WSBB Blog: Strong Shoulders = Healthy Shoulders
It is no secret that the shoulders play a tremendous role in strength sports. Powerlifting requires an athlete to have strong shoulders for bench pressing, while strongman and Olympic style lifting requires the same for the overhead press. To excel at these pressing exercises, an athlete must focus on building strong shoulders by choosing the right exercises that will increase size and strength while minimizing wear and tear on the joint.
It has often been considered a risk to train an athletes’ shoulders using high-intensity or high-volume exercises in sports. Common knowledge has often been that shoulder training leads to unnecessary mileage on the shoulders that could end up taking away from an athletes’ performance. This belief, however, is untrue. By choosing the correct exercises and focusing on form and execution, an athlete can begin building larger, stronger, and healthier shoulders.
Below, we will go over a few of the exercises we use at Westside Barbell to build a strong bench and overhead presses.
Overhead Press / Push Press
Although slightly different, we included these two exercises together because they are essentially the same, aside from the push press utilizing more body English and leg drive. At Westside, we perform overhead or push presses regularly in our training. Typically performed as a max effort main exercise, we will work up to a top set of three, five, or eight repetitions. If you do not want to dedicate a complete max effort main exercise to overhead pressing, you can use this exercise as the main accessory during DE upper. The goal is simple; you’re working to constantly surpass the weight used based on the rep scheme chosen.
When overhead pressing, we recommend wearing a belt. This will not only protect your lumbar spine, but you will also be able to use the belt as support to allow yourself to slightly lean into the belt, giving you a better angle to initiate the press off of the chest. To complete the rep you will want to start the press off of the chest, clear your face with the barbell, then quickly bring your head and torso under the bar as you use your shoulders and triceps to complete the repetition. When done often and correctly, overhead pressing will rapidly increase your shoulder strength and resiliency.
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press
A different twist on the standard seated overhead dumbbell press, the standing overhead dumbbell press is one of the best accessory exercises you can choose to build a set of strong and healthy shoulders. At Westside, this exercise is typically our main accessory exercise after our main exercise on a ME or DE training day. We will perform sets of eight, twelve, fifteen, or work up to an AMRAP set, all using the heaviest dumbbells possible.
The execution is similar to overhead barbell presses, only with dumbbells. You’ll want to use your belt to support your lumbar spine and allow you to lean into, use your shoulders to get the weights moving, following through with your head and torso to allow your triceps to complete each rep.
Seated Overhead Pin Press
Our final go-to exercise when focusing on building world-class shoulder strength is the seated overhead pin press. This exercise is identical to the dead press, pressing the concentric phase of the lift from the chest. To set this exercise up, you will want to use a squat rack and an incline bench, setting the pin height to place the barbell right at chin level or slightly above, with the bench incline set as vertical as possible. This exercise is used as a main exercise on max effort upper day, where we will typically work up to a single or triple rep max.
To be correctly executed, you must have the exercise set up correctly. This depends on getting the starting bar position height correct to ensure no issues initiating the press without putting unnecessary strain or stress onto the shoulders. Once you have the starting bar position dialed in the execution is similar to that of an incline bench press, you will take air into the stomach to brace the torso, followed by strong engagement of the upper back, shoulders, and triceps to set the bar in motion and complete the rep.
Supertraining; by Dr. Mel Siff
Science and Practice of Strength Training; by Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Dr. William Kraemer
Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons