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overhead pressing, the new controversy

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Earlier this week famed strength coach Joe Defranco wrote a new artical for t-nation decrying overhead pressing. Seems like the story has created quite a bit of controversy. (the short version is that overhead pressing is bad for your shoulders and will lead to shoulder injuries, this is a view that is actually held by many strength coaches)


Paul is in trouble. His body was already banged up from years in the ring, and now this: an injury while filming a movie. The doctor said what Paul already knew: he was going to have to go under the knife.


Was his career over? Was his comeback doomed?


After the surgery, Paul got in contact with T NATION contributor, Joe DeFranco. Joe knows how to train high-performance, high-impact athletes. And his method of shoulder training would not only make Paul's shoulders look massive; it would make them feel great again. Big, strong shouldersmust be healthy if they're going to stay that way.


This article may challenge the way you think about shoulder training. That's okay. If Joe's methods work for Paul, a.k.a. Triple H, they'll probably work for you. – Chris Shugart



Time Bomb Shoulders

Let me say this right up front: The shoulder is the most mobile, most injured, and most dysfunctional joint in the human body.


If you're an athlete, or if you train like one, your shoulders are a ticking time bomb. I rarely deal with any athlete from any high-level sport, from football to MMA to hockey, who has healthy shoulders when he first walks into my facility.


Rotator cuff tears, AC joint problems, separations, biceps tendon tears that affect the shoulder greatly... you name it. When I get these big-moneyed athletes coming in, I refuse to contribute to the damage by prescribing the wrong exercises.


That's probably why some sport coaches say not to train the delts directly at all. I'm not that conservative. I like a more balanced approach, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to training the body for elite performance.


Plus there's the psychological aspect of shoulder training. Even my NFL athletes like to look good. It gives them a psychological edge. So, we don't leave out the direct shoulder work; we just have a very specific way of doing it.



Bag the Overhead Press!


When you think of shoulder training, you probably think first of the overhead press or military press. Well, brace yourself: I bagged heavy overhead pressing years ago – removing them from 99% of my athletes' programs. I've seen great improvements in shoulder health and strength since ditching the heavy overhead presses.


(Only one in fifty athletes I see can overhead press without risk, but they're the genetic outliers, born with more "room" in there than most of us have. And even for them, we'll only work in two-week cycles of light to moderate-weight push presses, Bradford presses, and neutral-grip strongman log presses.)


Visualize stripping the skin off the shoulders so you can see the internal anatomy. When you press overhead you're basically driving the head of the humorous into the acromion, causing impingements. Repetitive use of the overhead press can easily lead to tearing of the muscle and tendons involved.


It's simply a high-risk exercise, both for my athletes and for bodybuilders who rely on heavy overhead presses.



Powerlifter Bench, Bodybuilder Back

Besides shelving the overhead press, here's another way we solve the shoulder problem: we train the bench press like a powerlifter and the back like a bodybuilder.


For the bench press (which my Combine guys get tested in) we're after maximal weight and explosive power. We use powerlifter form: shoulder blades pinched together, chest high, elbows tucked under, and placing the bar a little lower on the chest.


The upper back will always get twice the volume of our pressing muscles. We use bodybuilding form and technique, moderate weights, super-strict form, and more isometric holds at the top of the movements. We use lots of row variations instead of pulldowns (which are mostly biceps and forearms anyway) – movements that really retract the scapula.


You do that – bag the overhead press, change your form on the bench press, and train the upper back like a bodybuilder – and in just a couple of weeks your wrecked shoulders will start to feel strong and rejuvenated.



The Shoulder Shocker

After getting rid of most overhead pressing and fixing existing problems, we start incorporating some medial delt work like lateral raise variations. We don't do any front or anterior delt work except as part of something I call the Shoulder Shocker.


The Shoulder Shocker hits the front, medial, and rear delts/external rotators all in one nonstop exercise. It's a great bang-for-your-buck exercise. My guys don't have time to spend twenty minutes on shoulder work. But if they do two or three rounds of the Shoulder Shocker, they're hitting everything they need to hit in 3-5 minutes.


The Shoulder Shocker is also very safe because you don't need to go heavy at all given the order of the exercises. Great for the muscles, very little stress on the joint. Here's how to do it:


When: Perform after regular chest and back work


Rest: None between exercises


Reps: 8-12 per movement


Sets: 2-3 total


1. Seated Plate Raise using a 25 or 45-pound weight plate


2. Seated Lateral Raise with light dumbbells – 20 to 25 pounds


3. Seated Clean and Press, strict form, using the same dumbbells. That's a shrug, an external rotation, and half-press.


I've been using these guidelines with WWE wrestler Triple H. He trained like a bodybuilder for years with lots of overhead pressing, and it caught up with him. Today, he can't believe how much better his shoulders are feeling and how much faster his rehab from surgery is going.


During our last training session he told me that his shoulders are just as good as they were when he was hammering away at them, only now they're pain-free. He's been using the Shoulder Shocker for the last four months.


The fact is, your muscles just don't grow optimally when you're in pain. Pain generates a lot of hormone release, like cortisol, that isn't good for progress in the gym. Get rid of what's causing pain and your results will skyrocket. The method I've outlined here will do just that.


Here's one of my best tips for overall shoulder health: do 100 band pull-aparts per day. This is especially good for those who work at a computer all day.


Simply do 100 mini-band pull-aparts per day. Keep the tension light; you shouldn't be straining much. You can do them in four sets of 25 reps spread throughout the day or knock out all 100 at once. It doesn't matter. You can also change the grip and the angle up as you want.


I've been doing this for a year and a half now and my shoulders have never been healthier. I can almost guarantee this will fix most common shoulder problems.


Remember, to build big, functional shoulders that stay that way, you have to get them healthy and keep them healthy. The Shoulder Shocker, band pull-aparts, and the methods I've presented here are your tools for getting there.




Christian Thibaudeau is the first coach to really hit back

I Don't Agree...

by Christian Thibaudeau - 02/09/2011

Good coaches can sometimes disagree on some points even though they are generally in agreement on other subjects.


And both can boast a wide range of success stories, making them reliable in their opinion (you can't argue with success).


Doesn't mean that one is "more wrong" than the other or that both are going at wr against each other.


Joe DeFranco's latest article includes an opinion that I don't agree with, and I'm saying that while having nothing but tremendous respect for the guy.


He mentions that we should avoid the overhead press if you are trying to build your shoulders. That only one out of X athlete can perform it safely.


Since the overhead press is the cornerstone of most of my programs, I don't agree (obviously).


My shoulders were never healthier than when I competed as an olympic lifter, a time where overhead pressing, the push press and jerk were roughly 25% of my training.


In fact I never had any shoulder pains before going away from doing a lot of overhead work. And as soon as I started putting an emphasis on various forms of overhead pressing instead of bench pressing my shoulder problems went away.


And I'm not the only one, Jim Wendler told me the exact same thing when I visited him and Dave in Ohio.


Glenn Pendlay, who is an amazing coach who works with athletes from many sports also put overhead work at a premium, specifically the push press.


And as a group, olympic lifters generally have VERY healthy shoulders despite doing overhead work for 50% of their training volume.


It is my opinion that those who have shoulder problems when overhead pressing simply use bad technique or have flexibiility issues.


Yesterday 01:09

Personally I tend to agree with Glenn Pendlay and believe that the push press is the suprior overhead movement. It bypasses the weak zone, which is also the position where most injuries can occur. From experience it's the best movement to build the shoulders.


I also noticed with myself and dozens of clients, that gains in overhead strength are highly correlated with gains in bench pressing strength; I had my biggest bench press gains when I did an overhead press spec.


What's YOUR opinion on the subject



Personally, while I've always been a big fan of Defranco's, I have to side with Christian Thibaudeau on this one, from my own personal experience I have never experienced any pain or discomfort from overhead pressing, the same can't be said for the bench press (which Defranco is a big advocate of).


So what's everyone's opinion/experiences?

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great find, very interesting!!!


i have torn both rotators several times over 10 years of training, every time has been on barbell benchpress. I now dont do flat bench, its too much of a hinderance and its not even an area that i focus on developing, the closest i get is dumbell incline press. I have also often successfully used light overhead press to strenghten my rotator back up - I have never injured my rotator on o/head press. Most would actually assume the opposite, injury from o/head press and recovery from light bench, but not the case.


While this is a great article, I do agree with christian, overhead press with good form does have its place in the gym.. I do think behind the head press is a different story and is a guaranteed way to tear something.


i think most injuries come from people trying to go to heavy and getting lazy on the last few reps rather than the exercise itself.


shoulder night for me tonight so ill give the "shoulder shocker" a go anyway!!

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Overhead press is bread & butter of shoulder strengening & building, if looking to perform it correctly, learn from an olympic lifter/coach.


side note; 1 of my lectures(exercise physiology) at uni knows alot of the coaches that write on t-nation & he agrees with the above.

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tried the "shoulder shocker" its a very good shoulder workout. will incorperate it into my routine.

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