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5x5 / 3x5 & Shoulder Imbalance?


I've read some of the 5x5 and 3x5 programs such as stronglifts and starting strenght. But theres one thing that bothers me.

All of those programs seem to have alot of exercises (Dips, Bench Press, Military Press) that hit the front deltoid. But there's only one exercise that hits the rear deltoid - the row.

And no, deadlifts and pullups DON'T hit the rear deltoid - I actually checked this in Frederic Delavier's book "Strength Training Anatomy". Great book, btw.

Now, we life in a world where alot of people have a forward slouched posture, due to sitting all day. Won't hitting the front deltoid 3 times as much as the rear deltoid actually make those problems worse?

Personally I used to workout using mostly pushups and pullups and after about 2 months my shoulders started to hurt like crazy - a sharp pain, starting from the shoulders, moving towards the arms, traps, serratus.. hell. I would even get this when just warming up.

I've been visiting a few docs - some of them giving some "funny" advice - such as stopping doing pullups, because they are too hard on the shoulder joint - right, pullups being to hard on the shoulder joint at fucking 175 lbs!

Then I've been to a physiotherapist - who gave me some, even better advice "push yourself up fast during pushups to activate the front deltoid, push yourself up slowly to activate the rear deltoid" - damn, I swear at this point even my dumb noobass was getting pretty skeptical about the competence of this physio...

Like gravity suddenly turns around because I'm utilizing a different tempo. Woooh, I'm doing pushups so fast, I gotta HOLD ONTO THE GROUND HARD so I don't leave earths atmosphere or what?

And if you're american and though something like "damn our health system is truly messed up" while reading this - well... I'm german. This all happend here, in germany. Amazing, huh?

Anways, to cut to the case, after reading "Strength Training Anatomy" I pretty much came to the conlusion that my physio is full of it, and I probably developed a dysbalance because I didn't hit the rear deltoid with any exercise. I probably pinched a nerve, or maybe even a tendon.

So thats why I've been looking so closely at this deltoid thing. I'm pretty positive I've had a shoulder dysbalance before and I don't want to get one again If I should decide to start a 3x5 / 5x5 program.


then do some rear delt work to?


Starting strength is a program that is well balanced in terms of horizontal and vertical push-pulling. I would hesitate much longer and harder before I blamed your shoulder condition on Starting Strength.

Second, consider the multitude of young men that do nothing but bench and curl for years before their shoulders start to hurt. This suggests to me the culprit lies with your body rather than the program.

But you still experience shoulder pain when doing pushups and pullups. That is a problem that deserves attention.

The answer likely lies somewhere in here:

Eric Cressey''s SHOULDER SAVERS Part III

Part I and II are linked in the article.

Read it and come back with questions.

I haven't had anything similar to that.


Otep's advice is right on the money. You need to be 100% positive of the cause of your shoulder pain before you make assumptions about why it is occurring.

The absolute worst thing you can do is to self diagnose your condition through over-analyzing and guesswork.

Have you actually tried doing the 5 x 5 or 3 x 5 routines? From the way your initial post reads, it seems that you have only read about them and not tried either.

If you haven't tried them, then there is no absolutely no reason to assume that they are going to result in imbalances and shoulder pain. A 3 x 5 / 5 x 5 routine is nothing like a pushup / pullup workout: no comparison can or should be made.
As Otep said, Starting Strength is well balanced and is designed to avoid strength imbalances, so I'm not sure why you'd believe otherwise.

BTW, I don't agree with your belief that rows are the only exercise that hits the rear delts - the sternum chin up is just one of many examples that prove otherwise.

My point is, don't believe everything you read: when all is said and done, an author's work is a reflection of their own personal views and experiences. It is, after all, only one person's opinion and should be treated as such.

You shouldn't make the mistake of drawing all of your information from once place. Try reading from a variety of sources. With time and experience, you will learn what works best for you.
In the long term, this will serve you far better than dogmatically following one book (regardless of how good it is). Take advantage of all the resources available to you (that definitely includes this site).

That's sort of beside the point anyway, because the Starting Strength template will allow you incorporate rear delt work into your training if you feel that it is needed.

There should be no reason to avoid SS based on what you have told us.


good posts Otep and roybot

having personally gone through SS several times, there is absolutely nothing wrong with adding some rear delt work


imbalance is cool no phrase of the day, but every injury's soul source is not imbalance....well except on T-Nation.



The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that your shoulder pain is caused by some sort of injury rather than a muscular imbalance.

The reason being that I don't believe that conventional pushups can cause a great enough strength imbalance to cause the pain you're describing. Your pull ups would have a greater potential to increase maximal strength anyway, as you are using your entire bodyweight.

The pushups would develop mainly muscular endurance, so they will not allow you to gain enough strength to cause an imbalance: your body would have adapted to the movement long before that happens.

If you take the correct steps to rehab your injury, then Starting Strength is one of the best training options open to you: it will develop strength quickly and equally throughout the body.

Otep has set you on the right track: if you read the link he gave you, it should give you plenty of ideas. Also, do a search for shoulder rehab and shoulder prehab on this website.

BTW, How wide were your pullups? I ask because if I do wide grip pull ups (wider than shoulder width) it results in a similar type of pain to what you've described....


Woah... lots of replies - thanks for all the help. And sorry it took me so long to answer, I had to answer alot of points and was pretty busy the last few days.

@ sid132, TheDudeAbides:

Alright, good to hear you saying adding some rear delt work won't be a problem, cause I've been reading a ton of posts basically saying "don't fuck with the program!" whenever I read about any 5x5 / 3x5 programms. So I take it just adding something like 3x12 Lateral Raises at the end should be fine. Perhaps even replace chin-/pull-ups with the sternum chinup.


And no, I didn't do any 3x5 or 5x5 programms - so I don't blame my shoulder problems on them either.
If i were absolutely convinced doing them would result in a Injury, I wouldn't have started this thread. But I saw what I percieved as a dysbalance in the programs. Yet I know they work for thousends of people with good results.

I read the Starting Strenght FAQ forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=998224 Wich was pretty interesting and answered some questions for me, but not this one.

Well.. yeah, but so far I've met a few pretty incompetent doc's and physios. Before I'd follow the advice to never do pullups again, or try to hit the rear delt by doing slow pushups.. I'd rather self-diagnose. Though I actually had one doc who did an X-ray of the shoulder, had seen a problem, but didn't really explain it to me. And then he sent me to the incompetent physio.
I probably should restart my investigation of the problem there again. Maybe even have him do a secound X-ray.

I don't have any pain anymore nowadays though. When I had that pain, it would become worse with the slightest movement - a non-specific warmup was enough to make my shoulders feel like they're on fire. I used to have that problem about 1,5 years ago.

Back then I completely laid off training for a while, then trained on and off for a long time and now I want to take it serious again and make some progress.

Seems like we've got a misunderstanding here. I meant to say that rows are the only exercise that hits the rear delts thats actually included in the 5x5 / 3x5 programs.

The sternum chinup seems interesting though. Got any good technique vids on it? I've been searching on youtube but in every single vid I found the commentators said they were not done right.

Don't worry about that - if anything I spend too much time and read from too many different sources. Though the book I mentioned is the only source I have that provides such a detailed look at wich muscle groups are hit by wich exercise. Actually thats the only thing it is about, there are no training plans or nutrition advice or such. I get all of that from T-Nation and other sources online. So the Autor wasn't actually proclaiming a 3x5 / 5x5 program would cause a disbalance, it was only my impression from taking a look at wich of those exercises hit wich muscles.


Hmm, I don't know. When I started out, well, lets just say I was phatetically weak. Pushup max ~4, chinup max ~2-3, Pullup max ~1,5. From there I went to 14 pushups, 6 pullups, 7 chinups. Even had some hyperthrophy in chest, tricpes and back. I know it may sound funny - hypertrophy effects from pushups - but its true.

I will definitely read the shoulder savers article and come back with questions ASAP.

My pullups where of varying wideness, did some with a wide grip and some with a close grip.

  1. Seriously, follow Otep's advice and read up on Cressey's stuff. He's the jedi master of shoulder health.

  2. Starting Strength is balanced such that it will make all your muscles strong. But it does not address prehabbing and mobility issues. Cressey's book Maximum Strength has much more holistic programming. You can get it for like $13 on amazon. Even if you just use the dynamic shoulder workouts and the shoulder prehabbing exercises it'll be well worth it.

  3. I've also found doctors to be good at fixing broken stuff, but inadequate at improving performance. If a doc hasn't found something torn, his bag of tools is empty.


I don't trust doctors, but I do trust their instruments. See if you can get a copy of that X-ray as well as the specific diagnosis that went with it. It seems that would be a good starting place for designing your own re-hab program (since your physio didn't seem to do too good of a job).


Another answer that took me longer than I thought it would. Sorry, been a stressfull week (plus poor time management, plus I have a tendency to overthink stuff a couple of times).

Anyway, I've read through Shoulder Savers I - III and I've got a couple of questions:

Shoulder Savers: Part I

Shoulder Saver #1: Avoid what hurts.
So, would it make sense get a X-ray of my Acromion? I guess if I should have a Type III Acromion, I should replace the presses with they dumbbell equivalents. I have been spending lots and lots of time in front of the computer though, and my posture was really bad. It became alot better since I started training though. This leads me to a question.. cressey says "If you're a type I or type II acromion process, you can "acquire" a type III morphology due to reactive changes." Could it also happen the other way arround? I mean, could someones Acromion change for the better?

Shoulder Saver #4: Get up from your desk.
Ooops. I'm a former winner of the Kyphotic Derby, but training alone worked wonders for me so far. It's like I've grown about 5 centimers (~2 inches). Say, if I manage to pull my posture completely straight only by lifting and some stretching, do I still have to worry about spending too much time in front of the computer? Though I plan to spend less time in front of this thing anyway.

Shoulder Saver #5: Structural Balance in Training
Ok.. after re-reading this about 3 times I think I've got it. But what does Cressey mean by listing "All External Rotation Variations" as a balancing movement to "Bench Pressing, Pushups"? Just do any of the Humeral External Rotation exercises listed below?

Shoulder Saver #6: Ditching the "Shoulder Day"
At my training age (about 3-4 months of real training), I ain't gonna do a seperate shoulders day anytime soon - I don't see how to build up the middle of the deltoids without isolation work though? Also seems to be problematic for rear deltoids, but at least they get hit by rows and the (new to me) sternum chinups.

Shoulder Savers: Part II

Shoulder Saver #9: Using the Scapular Plane.
Won't moving the arms forward by 30° put more focus on the front deltoids?

Shoulder Saver #14: Prone Internal Rotations
If I don't have pain, how do I know It's working (fixing a possibly weak subscapularis) for me?

Shoulder Savers: Part III

Shoulder Saver #23: Isometric Elevated Push-up Holds
How about using those Isometric Elevated Push-up Holds as a finisher, at the end of the workout?

I'll try to get that X-ray and the diagnosis.