Just a few months ago I had to completely stop all pressing movements. This meant no more benching, no more dips, no more push ups and no more overhead presses. The pain had gotten so bad in my left shoulder that I couldn’t do one full range of motion push up. It felt like something was ripping in my shoulder. Specifically, the area at the top, front, of the shoulder where everything kind of comes together.
It was one of those things that started off slowly and I could just push through it. Anyone who has done any real training for anything knows that you are going to get some aches and pains along the way and it is just part of it. If we didn’t train or practice on days we didn’t feel 100% we would probably workout about 3 times a year. So I kept going with it thinking surely it will get better soon. After about 4 weeks from the time I had first noticed it I had gone from I can feel it to I can barely use my arm. Not a fun feeling. Looking back I clearly shouldn’t have let it get that bad. I especially made things worse by taking Advil before my workouts to try and ease some of the pain when the pain was my body telling me to “stop it you idiot!”
This would be the time to go see a physical therapist if you know of a good one. I have not had the best of luck with physical therapists as most of them don’t get weight lifting. They want me to throw a 2-pound medicine ball against a trampoline, workout on balance balls and don’t squat with my knees going over my toes. Listen I get that there is some injury risk associated with lifting heavy but it is what I enjoy doing so I need a physical therapist who gets that and will help me keep doing that. Telling me not to lift heavy is like telling the injured football player to just stop playing football. Yes, you might fix the injury problem but you took away the thing I love thus creating a new problem. Anyway, if you got a good PT go to them if not you can try what I did.
I searched around the interwebs and found lots and lots of shoulder articles related to weight lifting. The shoulder area is extremely vulnerable because of the extreme range of motion and all of the muscles and tendons that are all connecting in the same area. This makes diagnosing the problem very difficult. We might both have shoulder pain but it could be two totally different injuries. So if you try what I did just know that this is what worked for me but it very well could make things worse for you.
What I did:
- Stop freaking pressing anything. Yes, I know you love to bench but stop it! I didn’t follow this advice until I didn’t have a choice. Please listen to your body better than me. If the pain is progressively getting worse with each upper body workout then back it off. Stop trying to just push through it when you are getting worse.
- Start working your rear delts and rotator cuff. I tried a bunch of different exercises but I ended up coming up with a circuit that I did almost every day. I would do about 20 band pull aparts, 20 internal and external rotations with a band, 20 band face pulls and 20 dumbbell lateral raises with thumbs up. I would do these exercises one right after the another with no rest. I would push the sets to the point where I felt any form start to slip.
- After about two weeks start adding some push ups from your knees to the end of the circuit. Just do as many as you can do with perfect form and zero pain. Once you feel the slightest twinge of pain just stop and move on. Move to regular push ups after you can do 20 from your knees with zero pain. Then work up to 20 regular push ups with zero pain.
- Start easing back into your benching, dipping and pressing overhead. Work up very slowly on all of your weights and be prepared to stop instantly if you feel pain.
- Continue to do your shoulder circuit. I still do it almost every time I work out but I kind of just superset the exercises in between other sets now.
- If you aren’t already doing so, be sure your program has you doing as much pulling as you are pushing. So if you do 6 sets of bench a week you better be doing 6 sets of rows or pull ups.
Below is my timeline of how everything went from the first time I recorded anything about my shoulder pain to the point where I was pain-free. In total it was about 5 months of recovery from the first mention of pain until where I am today. This would have been dramatically reduced had I not pushed a bad shoulder for almost a month. However, 5 months might seem like a long time but when looking at the big picture it’s nothing.
- First time that I see any mention of shoulder pain in my workout log was 10/12/16 towards the end of my workout during incline dumbbell flyes
- Constant bitching about shoulder through the next few weeks until 11/7/16 I stopped all pressing
- Tested shoulder on 11/18/16 after 2-week break with dumbbell pressing with no success
- 11/21/16 started above shoulder circuit mentioned above
- Started trying push ups from knees on 11/28/16 and was able to do 10 with minimal pain
- Got 3 x 20 regular push ups on 12/8/16
- Started working in light weight benching and overhead presses 12/12/16
- Last mention of any shoulder pain was 1/14/17
- 2/13/17 it looks like my strength is about 90% of my max with no mention of pain
- 3/17/17 handling near all time max weight on bench with zero pain
I know it can be horribly frustrating to be injured but don’t let it get you down. Instead just find ways to work around it. I did a lot of extra leg work and hit some of those forgotten muscles a little bit like traps and calves. Once you start seeing any signs of improvement you will get your full motivation back. Just be persistent and you will get better.