5 Biggest Shoulder Training Mistakes

5 Biggest Shoulder Training Mistakes

Avoiding these common shoulder training mistakes will keep you injury free and on the road to building cannonball-sized delts!

By Bill Geiger, MA

#1: Straightening Your Arm on Lateral Raises


Lateral raises targeting the middle delt are done with a slight bend in the elbow. The problem arises when the elbow isn’t locked throughout the movement. Too often you see guys with a 90-degree bend at the bottom, but their arm straightens to 180 degrees at the top, especially when they do one arm at a time. Straightening the arm is called elbow extension, and the triceps — not the delts — is responsible for this action. You can’t open and close the elbow joint during execution. Keep it locked in a slightly bent position.

#2: Straightening Your Arm on Rear Delt Exercises

The same blunder involving elbow extension frequently makes its way over to rear-delt exercises, most commonly bent-over lateral raises with dumbbells or cables. When you extend at the elbow, you turn a perfectly good rear-delt exercise into one for triceps. Again the key is to lock your arm in a slightly bent position for the duration of the set. If you’re not getting the hang of it, practice doing the reverse flye on the pec-deck machine, which requires you to maintain a slight bed for the entire exercise.

#3: Positioning Your Hands Too Close on Upright Rows


To target middle delts, your upper arms should travel out to your sides during upright rows. That’s not what happens, however, when you use a close grip. Your elbows are drawn forward as your shoulders are internally rotated. That movement isn’t kind to your shoulder joints. A much wider grip (hands about shoulder width apart) allows your elbows to kick out high and wide, perfect for targeting your middle delts. (The front delts get some work, too.) Even if you’re looking to add variety to your routine, skip the close-grip version.

#4: Neglecting Your Rotator-Cuff Muscles

Sure, you want big shoulders, and that means choosing exercises that target the front, middle and rear delts. However, a smaller group of four rotator-cuff muscles also work in tandem to help stabilize your shoulder joint (and that includes during presses for the chest). As your delts grow stronger over time, and if you’re not also training your rotator-cuff muscles, a strength imbalance arises that makes the rotators much more susceptible to injury and chronic pain. Doing specific rotator-cuff work with extremely light dumbbells, cables and bands may not look impressive, but it’s a necessity for long-term pain-free training.

#5: Going Very Heavy With Behind-the-Neck Presses


Going heavy with your presses isn’t a mistake. That’s how you build size and strength in your shoulders. But when you’re using max weights for very low reps, stick with presses in which you lower the bar to the front of your head. Amateur bodybuilder and sports-medicine doctor Guillermo Escalante, DSc, CSCS warns: “When you lower the bar, the deltoids are lengthening to a fully stretched position, but they’re also at their weakest. The highest risk of injury in any sport occurs when the shoulder is abducted and externally rotated. Loading up a huge amount of weight is just asking for a tear.” Although the joints of some younger bodybuilders may be more resilient, for many others the risk is real. Keep your weights moderate if you’re doing behind-the-neck presses.

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  • italiano bambino

    Right on time Mag doing shoulders today. :) happy holidays

    • MMI

      Great minds think alike Italiano Bambino!

  • Michael Hawkins

    great info ,was told close grip for upright rows,and it kills my wrist…

    • MMI

      Thanks Michael! Too many people take too close a grip. Spare yourself a wrist injury and spread your hands out!

  • Hunter

    If anyone reads this pay attention to it. Neglecting your rotator cuff does lead to injury. I’m a perfect example. Delts get super strong and then overpower your rotator cuff muscles and the next thing I knew I was out of the gym for 3I months rehabbing. Except for legs.

    • MMI

      Thanks for the comment Hunter! Unfortunately the rotator-cuff is too often overlooked in shoulder training routines.

  • Jason Sutcliffe

    I Was doing close grip upright rows but as the weight was increased my wrists were hurting,my left especially due to accident when I was younger. So I slowly move my hands out until the pain stopped And the pain went away at shoulder with hand position Thanks muscle mag

  • Rick Rivas

    Pay attention to rule 5!!! I learned the hard way, got injured and was out the gym for 3 months!

  • dragon79

    How about a rec. workout for the rotor cuffs??

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