The Best Way to Bulletproof Your Shoulders Against Injury

Man doing pullups
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Developing huge shoulders can help you move more weight in the gym, but also help you fill out a shirt and develop a dominating physique. The problem: Flexibility issues and improper moves can lead to nagging aches and pains that will put an end to your workouts.

Keeping your shoulders healthy for the long haul requires more than just a few stretches. Performing the right exercises at the right time can help you create a shoulders-building program that won’t leave you sidelined. Soft tissue work like foam-rolling can help break up knots that develop from a typical desk posture. Focus on rolling out the lats and using a tennis or lacrosse ball to loosen up your chest.

For shoulders-building exercises, the days of doing tons of behind-the-neck shoulder presses are over. To build a balanced approach to your routine, focus on incorporating equal amounts of pushing moves that build your chest and traps with pulling variations that move your shoulders back into a proper position and strengthen the lats and rhomboids. Substitute old moves with these smarter alternatives to build muscle and stay injury-free.

Old: Lateral raises
New: Scaption
Do it right: Holding a dumbbell in each hand with your thumbs pointed up and your shoulders depressed, lift your arms at a 45° angle in front of you (in-between directly out front and to the side). Your shoulder blades should rotate upward as you lift.
How it helps: Depending upon the shape of your shoulders (everyone is slightly different), lateral raises and heavy front raises can impinge tendons and nerves. By moving at a 45° angle with your thumbs up, you’ll help avoid impingement but still build rock-solid shoulders.

Old: Upright rows
New: Face pull
Do it right: Set a rope attachment at chest height. Grab the handles in both hands with an overhand grip and your thumbs pointing toward you. Pull your shoulder blades back as you pull the rope attachment toward your face keeping the elbows high.
How it helps: Rotating your hands in and driving them upward as in an upright row begs for shoulder impingement and other issues. Instead, work on retracting the shoulder blades with the face pull to combat hours of sitting in a shoulders-forward position. Not only will your shoulders be stronger, but you’ll have a better posture as well.

Old: Behind-the-back shrugs
New: Overhead shrugs
Do it right: Hold a barbell overhead with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keeping your elbows locked out, drive the barbell upward by shrugging your shoulders straight up.
How it helps: Grabbing a barbell behind your back pulls your shoulders into a forwardly rotated postured. That’s prime territory for (you guessed it!) impingement when shrugging your shoulders. Raising the barbell overhead helps keep your shoulders in a more neutral position and safer from injury.

Old: Bench-pressing (and tons of it)
New: Neutral-grip floor press
Do it right: Lying on the ground with a dumbbell extended out in front in each hand, slowly lower your elbows down at a 45° angle until your elbows touch the ground. Pause for a second before pressing back up.
How it helps: Lots of barbell-pressing can irritate the shoulders because of improper flexibility. Plus, most guys lower the bar all the way down to their chest, which may be too far for their shoulders. A dumbbell floor press allows for a neutral grip, which is much easier on the shoulders, plus the floor gives a depth meter to prevent you from going down too far. You’ll still get some chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps work in without risking a shoulders injury. Don’t eliminate bench-pressing completely from your workout (unless you have pain), but alternate with floor-pressing to stay injury-free.

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