The Keys to Upper Body Injury Prevention and Strength

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Let’s face it – chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a meathead.

And just like all us meatheads, sooner or later, we’re going to end up injured.

After I evaluated a half dozen guys at the 2010 Underground Strength Seminar, it was clear and evident many of them had the same issues:

  • Horrible tissue quality.
  • Weak and/or underdeveloped scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff muscles.
  • Shoulder range of motion that would make you cringe.

Keep in mind, these are some of the strongest human beings in the world! We’re talking guys that are routinely handling 500, 600 and even 700 or more pounds in their upper body training sessions!

These guys are at the top of their sport, and they’re dysfunctional. Chances are if you’re anything like them, you’re dysfunctional as well.

In the best case scenario (and I use that term loosely), you’re losing strength on all of your upper body lifts, and specifically on your bench press.

Worst case scenario? You’re on your way to being (or already are) injured.

So rather than turning a blind-eye to the whole thing and doing nothing, I made it a personal goal to pull together the ULTIMATE program that would hopefully get some of these guys healthy and feeling good again.

Let’s be honest – I’m not writing for Elite because I’m some freakazoid when it comes to strength.

I’m here to help get guys healthy.

If they can get healthy, not only can I add years to their careers, but I guarantee I can get them stronger by restoring structural balance around the various joints and muscles in the upper body.

To make this as simple as possible, simply watch these videos in order. I’ve provided quite a few notes with each clip to make sure you’re performing things correctly. As with everything in life, timing is often everything.

That’s enough from me – let’s get started!

Introduction and Band Traction

When do I use this?

Pre-workout, post-workout, or on off-days.

How long should I hold each position?

Just move around. You don’t need to hold each position for too long.

Training Tips

  • Make it organic and try and traction your body in as many ways as possible.
  • If you have any pain, stop.
  • If you have a specific area that needs more work, spend more time in that position(s).

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) Series

When do I use this?

Pre-workout, post-workout, or on off-days.

How long should I work on each muscle group/area?

I generally recommend 30 seconds to 1 minute for each position. When you’re starting out a minute is preferable, and back off as tissue quality improves.

If you have a really stiff or sore area, make sure to spend a bit more time there.

Training Tips

  • If you have any pain, stop. And yes, there is a difference between discomfort and pain.
  • If you have a specific area(s) that needs more work, spend more time on that area(s).

Upper Back Stability

When do I use this?

During your workout – either immediately before your primary exercise or towards the end of your session.

How many sets/reps should I do?

I generally prescribe 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps in EACH position. If you want to make it more challenging, either hold some light weights or hold the midpoint position for 3-5 seconds.

Training Tips

  • “Y” – 10 and 2, thumbs up, squeeze shoulder blades DOWN.
  • “T” – 9 and 3, thumbs up, squeeze shoulder blades BACK.
  • “I” – 8 and 4, thumbs up, squeeze shoulder blades BACK.
  • These are motor control/recruitment exercises, so don’t try and load them up too heavy! Learn to use the appropriate muscles, and then work to get them stronger with vertical (chin-ups/pull-ups) and horizontal pulling (rowing) exercises.

Shoulder Strengthening

When do I use this?

During your workout, typically towards the end of your session.

How many sets/reps should I do?

I generally prescribe 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

Training Tips

  • Chest up/out, slow and controlled motion. Don’t use momentum or go too fast!
  • This is just one exercise you can use to develop your ‘cuff. Start with this one and dial in your technique, then feel free to try other options.

Post-Workout Stretching

When do I use this?

Use these at the end of your training session.

How many sets/reps should I do?

Perform one “set” of each. Each “set” consists of one hold, which should last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.

Training Tips

  • DB Fly EQI – Shoulder blades back/down, soft elbows, keep your core tight. Curl the weights in upon completion of the set.
  • Lat EQI – Soft elbows, core tight. Let the weight drop to the floor at the end of the set.
  • Time to completion should be 30 seconds to 2 minutes. If you can’t hold 30 seconds, reduce the weight. Once you can hold for 2 minutes, increase the weight.

Static Stretching

When do I use this?

Post-workout, in the evening before bed, or on off-days.

How many sets/reps should I do?

Perform each stretch twice, holding for 30 seconds. If you’re really stiff, feel free to hold up to one minute in each position.

Training Tips

  • Pec Stretch – Tuck your shoulder blade back/down like you’re going to bench press to stabilize your scapula and increase the stretch.
  • Lat Stretch – Round the lower back slightly to increase the stretch.
  • Sleeper Stretch – Tuck your shoulder blade back/down like you’re going to bench press to stabilize your scapula. Use your “off” hand to provide gentle overpressure.

Summary

So there you have it – the most complete program I could come up with to get your upper body as healthy as possible.

If you enjoyed this piece, help me achieve my goal of making it the most popular article EVER on the Elite Fitness website. Share it on Facebook, re-tweet it on Twitter, or simply e-mail it to a buddy who may benefit from it.

I sincerely hope this piece not only helps you set some PR’s, but keeps you hoisting the heavy iron for years to come!

Stay strong,

Mike
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About the Author

Mike Robertson is the President of Robertson Training Systems and the co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (I-FAST) in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mike has made a name for himself as one of the premier performance coaches in the world, helping clients and athletes from all walks of life achieve their physique and sports performance goals.