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Shoulder Pain & Pressing: Finding Solutions to a Common Problem

Shoulder Pain & Pressing: Finding Solutions to a Common Problem

Written by
January 14, 2016
Updated November 15, 2016

Powerlifters train to be as strong as possible while bodybuilders train to be as muscular and lean as possible. While the goals are different, some of the training overlaps.

For example, bodybuilders use heavy squats, bench presses, and deadlifts to put on mass using rep schemes that differ from what a powerlifter would use.

Powerlifters will use those same lifts as well as variations (front squat, close grip, stiff leg deads) in higher rep schemes to put on mass and flush blood into the muscles to boost recovery. With that being said, there are two things to consider for both disciplines:

Shoulder Health

Whether bench pressing or overhead pressing, your shoulders are going to take a beating. Doing a proportional amount of pulls (row variations, pull ups, etc) will help keep your body balanced, but eventually that won’t be enough.

You’re going to have to come up with a pre-hab routine (meaning you’re preventing yourself from getting hurt) to keep your shoulders healthy.


The more conditioned you are, the more work you can do. The more work you can do, the stronger you will get.

Pre-fatigued training is one way to approach that concept. So grabbing light dumbbells and hitting 5×10 or 4×25 prior to getting on the bench press is a great way to train your muscles in a fatigued state. Why?

So when you’re going into the bench at a powerlifting competition (after squatting), you can hit your max bench because you’ll still feel fresh.

With that being said, a tired muscle is susceptible to injury, especially as your stabilizers fatigue. So it’s great to pre-fatigue your muscles before hitting heavy sets, but don’t just jump into it – you have to build up.

As an example: I’m a 540 pound raw bencher. When I started with the pre-fatigue training, I grabbed 30lbs dumbbells and did 4×25 (takes about 5 minutes). Fast forward a year later I’m up to 55-60lbs doing the same thing. So take your time and build up slowly.

So how do the steel mace and battle ropes fit into shoulder health and conditioning in relation to powerlifting and bodybuilding?

Steel Mace

Shoulder Pain & Pressing: Finding Solutions to a Common Problem

Shoulder health

This beautifully crafted piece of steel will make you feel like a savage when you pick it up and start swinging it around. And it will help with shoulder health. You think the ancient Persian warriors had shoulder problems? I don’t think so.

I’ve dealt with impingements in both shoulders, meaning I couldn’t raise my hand straight over head as a result of tight lats and tight shoulder capsules. I tried ART, massages, and standard rehab protocols. Some of it helped, but only temporarily.

I grabbed a steel mace when I saw them from Onnit and had a couple ideas. I started with a 15 pound mace and used the pendulum technique – loading the shoulder internally and externally by swinging the mace back and forth behind your head like a pendulum.

Eventually I worked up to the “360,” starting with the mace in front of you and swinging it 360 degrees behind your head, returning to the starting position. This is essential for shoulder mobility.

In both the pendulum and 360, the goal is to ‘open up’ your lats, letting them relax as much as possible. Let the weight carry the mace through the arc and pull it over to complete the 360. This video shows you the perfect form.

Keep in mind none of this should be painful – even if you have shoulder problems. If you’re experiencing pain you should always consult a doctor.


And imagine if before you bench, you pick one of these bad boys up and swing it 50 times each side. You’ll probably be pretty tired. If you can start at 10-20 and build up to 50 and even 100, while still being able to hit your programmed numbers, then I’d say you’ve definitely gotten stronger through pre-fatigued training. Remember, that takes time, but it works.

Battle Ropes

Shoulder Pain & Pressing: Finding Solutions to a Common Problem

Shoulder health

Using the battle ropes in the hinged pulse and double overhead slam are great ways to flush blood into the shoulders. Increased blood flow means better recovery. Better recovery between workouts means less of a chance for injuries.


This one is pretty obvious if you’ve ever used the ropes before. The hinged pulse and double overhead slam will tire your ass out. If you can go through a few rounds of those before hitting your heavy bench or overhead presses, you will get stronger.

But keep in mind, it’s the idea of taking one step back to take two steps forward. The first couple weeks you do this will be a pain in the ass.

Get yourself some battle ropes and a steel mace and get your shoulders healthy while increasing your work capacity. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

Pittsburgh native Casey Williams previously played football at Division 1-FCS Bucknell University where he was nominated the 2010 NSCA All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year. He's relatively young in the powerlifting world, but has seen his share of success. In 2010 Casey set the all-time world record drug tested squat and total in the 220lb weight class. He holds multiple federation records, both junior and open divisions. His lifts in 2015 were an 810 squat, 540 bench, and 738 deadlift for a 2088 total, good enough for #2 in the world in the 242lb weight class.
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