As you may know by now I suffered a torn rotator cuff and labrum that required surgery. The injury was a long time in the making and the destruction of my shoulder began many years ago when I was doing stupid things like isometric training in the power rack and other high risk, low reward methods.
Before surgery I was sitting at about 227 pounds. After several months of being incapacitated and eating like a normal human I was down to 179! Like I’ve always said, my hardgainer genetics are freakishly bad. Hell, my wrists don’t even measure seven inches around.
Anyway, the comeback has been long and frustrating. Because I have the undying urge to go heavy whenever I get near iron and the fact that rational thought processes go out the window after I start warming up, I have reinjured my shoulder a couple times throughout the rehab process. Needless to set these setbacks have been incredibly stressful and annoying to deal with.
While training together at CJ Murphy’s gym in Boston once, my friend Dave Tate commented, “You think Jay’s a smart guy until you see some of the stupid shit he does when he’s training.”
And he was 100% right. I do stupid shit. Often and with reckless abandon. It’s my greatest downfall in life. Has been for as long as I can remember. Whether it be flipping dirt bikes, jumping off cliffs or trying to do heavy cleans with an injured shoulder, I just lose control of my rational thought processes when the adrenaline kicks in.
Anyway, the purpose of today’s update is to let you know that after 20 plus years of training I seem to have finally smartened up and have been a bit wiser with my decision making in the gym as of late. As a result my shoulder is feeling a lot better and I’m regaining size and strength pretty quickly.
I’m now back up around 220. It’s a little smaller and softer 220 than how I used to look at this weight but I’ll take it for now. At the rate I’m going I’ll be gaining a lot more size back over the next few weeks and months and I can lean down when I decide the time is right.
After I completed the Triple Threat Muscle program and made great gains, I decided that I was back closer to an advanced level and needed to change my training back to what I used to do pre-surgery. The only difference was that there would have to be major modifications due to the shoulder injury.
So what have been the biggest changes that have made all the difference as of late?
1) I always do a general warm up lasting at least 10 minutes. This consists of various mobility drills and isometric holds for injury prone areas. Years ago I might have walked into the gym in a rush and skipped my warm up entirely. Now I would never dream of it.
2) I do more specific shoulder warm ups. After my general warm up, on an upper body day, I do specific shoulder warm ups. These consist of YTWL’s or something similar. Instead of that sequence I may just do bent over Y-raises, lateral raises, bent over rear delt raises, standing front raises, standing external rotations, all in a row for ten reps each with a pair of fives. After that I will always do two sets of external rotations lying on my side for 12-20 reps. Another great one is to take a medicine ball and place it against the wall. With your hand pressed against it you do the alphabet. I got this one from my friend, Keith Scott and it works like a charm.
3) Shoulder dislocations with a broomstick. These are part of number 2 but are so important that they need an individual mention. Nothing has helped my shoulder more than these. I do 25 reps before every workout and 25-50 reps another couple days per week even when I’m not training. I can’t recommend this drill highly enough. I only wish I had known about it years ago.
4) I do higher reps on my warm up sets. In the past when I was ready to start my work sets I would minimize the reps on warm up sets only because I couldn’t wait to get to the heavy sets. I just wanted to get my warm ups over as fast as humanly possible and load the bar up with heavy weight.
Let’s say I was going to pull 455 for 10. My warm up sets would look like this:
135 x 5
225 x 5
315 x 1-3
405 x 1
455 x 10- work set
In retrospect that just seems silly to me now. There’s no way you’re adequately warmed up doing that.
Last night I did barbell military presses. I know I probably shouldn’t even be pressing a bar at this point in my life but I love it and need it. It’s an addiction. My warm ups went like this:
45 x 20
75 x 10
95 x 10
115 x 10
135 x 12- work set
Here’s a video of that last set:
(turn down your speakers, the music’s kinda loud)
The difference this made was immeasurable. I can’t even begin to tell you how much better I felt doing this than I would have had I done my old style warm up where I got zero pump or blood flow and felt the sets more in my joints than I did in the belly of the muscle.
Does this limit the amount of weight I can do on my heaviest work sets? Maybe a bit. But I don’t think the extra few pounds is worth the risk of injury. The body will adapt.
5) I don’t go below eight reps on upper body exercises. And most of my sets fall in the range of 10-12. I will actually only go down to eight reps only after an adequate warm up and maybe a few work sets at a higher rep range. Now, this isn’t to say I will never go below eight reps because I’m sure eventually I will. But right now I have no intentions of doing so. It’s just not worth it.
Having said that, what I do is not necessarily what you should do. Hardgainers who try to train solely in the range of 10-12 reps will remain skinny and weak forever. This rep range is better suited for advanced, stronger lifters.
6) I stay far away from failure. I have always recommended this and have practiced what I preached for the most part. But in all honesty, I would let myself get a little out of control in the heat of battle. I rarely ever miss a weight in training but in the past I have come too close too many times. I never, ever allow this anymore. All of reps are piston like, smooth and fast, with control and picture perfect technique, and I never come near failure.
7) I use a limited range of motion. I know, I know you are always supposed to use a full range of motion on every exercise you do.
Except for the fact that it’s unnatural and dangerous I guess that old rehashed advice makes some kind of sense.
Do me a favor. Hold your hands up in position to do a barbell military press. Now draw an invisible line connecting your two hands. I’ll bet the invisible bar is not sitting on your upper chest. If it is chances are you’re incredibly skinny. Which isn’t a bad thing if you’re a beginner. I’m just making a point here.
For most of us the invisible bar will a couple inches above your chest. If you hold a broomstick in this position, without intentionally trying to bring the bar to your chest, it will probably be around chin level, and that’s where you should be pressing from.
Because it’s natural. Bringing it down to your chest would place a lot of undue stress on your shoulders.
Now if you want to count a strict press and compete against someone or whatnot you would technically have to touch your chest. But since there aren’t too many military press contests around I would opt for the safer range and keep the bar somewhere around chin level in the bottom position.
Dead hang chin ups and full extension barbell curls have the same type of destructive effect on the joints. This discussion in itself requires a full article but for now we’ll leave it at that…
No extreme, unnatural ranges of motion.
One final point I would like to make is that I always start my workouts with long sleeves or a hooded sweatshirt unless it’s a minimum of 80 degrees in the gym (and preferably closer to 90). I don’t peel a layer off until near the end, when all the heavy lifting is done. If it’s in the 60’s or 70’s in the gym I stay bundled up throughout. This is nothing new as I’ve always done that. But I thought I’d mention it because it’s a great way to stay healthy. Sometimes people are scared of sweating and want to open the door or turn on the fan or complain about the heat. Little do they know it’s actually helping them stay injury free.