When it comes to shoulders workouts, most guys do not hold back. But amid all that pressing and power-cleaning, shrugging and flye-ing, pushing and pulling, there comes a point where your shoulders will start to freak out. It starts with a few random clicks, but the next thing you know you're feeling weird pain in places you didn't even think you had muscles.
But here's the thing: While shoulder twinges, tightness, and pain certainly aren't foreign to lifters, there are a lot of reasons your shoulders can start to feel a little rusty.
"Addressing the discomfort—correctly—requires an examination of the root of the problem, rather than just the area of discomfort," says Joe Holder, an S10 performance trainer, Nike trainer/run coach, and founder of The Ocho System.
Sound familiar? Ask yourself:
- Is your shoulder tightness front or back?
- Which movements (overhead, press, pull, lateral raise, etc.) actually bother your shoulder?
- Explore the surrounding anatomy that may be contributing to your assorted shoulder tightness—hot spots such as your pecs, traps, deltoids, biceps, rhomboids, and lats. Are they tender or tight?
- Is it a shooting pain or a dull ache? Does the discomfort ebb and flow throughout the day, especially after a workout, or does it occur during a specific portion of a specific move?
- Is your shoulder popping and cracking left and right? Is your shoulder even in its socket?
Often, shoulder tightness and pain begin when a lifter relies on shoulder muscle groups to compensate for slightly weaker muscles in the chest or back, Holder says.
For example: In "pulling" exercises (like pullups, pulldowns, and bentover rows), a lifter's back should be doing most of the work, but many lifters rely on their shoulder muscles instead. Similarly, many lifters rely on shoulder muscles during pressing exercises when their chests should be doing most of the work. When that happens, shoulder muscles get overworked as well—and that can translate to shoulder pain down the road.
"I’ve found a method that helps my clients both heal their body, as well as build mind-body awareness: manual-assisted, soft-tissue therapy," Holder says. "While it's still in its early stages in terms of empirical data and exactly how it works, I’ve found soft-tissue work to be much more productive when paired with a typical stretching/strengthening approach [compared to stretching/strengthening alone]," he explains.
When you do these moves, you start to understand your body more, and how it's supposed to move. "You start mobilizing the tight, overworked areas and bring stimulation to the 'weak' areas you've had a hard time activating," he says.
Here are six drills Holder utilizes to alleviate shoulder tightness, and bolster overall function, strength, and posture. One more note: If you're experiencing lingering chronic shoulder pain, or sharp, acute pain, see a physical therapist or specialist.
How the warmup works
Move through these drills prior to any upper-body workout, or whenever you're experiencing tightness and discomfort in your shoulders. Before you get started, use this quick test to see if your shoulders are too internally rotated—a common problem for lifters who have an overactive and/or tight chest, Holder says.
- Stand normally with your hands down at your sides or slightly in front of you.
- Look at your palms. "If they're facing your legs, instead of being neutral or palms up, you have some work to do," Holder says.
Let's get started.