of powerlifters have ruined shoulders from pressing all the way to their chest.
So knowing what I know and what I teach every day, I thought i’d go against all my common sense and experience and try something that consistently causes injuries.
What could go wrong?
The first time I tried military press to the chest I kept the weight low. I started at 70kg. I should say that when I work the 90 degree shorter movement I work in a weight range of 100-150kg.
That first session I did 70×20 / 80×10 / 90×3. Pain free. Awesome I thought. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about with this full range of motion stuff. People must just suck.
The next time I did 80×20 / 90×8 / 100×6. Still no pain.
I was surprised that the weight was as high as it was though. What I was noticing was the weak part of the movement. Obviously off the chest and about 20cm up was weak because I’ve never worked that range before.
The next week started and I started noticing a tightness in my shoulders. Any pressing movements caused a shooting pain in my left shoulder. Because I’m an idiot I pushed through it and it kind of went away as everything warmed up. But once it cooled down the pain was rather severe. Lifting my elbow up caused a shooting pain directly into the joint of the shoulder. My elbow was now also hurting.
As I mentioned a few seconds ago, I’m an idiot so I pushed on. Increasing the weight. I got my military press up to 120kg all the way to the chest.
Who would have thought all those years of doing a shortened range of motion with lots of weight might actually build some strength in those muscles in my shoulders?
I completely underestimated my ability to take lots of weight all the way down. The muscle could do it with relative ease. What didn’t like it, were my joints.
It’s now been close to 3 months since i did that 120kg press all the way to my chest. My shoulder is still screwed. I’ve lost a massive amount of movement in it. While the strength in the muscle is there, any above the head pressing movement goes directly into the joint and causes immediate pain. Even with an empty bar. All pressing movements are affected now as the shoulder struggles to handle any load and I lose balance.
I’ve had the neck, shoulder and elbow adjusted and worked on many times since I hurt it and its slowly getting better but not even close to being 100%.
Many would argue that I should just lower the weight. To which I would ask, “How is using less weight than what my muscle is capable of lifting going to be of any benefit?”
I have never had shoulder issues. I’ve never had joint issues. I’ve very rarely followed the traditional rules that cause all the injuries that most people get and I very rarely get injured despite lifting more weight than many. I didn’t follow the rules because everyone gets injured from following them. The one time I followed the rules I got injured.
So I say, fuck the rules and fuck a full range of motion if it means causing injuries. If your structure allows for it, great. But if not, work the range that you can work without getting injured and that allows you to make progress.
Note: I don’t mean do short bullshit reps. Short squats are and will always be lazy squats. Barely bending your knees on a leg press is a bullshit rep. Making something easier to make progress is not making progress. That’s just cheating and being lazy. Shortening the range of a movement to avoid getting injured and ruining every aspect of your training is not cheating.