Straight to the Bar

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The Investments Part V : Impervious Shoulders
Filed In : Articles | featured

Shoulder. Photo by eyeliam.

The shoulder is a complex joint; a ball and socket with a net work of connective tissues and muscles stretched across all sides to give 360 degrees of movement. This degree of freedom of movement means the shoulder is vulnerable to many types of injury at a variety of angles.
I got my first taste of a shoulder injury at age 15. As a foolish teenager, I had no idea what so ever in the weight room. I simply emulated the strong looking men in the gym; picking up weights, pressing weights, throwing weights around. I was told over and over by my Uncle- “leave the machines alone, they are not for young guys” but I did not heed that priceless advice. One day while messing around on a smith machine, I failed to pay attention to the fact the bench was cross angled to the bar off-set, when I went for a sloppy bench press I felt a strange pain in my left shoulder. Two days later I was unable to lift my arm past my waist level without pain and weakness.
Fast forward a decade. I had spent 3 years preparing for the workloads. Years of shoulder work, back work, rotational, and static positioning. I held a thick mule shoe tightly to my left hip. I set my beer on the table and leaned over to my right. I shoved down hard, the shoe moved, and so did my shoulder. I stood up, shook out my arm, and finished off the shoe. The guys around the table said “good job…
They should have said “good job there lazy guy, instead of standing up to start it, you just tore your deltoid and rotator cuff!
So a bad decision cost me 4 months of training with my left arm.
This article is not to teach you how to avoid injuries. I am not the best guy to tell you how to do that. Instead I am going to teach you how to bounce back when you do screw up. My shoulder was tore across the front deltoid with a minor tear in the rotator cuff. My health care provider told me no lifting, no steel bending, nothing for 6 months. After several months of self rehab and professional chiropractic work, I am back to bending horseshoes and military pressing with no pain or discomfort.

  • Part I : If you believe you’re injured see a competent medical professional. Do not wait. I know you think you’re tough – waiting to make it worse is not being a tough guy its being a fool. Your doctor’s diagnosis enables you to better able to work to correct the problem.
  • Part II : Figure out what the pain free or minimal rest position is. I found my worst pain was when I laid down for bed flat on my back. Sleeping flat on my back brought out the worst pain in minutes. I had to adapt by stuffing some padding under my left side and got used to sleeping in a very weird position. WHY do I mention this – because all the rehab and corrective work in the world can be shot right out of the sky if you’re hurting yourself every time you go to bed.
  • Part III : I am a big fan of Icy-hot and related heat/cooling creams and lotions. I do not have a Finnish sauna or dry heat room, but I think access to one would have sped up my recovery. Heat and cold treatments are very productive. There are hundreds of products ranging from ice packs shaped for the shoulder to heating shirts. Work with what you have and once again consult your doctor for recommendations.
  • Part IV : The Drills. First thought on the drills – I am bullish on the Get Up. I think more people need to work with it. I believe all of the work on the get up is what allows me to quickly progress with my other training, and more importantly prepared me for a rapid recovery. So do Get Ups! See previous installments of The Investments (listed below) for a more detailed look at the Turkish Get Up.


The RKC Arm Bar is a top movement for shoulder health, stability, mobility, and flexibility. Wow, all the fun buzz words thrown on this one simple drill. A Kettlebell, sandbag, or creative use of a stretch band is needed; because the weight must remain behind the hand for the productive effect as you turn. See the below video for tips from yours truly.

Some pointers to add in – here take your time. I can completely roll my working side hip in to the floor comfortably now, but it was not always so easy. The best advice for stretching with this movement comes from Pavel Tsatsouline – pry in to position. I shall demonstrate this in the video.


I was taught this drill by Senior RKC David Whitley. This drill was pioneered by Functional Movement Screen Expert Gray Cook. Check out Gray’s work at Functional Movement.
The tight rope press is a kneeling press variation used to force correct alignment in the body. This is not a power drill, do not use big weights. The focus must be on perfection in the execution of the press. My disclaimer is this: I have not yet had the privilege of attending a FMS workshop with Gray, and my demonstrated press is not exactly as he would prescribe. My highest recommendations are to seek Cook’s advice for fixing your shoulder. I worked with what I had and I do my press like this. It is working for me.


The one arm row activates all of the key muscle groups of the shoulder and upper back. It is a fundamental movement for strength training. I do my first few sets with very heavy weight, and work for a strong explosive pull off the floor. I do the rest of my sets with less weight and go for strong contraction at the top of the movement. I typically use my Gripbells for the second series of rows, as the weight challenges my grip but allows a good upper back workout.
I think the best way to row is with the body stabilized with the free hand I prefer to have my legs fairly straight and my nonworking arm supporting my body weight on a cinder block or bench.
Some recommended reading and products for avoiding and rehabbing shoulder injury :

If you have not yet injured your shoulder – GOOD! Now keep it that way. If you have in the past, try out these drills and see if they are a good fit for you. If you have had severe injury or persistent pain, see your health care provider and follow their advice. Whenever possible see a specialist for sports medicine and orthopedics for a closer look at a lifting injury.
I hope this installment of the investments helps you along your way.

Previously in this series :

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