Building Shoulder Strength

If you do CrossFit, Martial Arts, or both – you need strong shoulders. Maybe you are blessed with naturally stable and strong shoulders – good for you! For the rest of us, there are countless ways of building strength. In the video above, I outline a program suitable for beginners to strength work.

First important point – start light, add weight gradually, and always err on the side of caution. This stuff is supposed to make you stronger, not hurt you.

Second important point – have someone who knows what they are doing coach you through all these movements and periodically check back in with them, so they can see how your form has progressed.

I recommend two main lifts – the shoulder press and the bench press. You could do one of these lifts, or both of these lifts. If you’ve got 25 minutes to spare once a week in the gym, do one of them. If you’ve got 25 minutes to spare twice a week in the gym, do both of them.   If you do have the time to do both of them, you should, never the less, only start with one of them for the first few weeks. These lifts should be done before any conditioning work (like a CrossFit workout or a martial arts class).

The basic protocol for both main lifts is to once a week do five sets of five reps. Your first set should be the lightest set, and each subsequent set should be heavier than the last. There is zero rush. Make your first week easy. Go light. Add small weights each time. The last set shouldn’t be hard. Always take a two to three minute break between sets.

I also recommend four auxiliary lifts. These are, as the name suggests, optional. If you find yourself with 15 minutes in the gym once a week, do one. If you have more time, do more of them – ideally you’d do these movements all on different days so that you aren’t overtaxing your shoulders. These lifts should be, ideally, the last thing you do in the gym – after your skill work, after your main lifts, after any martial arts practice.

The auxiliary movements are: the cuban press, the bottom up Kb press, the strict pull-up, and the bent over row. If you are just starting or only have time for one lift, talk to a coach about your particular shoulder issues and see which one (or maybe they pick an entirely different movement) they think is best for you to start with. Gradually add in the other movements if you have the time and if everything feels good.

The basic protocol for the lifts is four sets of five/five (meaning five on each side of the body). For the pull-ups, do four sets of at least five reps (use a band or do negatives if you can’t do at least five strict pull-ups in a row). Take a two to three minute break between sets.

Write your numbers down so that you know what weights to do the next week. Be consistent and do the lifts every week. It is better to do fewer lifts and be more consistent than to spread yourself too thin and be inconsistent. In addition to writing your numbers down, try and write yourself a note about each lift – how did the movement feel? What questions do you have about the movement?

There may be some initial discomfort as your body adapts to the movements but if you take things slow, it should be pretty minimal. If you’ve never done these movements consistently, expect awesome things to happen – and definitely ask lots of questions.

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