A while back I was talking to a fellow coach about one of their clients. They mentioned their client was having some shoulder and elbow issues from squatting and benching, but they wanted to just deal with symptom management instead of digging down to the root cause and preventing future issues. The client’s reasoning was that doing the thoracic spine and shoulder mobility work was “not specific enough” to their powerlifting program and as such, they didn’t want to do it.
As wacky as that train of thought is to me, it got me thinking about how many lifters ignore dealing with small nagging injuries out of neglect or simply thinking that it won’t hold them back. With a proper approach to preventing injury/re-injury, you can actually make great progress with your training, even with some added technique, mobility, or stability corrective work included in your program.
While this methodology might work for some, for the rest of us mortals, those little nagging aches and pains (outside of normal DOMS) are generally an indicator of a bigger problem with a lack of efficiency or injurious lifting mechanics.
Just like a leaky car tire, you can keep pumping it up only to have it deflate again and hold you back or you can find the hole, patch it up, and drive without interruptions. While it takes a bit more time to patch the tire, it reduces the chance of you blowing out your tire, damaging your rim, or even crashing the car down the road by dealing with the problem upfront.
With the initial stages of technique work and injury prevention/rehab work being so low threshold anyways, you’d have to be pretty out of shape to have it negatively impact your training. If anything, this type of work should have you feeling more efficient if you’re doing the right stuff.
As you progress past the initial phases of movement correction and into more skill-specific tasks, the training should pretty much fit in to your accessory work (with some small changes) or end up being your exercise variations in the first place.
A Process Of Progression
So, let’s take a quick, high level look at the method I would use to figure out what is going on with someone’s shoulders and elbows in a bench press.
- Assess their bench press and see if there are any obvious technical errors that could lead to these issues in the first place
- If there are some specific issues with their form, I would try to have the lifter consciously correct their technique. If that resolves the issues they are having, we skip right to step 7.
- The changes in technique are either unattainable due to flexibility or pain limitations.
- Take a closer joint-by-joint examination to determine if there is a mobility or stability deficit in the cervical and thoracic spine, shoulder blades, shoulder joint, or elbows (in that order).
- Based on the results from step 4, find the highest level movement I can have the athlete load their deficient joints in. This can range from laying on their back and breathing, do dedicated mobility work such as CARs/PAILs/RAILs, to doing a pushup with a focus on hand loading, to a modified grip bench press, depending on where and how severe the deficiency is.
- Working from the starting point established in step 5, work on building up to progressions to more closely resemble the restricted movement (bench press in this case). The progression for an athlete with a lack of internal rotation in their shoulders due to a rib flare might be:
i. 9090 hip lift w. reach in order to get more rib internal rotation
ii. Kettlebell screwdrivers with a focus on protraction and internal rotation
iii. Pushups with a focus on rib and hand position to keep the ability to internally rotate the shoulder properly as it goes into extension.
iv. Tempo bench presses focusing on the steps outlined in iii.
v. Competition bench press
- Conscious practice competition technique. Using the technical framework outlined with the progressions above, a return to sport form with new and improved mechanics do the trick.
While this may seem a bit extreme for some nagging injuries, it can pay big dividends in the long run as you won’t have to continually take time off and waste even more time rebuilding from the same injury over and over. If you’re not convinced, take a look here to see how much more progress you can make with this style of training.
Furthermore, with most minor issues, taking time off from the competition lifts is not even necessary. Oftentimes, spending 5-10 minutes in a warmup going through the appropriate progressions from step 6 and treating them as movement prep can bring up your technical proficiency over time. A little prehab training goes a long way in building efficiency… and who doesn’t want to be more efficient?