Bad form on shoulder day or during shoulder workouts is a common occurrence, if you are lucky, you will find yourself the ridicule of a Youtube fail video, if you are unlucky you will find yourself with an injury. Fact is, we all make mistakes, but we should learn from them.
Here are nine of the most common blunders many people commit on shoulder day and ways you can correct them.
The overhead press may be your goto multijoint movement for shoulders, this does not mean it’s variations work on your deltoid musculature the same way, not even close. This is why you should understand how each variation works a bit differently so that you can get the right tool for the job.
A good example is loweing the barbell in front or behind your head which actually changes the emphasis on your deltoids as does your elbow position in relation to your torso. When you press overhead with dumbbells, your upper arms will go straight out to your sides, this is key to show you that your middle delt is in position to undergo maximum contraction.
When you do an Arnold press or barbell press in which a bar is in front of your head, notice how your elbows pull forwards, they are not directly out to your sides. This mild shift recruits the front delts and relieves some middle delt tension. This doesn’t mean these type of presses are not great movements, they are just not the best at emphasizing the middle delts.
Dumbbell and barbell presses were the bar is behind your head will target the middle delt region better. Machine overhead presses differ slightly by manufacturer, if you keep an eye on your upper arm direction you can pick out if you are getting much help from your front delts.
If you want more tension on the front delts whilst doing an overhead press, consider Arnold presses or choose the front barbell version.
A lot can go wrong if you put too much weight on the bar, especially pressing the weight over-head. The common scenario is you bend backwards to press more weight as your body frantically looks for a way to get better leverage. This can easily turn an overhead press into a steep incline press which recruits the chest musculature and puts your lower back at risk.
This over-exagerration of the spine comes with a hefty price and it isn’t just reduced stimulus of the delts. In order to press safely you need your back in a neutral or slightly arched position with your core muscles from the front (abs) and back (low-back) braced and prepared by being contracted. That isn’t what is going on here. The hyper extended position of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in combination with heavy weight can lead towards a hemiated disc.
If you are doing a seated overhead shoulder press, keep your back fully pressed against the bench. If doing them standing, be aware of overarching, you will want a small degree of arch in your back but don’t make it a dangerous standing incline.
Many lifters do a 3 sets of 10 mentality for the majority of their training career and many others cycle heavy and lighter training periods. Whilst performing low-rep training with heavy weights can help with building stronger delts it could also be a mistake loading extra plates onto the bar and repping behind your head.
With behind-the-neck barbell presses, the shoulder muscles are at their weakest anatomical position at the bottom of the move. Too much weight on this move can risk a tear. Do it in front of your head if doing heavy weight, although behind-the-head overhead presses with moderate weight is a safe way to target the bulk of your delts.
To get the best out of your middle delts, you want your upper arms moving out to your sides, this happens with a moderate grip on the bar with upright rows, not a very close grip.
If doing a close grip on the bar, watch where your elbows go, they move forwards and out to your sides, not directly out. A close grip causes internal shoulder rotation which is not good for your joints. It puts less emphasis on the middle delts and could increase the chances of long-term shoulder damage.
Get your grip wider on the bar to allow your elbows to kick directly out to your sides, which is perfect for the middle delts.
Many trainers get rid of single-joint movements like lateral raises and front raises when they get to shoulder height, however, the middle and anterior delts have not reached their full range of motion, you can actually get these movements even higher as the muscles are still contracting. Some experts reckon it is possible to go 45 degrees past the horizontal plane.
The longer range of motion makes the movements harder so it would be mindful to manage the weight, however the extra range and time under tension makes these moves worth adding to your workout every so often in conjunction with heavier single-joint exercises taken to about shoulder height.
You may think this is a mistake that only beginners make but even intermediate lifters are guilty of it too, it is important to keep your arms locked in a slightly bent position when doing single-joint exercises like lateral raises, front raises and bent-over lateral raises regardless of the equipment type you are using.
Once you begin to open and close your elbows, the triceps come into the equation, reducing the effects of isolation you are trying to achieve with single-joint delt exercises. On movements like lateral raises and reverse standing cable flyes, many lifters mistakenly completely extend their elbows to 180 degrees at the end of the movement and then close to about 90 degrees when lowering the weights, too much weight is often the culprit.
If you are extending your elbows on shoulder exercises then great as you have a fantastic triceps move, however you are concentrating on shoulders.
Whilst focusing on elbow extensions it is worth bearing in mind that you don’t want to fully lock out your elbow joints as you complete the move from start to end as this puts pressure on the joints themselves. Lock a small bend in your elbows and hold it throughout the range of motion.
Your delts have three heads, the front, middle and posterior, some people will train them in order as they see that looking back at them in the mirror however that is a big mistake.
Guys focused on building a big chest may have well-developed anterior deltoids (which work for all chest-pressing exercises) but they may be lacking strong overall development.
If you have neglected back training somewhat, your rear delts are probably small in comparison to your front and middle delts, this can set you up for possible rotator-cuff complications later on down the road, it may also cause your shoulders to pull forward noticeably, giving a slouched appearance.
If you do have a lagging area, which is the rear delts for most lifters, it is better to do single-joint movements to that area first after your presses when you have the highest energy levels or even consider a second single-joint movement for that area.
If you have pretty evenly developed delts, you can rotate the order that you work them for each workout to ensure balanced development, if you always do one area last in your workout, it will start to lag behind a bit.
Training is hard work especially spending extra time on muscles you can’t even see and stretches that don’t do anything for size. This is why rotator-cuff training is at the bottom of everybody’s list. However the rotators, a group of four strap muscles that work with the delts help stabilize the shoulder joint.
When you train your delts or chest but skip your rotators, the balance between the two muscle groups can become imbalanced and that increases rotator-cuff injury risk. Any long-time lifter will tell you the importance of rotator-cuff workouts.
It isn’t attractive, but internal and external rotation exercises can help keep your shoulders healthy long-term.
The shoulders, especially the anterior delts are commonly used in chest movements, your triceps help assist in overhead pressing motions, so training split arrangement is important.
If you train your chest and/or triceps on the same day as delts you will be fine, if this is not the case. It is a good idea to have at least two days before or after chest day so that you don’t overuse your delts. Always allow ample time for recovery.
With these tips you should get the best, safe shoulder workout without any injuries.
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