Did you know that the shoulder is one of the most frequently injured joints yet it is our most mobile? Do you think there's a correlation?

How Do You Train Your Shoulder?

Flexion. Extension. Abduction. Adduction. Horizontal flexion. Horizontal extension. Medial rotation. Lateral rotation. Circumduction. The shoulder is meant to partake in all of these actions. When you are training your shoulders, do your chosen exercises allow the shoulder to move in these patterns?

Or does your “Shoulder Day" consist of something like this:

  • Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press
  • DB Lateral and Front Raises
  • Rear Delt Flys on the pec dec machine

Do your shoulder justice and exercise like it was meant to move.


Without getting too technical, let's stick with looking at the scapula and thoracic spine. Scapular stability and thoracic rotation could very well be the two main culprits that contribute to shoulder issues. On the other hand, good scapular stability and smooth thoracic rotation could be two of the main reasons your shoulders can stay healthy and strong. Confused? Gary Gray, one of the founding fathers of functional training, uses a very fitting phrase for a case like this— MoStability. We need a combination of motion AND stability at a joint for the joint(s) to move freely and easily.

Our scapula needs to stabilize the shoulder girdle enough to allow freedom of movement at the shoulder itself. The scapula should be able to go through upward rotation, downward rotation, protraction, retraction, abduction, and posterior tilting. In regards to thoracic rotation, a limitation here will cause muscles such as the upper traps to get overworked and/or tight and the rhomboids to become weak and overstretched. Then, all of sudden, neck pain and stiffness occur, not to mention upper cross syndrome.


I often assist Jason C. Brown as a master instructor for his Kettlebell Athletics Certification, and he references two quotes that really reinforce the importance of correct shoulder training:

1. “An elbow away from the body punishes the shoulder." Think logically about the shoulder joint. Consider the lever length when performing a side raise, and then add a weight on top of that. Now keep in mind, this is much different from performing scaption, which keeps the elbows closer into the body and the shoulder gliding much easier. Think about a handstand. When you watch someone do a handstand (a GOOD one), are their elbows flared out, or are their hands screwed into the floor with elbows in tight to the body? Be very wary of exercises where the elbows travel far away from the body. Those lateral raises may help build big delts, and they may feel fine . . . for now; but those dips, done even slightly incorrectly, with the elbows bowed out, will have lasting ill effects on the integrity of the shoulder. Over time, that shoulder joint will not be too happy with constantly getting torqued in that direction with a lot of weights, or even bodyweight.

2. “Ears are poison to the shoulder." Picture the position and posture of your body if your shoulder was close to your ear. What does that look like? How does it feel? Doesn't feel that great does it? So imagine if you were performing exercises where the shoulders and ears were constantly meeting. This creates less space in the shoulder joint itself, as well as stiffening the upper traps and scalenes. Yes, shrugs build big traps and a thick neck. That's the point. I question how many individuals with thick necks are actually able to turn their heads! We should strive for a nice strong neck, but not at the expense of a having a neck and torso that can barely move.

WeckMethod Shoulder Traps

Additionally, tight pecs can play a major part in the shoulder conundrum. This will draw the shoulders forward, causing kyphosis, which will limit thoracic rotation. A snowball effect.


Let's examine how we should be training our shoulders. First, perform some proprioception/soft tissue work on the lats, thoracic spine, and pecs. Follow that up with thoracic spine mobilization work, wall slide drills, and some lat/serratus stretching. Fire the lower traps with some I, Y, and T variations. Then stabilize the scapula with prone positions using basic bodyweight exercises such as planks.

There are many good stability exercises using kettlebells including farmer carries, bottoms-up variations, and arm bars. Find a balance between loaded linear movements, as well as three-dimensional movements. Halos are an excellent way to train mobility and stability at the same time. Sound like a lot? You should be able get through everything that I mentioned, in addition to exercises not even related to the shoulder (if part of your routine) in an hour session.

Looking at more dynamic movements, tools such as the RMT Club, ViPR, and the Mace are excellent mechanisms that allow freedom of movement and work in virtually every action that the shoulder performs. With these tools, it is important to use sub-maximal load (lighter weights), as we simply want the freedom of movement. The heavier you try to go with these devices, the more restriction your body will encounter. Then, we can fortify those positions with our basic tried-and-true exercises such as shoulder presses and Turkish get-ups.

Keep this in mind: train smaller muscles with higher reps and bigger muscles with heavier weight. For example, compare the rotator cuff to the pecs or glutes. There is a lot more surface area and muscle mass in the pecs and glutes, which would allow you to handle more weight efficiently. Smaller muscles such as the rotator cuff can handle and support only so much load without creating unnecessary strain.

Vereen Center


Once upon a time, I had big delts, big traps, and a thick neck. I've also had two major orthopedic surgeries on my right shoulder (the identical surgery) — a labrum bankart repair. Coincidence?

Now, I'm happy with simply having a strong rotator cuff, a mobile shoulder, and a stable scapula. And in the end, I've still been able to create a physique that I am proud of.

As I wrote in my last WeckMethod article, The Key To Better Movement And Aesthetics, maybe we can have the best of both worlds, and keep our shoulders happy and healthy at the same time.

About the Author: Giovanni, a graduate of Michol Dalcourt's Institute of Motion Level 1 & 2 mentorships, is currently a Tier 4 Coach for Equinox's private training facility “E" in Greenwich, Connecticut. Additionally, he is a master instructor for ViPR and Kettlebell Athletics. Giovanni is a part of Nike's exclusive trainer network where he is involved in exciting, upcoming projects for the fitness powerhouse. In January 2015, he was selected as one of 14 trainers from around the world by renowned fitness website PTontheNet to be an official global ambassador for the company. You can learn more about Giovanni at www.GiovanniRoselli.com or follow him on Twitter @GiovanniRoselli

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