T Nation

Shoulder Routine Tips


Any suggestions on routines or form to minimize neck damage from working shoulders? I'm not referring to short term injuries, which are usually due to bad form, but to long term neck damage.

After years of shoulder presses, I found that my neck had lost a lot of mobility. I went to a chiropractor, and was told to stop doing shoulder presses because it would lead to further degeneration of my neck.

I stopped for a while, but when my shoulders started lagging I went back to doing shoulder presses. I can do lateral raises without any problems, but any kind of overhead press puts strain on my neck. I've tried going lighter, but in order to actually work my shoulders I have to use a weight that bears down on my neck. Focusing on perfect form doesn't seem to help.

Has anyone else had this issue? Any ideas?


It would help to know in what capacity your neck has degenerated.
Is it disc-related?

If you maintain a neutral neck alignment (i.e. neither arching your neck back, nor protracting your head), you should actually be fine doing overhead presses.

Besides, and I expect some people might disagree with me on this: overhead press variations train the deltoids alright, but the trapezius muscles play a big role, especially as the bar reaches your forehead on the way up.

  1. Thus, you could experiment with more direct approaches (ISO work) and doing additional trap work. I haven't been OH pressing for quite some time and found a few work arounds - and improved my delts. I'm not saying to lay off OH pressing forever, this is just an idea for your toolbox.

  2. Another approach you could use (or combine with the aforementioned idea): pressing on a bench with high incline. This would allow your neck to be externally stabilized without hindering you still pounding away overhead. With heavy loads.

edit: what about your thoracic mobility? Your neck could be compensating for bad thoracic alignment. While taking care of this, you could implement 2.


Thanks for the feedback. I believe the neck degeneration is disc related; my chiropractor said he's seen it with other bodybuilders, where the neck/spinal column compresses as a protective mechanism from the force being exerted on it. I don't believe I have any problems with thoracic mobility. There's no pain unless I try to turn my neck too far to the right or left, just a lot of stiffness.

I try to maintain a neutral neck alignment, but what I find is that any real weight still exerts pressure on my neck, no matter how hard I try to only use my delts for the movement.

Out of curiosity, why did you decide not to do overhead presses? What exercises are you doing instead?


Try dumbbells instead? I don't see how you can hurt your neck with seated db shoulder press.


I'm always a bit suspicious when people use putatives like 'believe' in assessing and improving certain conditions. :wink:
Get a correct diagnosis.

You can't the a complete OH press delts-only. The traps will always come into play, somehow. As will your levatores scapulae. And some of those muscles attach to the neck.

Have you tried 2. from my previous post?

Damaged sterno-clavicular joint. Dito ac-joint.
I've built my delts and traps mainly using the BTN press. I got a decent shoulder girdle from that.
After a few forced lay-offs and not being able to do any serious OH pressing for quite some time and doing a few radical diets, it's no wonder I had lost deltoid size.

Got that in check by doing ISOs, whereas lateral raise variations (machine, standing, seated, standing and leaning away etc.) play a big role. Also a combination of lateral and front raises. And lots of upper back work. My shoulders are just growing off this.

By the by: the stuff I've outlined uses high volume and medium to heavy weights, but not super-heavy resistance. Super sets, 8x8 and stuff like that. I'm using that for my delts.

Intensity is the key, here.
Actually, I've never had a muscle group react so kindly to this approach. The amount of blood resulting from this pump might even have helped the healing process, there (I'm getting prolotherapy).

DBs are usually better for shoulder health, but the aforementioned contraindications (trap involvement) still apply, here.


See someome else I "jarred" mine twice last year, found a good osetopath who helped me regain mbility and I'm stronger than ever.
Should be worth pointing out mine was just scar tissue, and no issues with discs we believe.


You could work with dumbbells... and alternate reps. I do all shoulder work with alternating reps.


Doesn't sound right to me. For one thing, I know plenty of completely sedentary people with degenerated cervical discs. Heck, most people have some sort of disc degeneration. Second, think about the physics of the overhead press. Where do you get cervical loading? There is no force inherently exerted on the cervical spine unless some muscles are doing something they don't need to do, and that IS form related and CAN be fixed.


FF: I do incline machine presses every week with a high neck support. What I'm finding is that with heavier loads, my head goes backward, putting strain on my neck. I wish they made an incline machine with neck support so your head couldn't bend backward. It's only a couple inches, but it makes a difference on neck strain.

I like your lift suggestions, especially the idea of 8x8 sets.

Iron Dwarf: Good suggestion on alternating dumbbells for OH press; I'll give that a try to see if it helps alleviate neck pressure.

Andersons: I think FF is right about the traps being involved, which inevitably involves the neck. The only way I've found to truly isolate my shoulders from my neck is through front/lateral raises. I can still work traps and tris without doing OH presses. But I hate to give it up, since I've seen good muscle growth from it.


Do you do your shoulder presses seated with a back support? I do standing presses with the bar starting on my clavicles, stopping there between each rep and then to a full extension.If you are doing your presses seated, I think the pathway of the bar, elbows, and stress on your neck is different than doing them standing. I read alot of old timer articles from the 30s-50s when the standing press was an olympic lift and they describe exactly how to perform a press. I also got some pressing advice from maraudermeat which was along the same lines.Below is a copy of his description of his pressing technique. Hope this helps.

  • I take in a deep breath before i unrack and don't exhale until i finished the rep. breathing between unracking and pressing will cause you to lose tightness and leverage.

  • make sure to have the heel of the hand directly under the bar. most people allow the bar to roll back to the fingers when they press. this places you in a position of poor leverage. i use a thumbless grip and rest the bar right on the edge of the hand so that the bar is directly over the forearm bones.

-take a fairly narrow grip. at first this will seem awkward but i find that it allows me to keep the elbows and forearms directly under the bar and therefore more leverage from the starting position.

-don't look forward into the mirror. when i unrack, i take a fairly wide stance for support and then i arch my back and look up. when i do that it places me in a sort of incline press position allowing me to use some upper chest. as we know, more muscle groups equate to bigger numbers.

-lastly, don't press up but back over the head. pressing straight up is mostly triceps. pressing up and back over the head incorporates more muscle groups.


I am currently working on my D.C. and don't see how an OHP would affect the neck unless you aren't doing it correctly. I would focus on the above technique or just use DB and focus on how you move your neck and it's flexibility.

Avoiding a dangerous movement is one thing, not correcting a possible poor form issue is another.


Something I always noticed was that if you do reverse grip military work instead of traditional BB presses, the muscles in your traps and the sides of your neck barely contract at all. :slight_smile:



Do you feel like doing the reverse grip will hit the deltoids differently? I've never tried it much outside of arnold presses.


Great at isolating the anterior head. I haven't done front raises in over a year, I use this as a pre-exhaust before regular presses.



Great suggestions on standing presses, and I like the idea of working the front shoulders a bit more with reverse grip for military presses. I actually stepped doing standing presses when I saw the chiropractor, and have only done seated presses since then. I'll give it another try, using the suggestions here.